Overview. Easily one of the best hikes at Red River Gorge, this loop will give you an easy sunrise hike with an equal dose of ups and downs on Rough Trail as you make your way to Gray's Arch. You’ll get one of the best sunrise views in Kentucky while showing off one of the most impressive arches too. If you have a modicum of nighttime hiking experience, this hike will give you all the love.
Route Type | Loop
Total Distance | 8 miles
Overall Difficulty | Easy to Moderate
USDA Forest Service Map of Red River Gorge Area
*This hike is off trail, experienced hikers only
Trailhead. We started from Archaic where we were camped for the evening. Note that overnight parking requires a backcountry permit that can be purchased at any gas station in the area. To reach Archaic (or Gray’s Arch Picnic Area across the street), turn north onto Tunnel Ridge Road and follow it back past the first couple parking areas. You’ll see a large sign for Gray’s Arch Picnic Area on the right (park there if spaces are available) and Archaic is just past that on the left. [map]
Trail navigation. This hike begins from the parking lot heading east of Gray’s Arch Picnic Area on Tunnel Ridge Road. Enter Pinch ‘em Tight Trail on your left and follow it 1.7 miles until it ends at Rough Trail. Be sure to keep right at the first intersection with Rush Ridge Trail and to the left at the second intersection with Buck Trail. Turn left at the third intersection and keep your eyes to the right of the trail.
In about a tenth of a mile, you’ll reach a well-defined, unmarked trail. Follow this out on the ridgeline, keeping to the right at nearly all trail intersections to reach Hanson’s Point. Along the way, you’ll encounter a pair of large backcountry campsites that can accommodate some rather large groups. It is in there places where you route finding can become difficult, as many user trails shoot away from these areas. Stay right and keep moving east. Once you reach the end, Hanson’s Point will give you a spectacular view of Pinch ‘em Tight, Chimney Top Rock, and Half Moon across the gorge below. It’s among the best places to catch sunrise in Red River Gorge.
Turn around and retrace your steps back to Rough Trail. At the trail intersection, turn right to continue to Gray’s Arch. You’ll follow Rough Trail through two climbs that are always on the steep side relative to the area. On the second climb, keep your eyes left to see Gray’s Arch Trail that dips a bit as it heads toward the large rock shelter adjacent to Gray’s Arch. Wind around to the left and climb some more to reach the arch. Gray’s is among the most impressive at Red River Gorge, and we made it our lunch spot for the day.
Once you’ve taken it all in, retrace your steps and turn left to stay on Gray’s Arch Trail/Rough Trail. You’ll climb a number of steps that make for a decent leg burner before finally regaining the ridge. Once on the ridge, follow the trail to Tunnel Ridge Road and return to your car.
CAUTION. More than a few have died on this hike, here’s one - a young man from Louisville fell to his death near Hanson's Point. Take care during your hike to avoid getting too close to dangerous cliffs. Also, if you're not confident in your map and compass skills, skip this hike.
CAUTION - Inappropriate for Young Children. While this is a mostly easy hike, this is inappropriate for young children due to the sometimes slick footing near cliffs.
CAUTION - Bears. Black bears are growing in number throughout Daniel Boone National Forest. Be sure to follow bear safety precautions. [Be Bear Aware by US Forest Service]