Overview. I’ve been wanting to do this hike for some time, and today was the day. It was BRUTALLY AWESOME! 90-degree heat, sun-soaked ridgeline, badly overgrown trail, tons of deadfall, maximum skin destruction, scrambling, crawling on all fours…yup, it was GREAT!!! And that view at the end? Hard won and worth all the challenges.
Route Type | Out and Back
Total Distance | 1.7 miles
Overall Difficulty | Moderate
*this hike is off trail, route finding can be challenging, and scrambling is required
Trailhead. Tar Kiln Parking Lot serves as the trailhead for this hike. On your way out, be sure to stop by the interpretive placard where the old tar kiln used to stand. [map - waiting for Google approval]
Trail navigation. Old user trails are never easy to navigate for a number of reasons. Early in this hike, you’ll have a web of user trails to navigate; late in the hike, you’ll lose any semblance of trail that Nature has managed to fully reclaim. As a rule, try to stay on firmly packed ground as this is the user trail.
Immediately after departing the parking lot, you’ll find a large campsite that Forest Service has posted a ‘No Camping’ sign. Take the trail furthest left (west) and follow it back to another campsite at 0.11 miles. We walked past the trail leading out to the ridgeline - something I like to call ‘campsite blindness’. The turn to the trail is just short of this campsite on the right (north) side.
Follow this trail and navigate around all the deadfall until you turn northeast along the ridgeline. You’ll see an opening in the canopy with some marshy grasses filling in the void. Follow along this area to stay on the ‘trail’. You’ll pick it up again a bit past the grasses. Keep heading generally northeast.
While the ridgeline will narrow - usually making route finding easier - you’ll see the trail has been largely taken over in sections by shrubs and plenty of stickers:-/ Continue to make your way as best you can as you’ll find and lose the trail several times on the balance of the out route.
Eventually, you will come to a rock with a mature tree rooted well below. Here, take hiker’s right (east) to descend around the rock drop-off. This is tricky territory, so be very careful with your footsteps. Continue to move to the right around these rocks until you can find a way upward. There is awkward deadfall around that had me on all fours crawling below, but eventually a route to the top made itself available.
Note that below you is Military Wall to the southeast where you may hear climbers making their way up the rock face. Once up top, you’ll be treated to excellent views that while partially obstructed, provide a really unique perspective of Red River Gorge. Retrace your steps to return to the parking lot (it took us less than half the time to find our way back than our way out).
Easier in Winter, early Spring. Unless you’re a really hearty hiker, do this when the understory is in check. While LaFonda was a good sport about it - only mentioning the word ‘divorce’ once - this hike is dramatically easier in dormant times - ideally, early Spring.
A view of Nada Tunnel. Looking west, a view of Nada Tunnel can be had. During dormant times, you’ll be able to take in a less interrupted view from a truly unique vantage point.
CAUTION - Cliffs. Be careful to avoid getting too close the edge of cliffs, as this is the leading cause of serious injury and death when hiking in Red River Gorge.
CAUTION - Poisonous snakes. While the gorge is within the range of timber rattlesnakes, copperheads are the most common poisonous snake encountered. Stay alert on the trail, as snakes are commonly found taking in the warmth of the trail. Give them a wide berth or wait for them to move off the trail.
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]