Worth the drive: Red River Gorge

When I hear “Red River,” I think of the north-flowing river running from south of Fargo, North Dakota, to Canada that periodically overflows its banks.

But I’m from northern Minnesota.

That Red River runs through the wide former lake bed of a glacial lake, and there’s not a gorge to be found. In fact, when the river is running normally, acres of flat, flat farmland for miles are brewing abundant crops like sugar beets.

I discovered another Red River not long ago that carved a stunning gorge through Daniel Boone National Forest in central Kentucky. The geography couldn’t be more different from the geography in northwestern Minnesota. In fact, I’d compare the gorge to the Grand Canyon, except with trees. Lots and lots of towering trees — every kind you can think of (except palm trees — didn’t see any of those).

Red River Gorge 2

Can you see the river in this shot? WAYYY down there in the bottom half of the photo, towards the left side? That little sliver of muddy water barely visible through the trees?

The can’t-miss, most stunning view, according the helpful park ranger we quizzed, is at Chimney Top Rock, where you can get a near 360-view of the gorge that goes for probably 40 miles. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but let me tell you, it was harrowing up there looking over the edge and catching glimpses of … well, it was so far down, you couldn’t see the ground.

The reason you might not have heard of Red River Gorge in Kentucky is because it’s not easy to get to. The roads going into in Daniel Boone National Forest are twisty-turny things clearly designed without any regard to a grid (like you’d find in my native land of Minnesota), and then the roads inside the forest are twisty-turny and narrow — scarily narrow when you’re driving a great big pick-up truck, as we were. Once inside the gorge’s geological area, one had to take a 4- or 5-mile gravel road (also twisty-turny and narrow) to Chimney Top Rock, then walk a quarter-mile out to the look-out point.

But the trek is worth the effort. The vista is truly amazing.

The Red River Gorge geological area also features 100 natural arches, pass-throughs in solid rock worn away by the elements (also very dramatic, especially walking over them). There are also nearly 70 miles of hiking trails and lots of opportunities for canoeing and kayaking.

Worth a visit, says a girl from the flatlands.


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