Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Kentucky is a mountainous park with extensive trails, sights, and wonders. Located near Beattyville in the Appalachian Mountains, this park was dedicated on December 16th, 1981, and based entirely around the Natural Bridge (archway) located near the Red River Gorge Geological Area contained in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The park boasts nine trails at current varying in length and difficulty. Visitors will also find a fantastic sky lift that peaks 600 feet from the natural bridge, Hemlock Lodge for overnight stays, Hoedown Island, cottages, campgrounds, and even a swimming pool and concession area.
The natural bridge itself is 79 feet long and 65 feet high above the next tier of ground below it. The elevation on top of the bridge is approximately 1500 feet above sea level. Carved in the stone are excessive markings of travelers before yet the beauty of the site is unfettered. The lack of vegetation at the top-center of the bridge allows for a grand view of the Daniel Boone National Forest and the surrounding Appalachian Mountains.
Hikers usually start and proceed to the bridge using the Original Trail (.7 miles in length), which is posted as the “shortest and easiest route” to the bridge. However, trail-junkies would be highly disappointed to miss out on other fantastic views and hikes:
Trail 2: Balanced Rock: This alternate route to the bridge has a length of .75 miles but a much rockier view and a bit tougher of a climb.
Trail 3: Battleship Rock: This 1.25 mile climb is my personal favorite taking hikers under grand outcroppings and through Devil’s Gulch and Needle Eye Staircase. Both of these are fantastic climbs of stairs and steep drops but are definitely not for the weaker hikers.
Trail 4: Rock Garden : At 1.75 miles, this is the third longest trail in the park and shares many features with Battleship Rock but lacks the “intensity”.
Trail 5: Sand Gap: With a length of 8.5 miles this trail has yet to be seen by my group or myself. It is our understanding from other travelers this trail is more for the movement than the sights but I have no comment as of yet without seeing it for myself.
Trail 6: Hood’s Branch: The second longest trail in the park at 3.75 miles, this trail will lead you from the base of the sky lift to the bridge with some steep climbs to boot.
Trail 7: Henson’s Arch: The odd part of this trail is it is actually down the road from the main sections of the park located off of Whittleton Campground. This .3-mile hike has little to offer other than another simple arch. However, fans of rock arches should, of course, keep this in their schedule.
Trail 8: Lakeside: A simple half-mile hike the starts by crossing a small river on a nice bridge in the parking lot of the park.
Trail 9: Salt Mine: This fantastic hike is a short addendum to Battleship Rock and Rock Garden but has so much to offer. Do not pass up this 4/10-mile addition to your day.
The wildlife in the area of the park is listed and reported as vast and unique. However, in all of our time there, my group has yet to see anything resembling interesting. Kentucky lists bears and poisonous snakes on its list of residents as well as the endangered and rare Virginia big-eared bat.
Overall, while not as big as some of the sights and hiking associated with the Great Smokey Mountains, a true fan of hiking, nature, mountains, or just a good time outdoors would be amiss to pass up this fantastic park.
Resources include: Natural Bridge State Resort Park informational map, Kentucky State Parks’ informational site, Kentucky State Nature Preserve’s informational packet, and on-site hiking, sight-seeing, and GPS-related statistics.