If you’re planning to go hiking at Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Kentucky, here’s what you should know before you go!
Have you ever discovered something amazing that was really close to your home?
Something that’s been there for years– or maybe for always– and you had no idea it existed?
That’s what happened for me with Natural Bridge in Kentucky.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park is in Slade, Kentucky, near Lexington.
The husband and I drove there last summer, strapped on our hiking boots and too-heavy backpacks, and went on a long hike to prepare us for backpacking in Yosemite.
As we walked, climbed, and scrambled along rocks, I found myself wondering how it was possible that I’d never known this place existed!
Love hiking in Appalachia? Visit West Pinnacle and East Pinnacle Trails, Bernheim Forest, the 4C’s trail and Three Bridges Trail in Carter Caves, the New River Gorge (West Virginia) and the Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee).
Why Visit Natural Bridge in Kentucky?
Probably the biggest reason is that it’s just so beautiful!
Last summer, I watched the rhododendrons grow bigger and bigger each time we visited.
This year, the mountain laurel were at their peak in late May.
Are the Hiking Trails Difficult?
There’s a whole range of trails here!
Some of them are a little tricky. There’s even a spot or two where you’ll need to rock scramble.
If you’re looking for the (relatively easy) rock scrambling, head towards the Devil’s Gulch, or get a workout on the Needle’s Eye Stairway.
Want more trail information? Check out the Natural Bridge trail maps and descriptions. There are also lots more trails in the nearby Red River Gorge, including the scenic Hanson’s Point and Gray’s Arch.
If hiking’s not your thing, you can take the sky lift to the top of the hill, wander around a few easy trails, and check out the bridge without much hiking at all.
Want to go kayaking too? Check out The Gorge Underground, a nearby flooded limestone mine. The crystal kayak tours are fantastic!
The Trails at Natural Bridge
For the quickest way up to the bridge, most people opt for the “Original Trail.”
The original trail is about three-quarters of a mile if you start from the gift shop. In some places it’s rather steep (moderately difficult), but it’s a fairly wide path.
There’s an occasional shelter along the trail if you need to break for a few minutes!
A number of other trails connect up with the Original Trail. So at various points you can branch off and create your own loop.
Each trip to the park can be a slightly fresh experience, depending on your route!
Battleship Rock Trail is one such alternative. It brings you to Natural Bridge, and also gives you a chance at tackling Devil’s Gulch or Needle’s Eye Staircase along the way.
There are steps to climb on the Battleship Rock Trail.
You can stay on Battleship Rock Trail to get to the base of the bridge, or you can take Devil’s Gulch or Needle’s Eye up to Laurel Ridge Trail.
If you do ascend to Laurel Ridge, you’ll (finally) be mostly on level ground for a while. It makes for a nice breather!
You’ll also get some pretty great bird’s-eye views before you get all the way around to Natural Bridge. (And especially pretty colors in the spring or fall!) We love the big, broad overlook pictured below.
And vice versa: once you reach Natural Bridge, you can stroll right out to the middle and look back at where you’ve just been.
On the far side of the bridge, there’s a spacious gazebo. It doesn’t really have any seating, but it’s a nice shady spot for enjoying a snack and maybe regrouping with your trail buddies.
At this point, you can choose again how you want to get back to your starting point. There’s always the option of going straight down the Original Trail.
The trail will take you through a very narrow slot in the rock (I’ve heard it called “fat man’s squeeze” or “fat man’s misery”).
Then you’ll head under the Natural Bridge (which is a pretty cool view!) and continue downwards.
Another trail spur you can use is Balanced Rock Trail.
Balanced Rock Trail has about 600 stairs, so be prepared for a workout! It’s pretty strenuous.
We sometimes take Balanced Rock Trail up and the Original Trail down.
Can I Camp Nearby?
You sure can!
Honestly, we live so close to the park that we’ve always simply driven home after a long day of hiking.
What’s the Best Food Near Natural Bridge?
Hands down– my favorite place so far is Miguel’s Pizza. It’s just outside the park, and the pizza is SO GOOD.
In fact, it’s won my heart so completely that I’m a little ashamed to say that I haven’t tried any other restaurants nearby, because about halfway through each hike, I start dreaming of pizza.
That said, our friends have been more adventurous than I have, and here are their top food picks nearby:
- Miguel’s Pizza
- Red River Rockhouse (fancy American-style food)
- Sky Bridge Station (hot dogs, some vegetarian options)
Have you visited Natural Bridge in Kentucky? What was your favorite part?