Campers love Red River Gorge camping for many reasons—the unique landscapes and rock formations for one. The Red River Gorge is similar to the National Parks you’d expect to find in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, not in Kentucky. Those spectacular rock features are what makes Red River Gorge camping and hiking the kind of unique, scenic natural area that attracts thousands of visitors each year.
The Red River Gorge is just one of 49 state parks in Kentucky, including 17 full-service Kentucky resort parks (more than any other state in the U.S.). However, sandstone arches and towering cliffs, are just part of the attraction. Outdoor enthusiasts come to the gorge year-round to enjoy hiking, camping, canoeing, wildlife viewing and other recreation opportunities. In fact, one of the least known facts about Kentucky is that the state has more natural stone arches than any state in the eastern United States—100. You’d have to go to Utah or Nevada to see more arches.
It’s the rocks that attract another kind of adventurer—rock climbers. The Gorge is ranked as the number one or number two rock climbing place in the world. So, for rock climbers, this is the place to put on your bucket list of Kentucky campgrounds to visit.
The Red River Gorge has numerous cliffs in the gorge itself and in the surrounding areas. The vast number of bolted routes in overhanging, pocketed sandstone draw climbers from all over the world to “the Red” as it is known. Climbing in the region tends to be done at large number of separate small cliffs. Most climbs are a single pitch and most cliffs are less than 200 feet (61 m) tall. There are numerous traditional and sport climbing routes in the region, although the latter seems to be more dominant. Many cliffs lie within Daniel Boone National Forest; however numerous important cliffs are located on private land and in two privately owned preserves created to allow climbing access:
Is a 750-acre (3.0 km2) preserve that is owned and maintained by the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition.
Muir Valley is a 400-acre (1.6 km2) nature preserve and rock climbing area owned and maintained by Friends of Muir Valley thanks to a generous donation of land, labor, and resources from Rick and Liz Weber.
Located inside the Daniel Boone National Park, the Red River Gorge is designated a Geological Area, National Natural Landmark and National Archaeological District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A portion of the gorge is also designated as Clifty Wilderness, 12,646 acres of rugged forest landscape. Understanding how the Red River Gorge fits into Daniel Boone National Forest can be helpful in understanding where to find the best camping nearest the most popular attractions and lakes. For a full list of Kentucky state parks, check out Parks.KY.gov.
Pets in the Park
All trails are open to pets in the Red River Gorge area. However, pets are not permitted on the Natural Bridge State Resort Park hiking trails – except for the Henson Arch Trail and Whittleton Trail. Most trails at Natural Bridge are within a dedicated Kentucky State Nature Preserve, and pets are not permitted as a part of the management guidelines.
Red River Gorge Camping Rules and Regulations
The Red River Gorge is a fantastically beautiful, but potentially deadly place. Please be careful, take your time, and don’t get too close to any ledge, no matter how gorgeous you believe the view will be “just a few feet closer.” The clifflines are dangerous. If backpacking and camping in the Gorge, remember:
- Camping is NOT permitted within 300 feet of any road.
- Camping is NOT permitted within 300 feet of any developed trail.
- Camping is NOT permitted in any picnic or parking area.
- Camping is NOT permitted within 100 feet of the base of any cliff, or the back of any rock shelter.
- YOU ARE PROHIBITED from building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire within 100 feet of the base of any cliff, or the back of any rock shelter.
- Rock climbing is permitted. However, new route development must be approved by the Forest Service. Climbing and rappelling are NOT PERMITTED within 300 feet of Sky Bridge, Gray’s Arch, Nada Tunnel, and Chimney Rock Overlook, and other areas as posted.
- Keep vehicles on established roads. All vehicle traffic is restricted to roads in the Geological Area.
- Parking on Tunnel Ridge Road is limited to designated parking sites only.
- You must purchase a pass for parking overnight in the Gorge and Indian Creek area (between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.). Passes are available from local stores and at the District Office in Stanton.
Administrative Office Outside the Park
1700 Bypass Road
Winchester, KY 40391
Administrative Offices Daniel Boone National Park
1700 Bypass Road
Winchester, KY 40391
Phone: (859) 745-3100
Phone: (606) 663-2852
The Koomer Ridge Campground is the only developed campground near the Red River Gorge that occurs on national forest land. In spite of the fact this campground has no sewer, electric or water hookups, and only showers and drinking water, campers consistently rate it as a “5-star campground.” Maybe it’s the semi-primitive camping in a tranquil forest setting. Maybe it’s the fact the campground provides access to trails in the Red River Gorge. Maybe it’s because the Daniel Boone National Forest embraces some of the most rugged terrain west of the Appalachian Mountains. Whatever the reason, this campground, located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, is a very popular destination. Spread across 21 counties of southern and eastern Kentucky, more than 708,000 acres of national forest system lands, included Daniel Boone National Park, are managed within a 2.1 million-acre proclamation boundary.
Steep forested slopes, sandstone cliffs and narrow ravines characterize the land. Visitors come here to hike, camp, picnic, rock climb, boat, hunt, fish, ride, target shoot and relax and they have lots of land to do it on. The forest contains three large lakes (Cave Run Lake, Laurel River Lake and Lake Cumberland), many rivers and streams, Clifty Wilderness, Beaver Creek Wilderness, Red River Gorge.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park/Campground
Natural Bridge State Resort Park
2135 Natural Bridge Rd.
Slade, KY 40376
Phone: (606) 663-2214
Natural Bridge is a 2,200 acre forested park and nature preserve with 22 miles of trails, a 60 acre lake, two campgrounds, lodging, and dining facilities. It is surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest and is adjacent to the Red River Gorge National Geologic Area.
There are two campgrounds inside Natural Bridge State Park—Whittington Campground and Middlefork campground. There are 86 sites, 52 with standard electric, and 34 tent sites.
2135 Natural Bridge Rd
Slade, Kentucky 40376
Phone: (606) 663-2214
Best bet for tent campers. Like its sister site, Middlefork Campground, this campground doesn’t win many kudos or high fives from campers who have reviewed it, but it’s not a horrible place. It’s just average to below average with people who are used to generous campsites, privacy, and quiet. In fact, the primary reasons cited for the low ratings are staff attitude, cramped camping sites, and highway noise.
2135 Natural Bridge Rd
Slade, KY 40376
Phone: (606) 663-2214
If you’re looking for a place to base out of while exploring the park, Middlefork may be it. It’s close to the highway, somewhat noisy, and RV campsites are fairly close together, not giving campers much privacy or personal space, but for the RVer, or car camper just looking for a place to sleep, it’s not a bad campground. It is an older campground, and electrical outlets are shared between sites.
Hwy. 45 and 715
Frenchburg, KY 40322
Phone: (606) 663-5258
John Swift’s Lost Silvermine Historic Campground in the beautiful Red River Gorge, Kentucky features riverside camping, canoe rentals, kayak rentals, tubes, bicycles, and fishing on the Red River. The campgrounds are located 5 miles west of the Gladie Historic Site On Hwy 715 at the intersection of Hwy 77. You don’t have to paddle or get on the water to camp here, but it’s very convenient if you do. While here, campers can see if they can solve the puzzle regarding the history of John Swift and his lost silver through writings from his journal. It’s a mystery that has eluded treasure seekers for centuries. The campgrounds offer wooded, open, and riverside primitive sites for camping at affordable rates. Firewood and limited refreshments are available.
950 Blacks Ridge Road, Beattyville, KY 41311
Phone: (606) 464-2876
Lago Linda Hideaway, comes with a story, as well as 35 campsites. This campground began after owner Doug Black, a geologist of considerable renown, purchased the 410-acre retreat in 1969. He began construction on a log cabin home soon after, before meeting Linda, a professional woman from Liverpool, England, at a sail club in Washington, DC. As unlikely as the match may have seemed, the two were married in 1992. Together, they moved to Kentucky where they worked to develop the land into a place they could share with others.
One part of this project involved building a dam to catch the water from two mountain streams in order to form the property. It’s that whole “loving the land vibe” you get when staying at this property. Set back almost a mile from the main road on its own private drive, Lago Linda Hideaway provides security and privacy for its campers in a gorgeous setting. The 35 Piney Woods and Lazy Oaks campsites (which can be reserved in advance) lie on ridge tops among groves of oak trees, allowing campers to spread out and enjoy as much privacy as they wish.
All of these campsites are graveled and have electrical hookups. Each site has its own city water, picnic table, and fire ring. In addition, a large, grassy meadow provides ample overflow camping for tent and car campers, including a big, covered, cooking pavilion with electricity along with another covered area that provides additional shelter for a number of tents. There’s a bathhouse with hot showers and flush toilets, as well as Broadband Internet access. Many rock climbers visiting the Red River Gorge have chosen to make Lago Linda Hideaway their home away from home due to the peaceful surroundings and its close proximity to some of the Red’s finest crags, including the world-renowned Motherlode (a scant 4 miles away).
Phone: (606) 663-1012
Although it’s primarily a rafting and kayak outfitter, Red River Adventure also offers a 10 acre campground on tree lined frontage on the Red River. There is a mix of trees/shade and open fields. It is a “primitive” campground, meaning that there are no power hook-ups or running water. There is, however, an excellent canoe/kayak take-out.
Its location in the heart of the Gorge makes it the perfect place for riverside camping and provides access to hiking trails. So, need a place to camp? Red River’s riverside campground is the only campground located inside the Gorge and on the Red River.
925 Combs Rd. Campton KY 41301
Phone: (606) 668-9742
Crazy Martha’s is about as basic as camping gets. Primitive Camping here is available for a fee of $10. They have porta johns on site. There is no running water, but as Martha says, “There is a well that water can be gotten from.”
- No alcohol/drugs
- No weapons/fighting
- 2 pole limit
- No treble hooks, no stainless hooks, no trotlines
- No baiting/chumming the lake
- No oils
- No children under age 12 are to be unattended
- Be courteous of other fisherman
- No spot jumping
- No bank running
- No shad!!
- No loud music after 9 PM
- Only wood in fires. DO NOT BURN GARBAGE
- NO DRIVING/PARKING ON DAM
- Don’t leave or cut bait on benches
- All fish over 15 pounds remain property of the lake
- No parking in the through road
- All pets must be leashed
- Must clean up after your pet
- Not responsible for accidents
- Please dispose of unwanted bait as you leave
- No rain checks
- All fish MUST be checked before leaving NO EXCEPTIONS – This has been a problem
Lota.Rocks (Land of the Arches)
5150 Hwy 715
Campton, KY 41301
Phone: (606) 668-7074
Lota Rocks Campground is a campground run by rock climbers for rock climbers. An internationally diverse contingent of climbers is drawn to the climbs at Red River Gorge, and this, apparently, is where they like to stay. Whether you’re tent, car, or hammock camping, this is your campground. Camping here includes free Wifi, games, and the hottest showers in the Red River Gorge. Climbers affectionately call the main building that houses restrooms, showers, wifi signal, games, and a small general store the “Hangar” because it really looks like an airplane hangar. It is quite large.
For campers’ convenience, they sell ice and firewood here on the premises. Check-in is a do-it-yourself system. There is a kiosk on the front of the building with envelopes that have tent tags. Place your money in the envelope, make sure to retrieve your tent tag first (which is a tyvek wristband inside the envelope). Place the tent tag on your tent in a visible location. Staff will come around to check your tent tags. This allows campers to arrive at any time. Accommodations include tent sites, rooms, cabins, beds in the hangar, and a farmhouse. See the site for more details.
5515 Campton Rd
Stanton, KY 40380
Phone: (606) 481-4524
Phone: Shane (859) 404-3680
Phone: Dee (606) 481-4524
This 50-acre campground is located on a private, well shaded 4-acre lake. They have more than 45 level and clean primitive campsites with fire rings, picnic tables, and gravel driveways for tents and RV sites with 30 amp and 50 amp hookups. Sites are close quarters, so don’t expect much privacy, but it’s a good basecamp if you want to explore the surrounding areas. There is a sewer dump station and a stocked lake for fishing. They’re located just 6 miles from Natural Bridge State Park and the Red River Gorge. Pet friendly. Callie’s is ten miles from great dining and rock climber’s hangouts.
Bald Rock Campground
460 Bald Rock Fork Road
Beattyville, Kentucky 41311
Phone: (606) 567-8282
Although this is a new campground (August 2017), it looks like it’s going to be a Red River Gorge favorite in the coming years. A new bath house is almost finished, and the property is looking good. They currently have eight campsites on the property, as well as various cabins for rent. All the sites are close to city water hook ups that are scattered throughout the property. The campground has trash disposal, pre-cut firewood for guests to use, grills, a picnic table and a place to build a fire. Campgrounds one and two are more suitable for tent camping. Campground three and six are more suitable for car or RV camping. Campgrounds four, five, seven and eight are suitable for ten and/ or mobile camping.
Backpacking and Camping Areas
Any camping in the entire forest requires an overnight parking pass ($3/night), which you can buy at several locations, including Shell Station just off the Parkway exit.
You only have about 1-1.5 miles to go to your campsite, but it’s a difficult hike. There are a minimum of five fabulous options for camping along this unmarked trail following the Red River. You don’t have to make the trek all the way to Red Byrd Arch to enjoy camping along this trail.
What a great hike to two beautiful arches, and it’s less than 1 mile to campsite. Look for several good camping options along the unofficial trail along Copperas Creek. The last spot before turning off along a smaller creak up to the arches is very large and would be perfect for a group or a solo camper.
You’re just a short two miles to your campsite here, but it’s not for large groups. There are several smaller campsites after turning off trail #219 Swift Camp Creek Trail onto the unofficial trail up to Turtle Back Arch. There are several other unofficial trails off of trail #219 Swift Camp Creek Trail, just make sure to comply with the rules and regulations. https://toredrivergorge.com/about-the-gorge/rules-regulations/
You’re in luck. It’s only two miles to your campsite and lots of good options for camping after turning out the unmarked trail off Trail #221 Rough Trail leading out Pinch-Em Tight Ridge. There are also several other unmarked trails off of Trail #221 Rough Trail. Best of all, there are spectacular views all along the way!
It’s less than one mile to your campsite from this trailhead. Experts recommend hiking this in reverse as there are several camping options on the unofficial trail near Adena Arch. If you choose to go on to Indian Staircase, stash your pack or bring a very long rope to haul it up with as it’s very dangerous to climb the staircase – even without a pack.
If you want to literally risk your life getting to a campsite, this is your trail. Rated a “difficult” to “deadly” trail, for even experienced backpackers, there’s a 200-foot scramble up some very steep rocks (the staircase) to the campsite. See the link for more information, photos, and a description of the trail. It’s two miles to the campsite, but at a risk.