The weather's still insanely glorious! Looking for a fun out-of-town weekend adventure? With Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up, this could be your last hurrah until spring.
It’s only a three-hour drive to some extra-gorgeous country in the Bluegrass State. On the other side of Lexington, Kentucky, you’ll find geological treasures, including majestic natural bridges that you access by hiking or riding a chairlift, as well as an extensive canyon teeming with archways, cliffs and waterfalls.
Here are seven things that await you:
1) NATURAL BRIDGE
An enormous sandstone arch is the namesake of Natural Bridge State Resort Park, just outside the town of Slade. You can walk across this natural wonder that's been around for many millennia. It's 78 feet long, 65 feet above the air, 20 feet wide and 12 feet thick.
A .75-mile hike from the natural bridge parking lot includes a walk over a suspension bridge, then a climb steep enough that you may need to take a few breathers. Fortunately, you'll find several benches and scenic vistas along the way up to the ridge.
2) SKY LIFT
Don't like to hike? An easier way to get to the natural bridge is by taking the Sky Lift, located in the valley, about a half-mile from the top of the mountain where the natural bridge is. From the chairlift, it's a short walk. You won't break a sweat. Purchase tickets in the gift shop. For hours and pricing, call 606-663-2922.
The park also offers a lodge and restaurant.
3) RED RIVER GORGE SCENIC LOOP DRIVE
Adjacent to the Natural Bridge State Resort Park is the Red River Gorge Geological Area inside the Daniel Boone National Forest. This, by the way, is the only national forest in the entire state of Kentucky.
For a beautiful drive, start in Slade and take KY 15 north to Nada (pronounced Nay-da). From there, turn right on KY 77. Go through the 900-foot-long one-lane Nada Tunnel built between 1910 and 1912. When you emerge on the other side, you'll immediately understand why the tunnel's called the “Gateway to the Gorge." It looks like you've entered a different world. Follow 77 then turn right on KY 715. Follow 715 then turn right on 15, which will take you back to Slade, which offers many lodging options and numerous restaurants.
This loop will give you a great overview of the area. You'll see a bunch of trailhead parking lots and places to picnic.
4) LEARNING CENTER
The Gladie Cultural Environmental Learning Center & Historic Site is definitely worth a stop. The museum's displays explain the geology of the area as well as provide a glimpse into the challenges and simple joys of pioneer life. Flush toilets are available at the center, which is open through Nov. 23, then closed during the winter season. The center's located at 3451 Sky Bridge Road, off KY 715. For more information, call 606-663-8100.
Outside the Gladie visitor's center is a log house built between 1876 and 1884. You can peer into the windows to see furniture and objects on display. Behind the log house is a collection of antique farm equipment.
5) SUNBURST QUILT BARN
Near the log house at Gladie is an antique barn that has an exquisite sunburst quilt pattern painted on it. The actual quilt, more than 100 years old, is an excellent example of American folk art and is on display in the Gladie visitor's center.
6) SKY BRIDGE
Off KY 715 is Sky Bridge Recreation Area Road, there are several pulloffs where you can take in the spectacular view of the Red River Gorge. At the end of the road is the trailhead to the Sky Bridge, a sandstone arch that's only a short walk away.
While there are more than 100 sandstone arches in the Red River Gorge, this is the easiest one to access and offers a breathtaking view. Plus, it's featured in the 1955 Burt Lancaster movie "The Kentuckian." Check out the movie on YouTube. The bridge appears at the 16 minutes 44 seconds mark.
7) HIKING TRAILS
The Red River Gorge is a hiker's paradise, with nearly 40 trails of varying difficulty. You can have a great time exploring some of the other arches and geological features, but remember, this is black bear country, so don't hike alone. Signs about bears are prominently posted at the trailheads. Be sure to read the signs and follow the rules.
Want to go?
WHAT: Natural Bridge State Resort Park
WHERE: 2135 Natural Bridge Road, Slade, Kentucky
INFO: http://parks.ky.gov/parks/resortparks/natural-bridge/ or 606-663-2214
WHAT: Red River Gorge Geological Area inside the Daniel Boone National Forest
WHERE: Outside Slade, Kentucky
INFO: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dbnf/recarea/?recid=39458, 606-663-8100 or 859-745-3100.