Natural Bridge State Resort Park Trails
Balanced Rock Trail
This is the steepest trail in the park with more than 600 stairs. The trailhead is located off of the sidewalk behind Hemlock Lodge. At the trailhead, hikers are immediately faced with a steep series of limestone steps leading to a small cave on the right side of the trail. Past the cave, Balanced Rock Trail climbs up more steps to the Balanced Rock, an extraordinary sandstone block on the left. From here, the trail gets steeper and eventually hikers will find themselves at the base of the sandstone cliff called Rocky Point. As the trail continues, hikers will pass the Sand Gap Trail junction and end shortly afterwards near a large CCC wooden shelter and the top of Natural Bridge. Because of its steep grade, most hikers prefer to use Balanced Rock Trail as the downhill part of a loop trip. The Balanced Rock Trail is also a part of the Sheltowee Trace Trail. Elevation change of 400 feet.
Battleship Rock Trail
Start at the Original trailhead, located off of the sidewalk behind the Hemlock Lodge and go up to the top of the first set of steps. Here, Battleship Rock Trail splits off to the right of the Original Trail. In less than a quarter mile, the Rock Garden Trail splits off to the right, while Battleship Rock Trail turns left and continues to steadily climb eventually leading to a wooden bridge followed by a series of wooden steps. After completing the wooden steps, you arrive at the base of a tall cliff near the Devil’s Gulch Stairway and the Needles Eye Stairway, both of which are very steep stairways that lead to the Laurel Ridge Trail on the cliffs above. Battleship Rock Trail does not go up either stairway, rather continues at the base of the cliff. This section of trail is relatively flat and will lead you around the base of Lookout Point and eventually to the underside of Natural Bridge. Elevation change of 230 feet.
Henson's Arch Trail
This short trail leads to a small but unusual limestone arch at the entrance to a cave. The cave is too small to be of much interest, but a nearby stairway leads into a sinkhole so that hikers can appreciate the arch and cave-like atmosphere. The Henson’s Arch trailhead is located in the Whittleton Campground just past the bathhouse. The trail begins at a small wooden bridge and then turns left. The trail quickly goes up a steep section and then levels out for a pleasant walk through the forest. The trail begins to ascend again as hikers begin approaching the arch. Once at the arch, hikers will then need to return using the same trail.
Hood's Branch Trail
Hood’s Branch Trail leads into the heart of Natural Bridge and is just long enough so the crowds will be left behind. The trail begins under Natural Bridge and follows the base of the cliffs eventually leading hikers to cross a small stream named Upper Hood Branch. Near this area which is approximately the halfway point, hikers will see an optional .75 mile upper loop trail that splits off to the left. This upper loop leads hikers to a couple of large sandstone rock shelters and then eventually back to the same spot. About 2.25-miles from the Natural Bridge on the Hood’s Branch Trail, the trail passes through a swampy section that was once cleared for a small farm. Cross two small footbridges and you’ll soon see a trail shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps when they maintained a camp at Natural Bridge in the 1930’s. From here you are .75-mile from the Hood Branch trailhead that is located near the miniature golf parking area.
This is a connecting trail between the Lakeside Parking Area and other park facilities. For many, this is a nice beginning to the hiking adventures that they will have at Natural Bridge. Beginning at the Lakeside Parking Area along KY Hwy 11, the trail immediately descends a set of wooden steps where it then levels off for an easy flat walk along a small lake. When nearing the end of the trail there is a short set of steps that lead up to a swinging bridge that crosses the Middle Fork of the Red River. The Lakeside Trail is also a part of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail.
Laurel Ridge Trail
Starting at the top of Natural Bridge, this is an easy walk around the rim of the cliffs. The trail goes past the sky lift and winds out the ridge to Lookout Point, the sandstone cliff visible from the Natural Bridge. Follow Laurel Ridge Trail around the bend and you will come to the top of Devil’s Gulch Stairway, a very steep stairway that leads to Battleship Rock Trail and a shortcut to Hemlock Lodge and the parking areas. If you continue on Laurel Ridge past Devil’s Gulch, you will arrive at another set of stairs on your right. This is the Needle’s Eye Stairway, built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It will also lead you to Battleship Rock Trail. Laurel Ridge Trail continues on along the top of the ridge to a dead end at Lover’s Leap, an overlook with a commanding view of the canyon below.
Low Gap Trail
This trail starts at the sky lift parking area and climbs the hill to two wooden footbridges. Once past the second footbridge, the trail makes a switchback and continues to climb to a natural gap in the limestone. From here, the trail follows an old logging road and connects to the Rock Garden Trail. At this junction, hikers can go left to the Hemlock Lodge or right to the Natural Bridge. Many visitors that take a one way trip on the sky lift will use Rock Garden Trail (in part) and Low Gap Trail for a 1.25 mile hike which is the shortest route connecting the Natural Bridge to the sky lift parking area. Elevation change of 320 feet.
Rock Garden Trail
To reach the Rock Garden trailhead, you must first start on the Original Trail, turn right onto the Battleship Rock Trail, and then after several minutes, you will see the Rock Garden trailhead which is in the forest just above the Hemlock Lodge. The Rock Garden Trail maintains a relatively flat grade and meanders around many sandstone rock boulders. Although this trail has many flat sections, there are some steep stairs along the way. This is an enjoyable walk and is one of the best routes on the park for bird watchers and plant lovers. Elevation change of 220 feet.
Sand Gap Trail
Our most challenging trail, Sand Gap requires 4-6 hours to complete. There are no shortcuts once you’ve started, so allow adequate time to make this trip before dark. Sand Gap Trail begins near the upper end of the Balanced Rock Trail about 500 feet from the top of Natural Bridge. For the next 3.5 miles, Sand Gap follows an old logging road and is easy to moderate walking along the ridgetop. The first section of this trail is a part of the Sheltowee National Recreation Trail. At approximately 1.5 miles from the beginning, Sand Gap Trail makes a sharp right turn and the Sheltowee Trace Trail splits off of the Sand Gap Trail and heads south. Here you will turn right continuing on the Sand Gap trail which heads northeast. About 3.5 miles from the beginning, the trail descends steeply into Lower Hood Branch. It will level out in the vicinity of a bog, then turn right across a bridge and begin to meander below the cliffs through rhododendron thickets. At about 6.5 miles, the trail descends to a bridge over the Lower Hood Branch. From here, the trail climbs up the side of the valley for about .25 mile following a skid road built by loggers in the 19th century. As you climb this section, watch carefully for the sharp left turn where the trail leaves this old road. From here, you’ll wind around a couple of ridges then follow a fairly level grade for about 1.5 miles to the Hood Branch Trail. You will take a left onto the Hood’s Branch Trail and walk downhill for approximately .25 mile which leads to the sky lift and miniature golf parking area. Elevation change of 450 feet.
The Original Trail
This trail was built in the 1890’s by the Lexington and Eastern Railroad. It is the most popular trail for hiking to the Natural Bridge. Beginning near the gift shop, the trail gently climbs .25 mile to the trailhead behind Hemlock Lodge. From here, you will see the steepest part of the trail before you, but at the top of the limestone steps it levels off. There are five trail shelters along this trail, three of which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930’s. The trail climbs over 400-feet through an impressive forest of hemlock, tulip tree, white pine, and thickets of rhododendron. It ends beneath the span of the Natural Bridge. Access to the top of the bridge is through a natural fracture on the other side of the arch. Elevation change of 420 feet.
Upper Hoods Branch Trail
.75 mile, crosses Upper Hood's Branch of small wooden bridge, option to loop back or follow trail out.
This trail was developed by the U.S. Forest Service and begins on the state park at Whittleton Campground. Hikers should park near the check-in-station and walk to the end of the left fork of the road. It follows a small stream known as Whittleton Branch for most of its length and ends along KY 15 at the entrance to the Tunnel Ridge Road. It is a connector between the trails in the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge. Whittleton Branch Trail follows the grade of a logging railroad built in 1898 that ran from Natural Bridge to Chimney Top. Watch for signs of the Mountain Central Railway as you walk this trail. Approximately .75 miles in, hikers have the option of turning right onto Whittleton Arch Trail which will lead to the rock shelter-like arch. This is one of the largest arches in the area. Most hikers use these trails as a pleasant round trip hike of 2-miles from the campground to Whittleton Arch and back. Elevation change of 280 feet.