Natural Bridge State Resort Park: The Complete Guide

Natural Bridge in Kentucky from below

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Natural Bridge State Resort Park

Address
2135 Natural Bridge Rd, Slade, KY 40376, USA
Phone +1 606-663-2214

Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Kentucky, more commonly known as “Natural Bridge State Park,” is one of Kentucky’s original four state parks. The 2,300-acre nature preserve offers a more curated, accessible experience than the nearby Red River Gorge and the wilder Clifty Wilderness area in Daniel Boone National Forest.

Tourist attractions continue to pop up near Natural Bridge, but the real reason to come is for hiking around impressive sandstone arches formed naturally by centuries of weathering. Natural Bridge, the crown jewel of these rock formations, is 78 feet long and 65 feet high. Viewing it from the bottom is impressive, but walking across the top is even more exciting!

Things to Do

A visit to Natural Bridge State Park is typically centered around hiking, camping, and enjoying the outdoor beauty. Park entrance is free, but other activities and attractions in the area keep visitors entertained when they’re off the trails. Ziplines, guided adventures, and even a reptile zoo can be found nearby. Miniature golf and a large swimming pool are available for guests at Hemlock Lodge.

Miguel’s Pizza on Natural Bridge Road began as a sociable place where climbers congregate to enjoy cheap food and camping. The atmosphere is still jovial, but now Miguel’s has been featured on national television and draws visitors from other states.

Best Hikes and Trails

Natural Bridge State Park has 10 official trails ranging in length from less than a mile to 7.5 miles long. Junctions are well signed along the way. Grab a free trail map (or print this one) before you go.

  • Natural Bridge: The Original Trail (trail #1) is the shortest route (about 0.75 miles) to Natural Bridge and runs moderately uphill with some stairs. Begin the hike behind Hemlock Lodge.
  • Lookout Point: Continuing across Natural Bridge, you can follow signs less than a mile to Lookout Point and Lover’s Leap for excellent side views of Natural Bridge.
  • Rock Garden Trail: For a longer hike (1.6 miles one way) with less traffic to Natural Bridge, go right at the fork on the Original Trail and follow signs for Rock Garden Trail (trail #4).
  • Whittleton Arch: The 2-mile hike along the creek from Whittleton Campground to Whittleton Arch is enjoyable and dog friendly. For a bonus arch, the trail to Henson’s Arch leaves from the same campground and is an exceptionally easy hike.
  • Balanced Rock Trail: If you can handle a lot of stairs, make a loop of your hike to Natural Bridge by taking a left from the Original Trail onto Balanced Rock Trail (trail #2). You’ll see why the trail is aptly named. 

The Skylift

The Skylift offers a way for everyone to see Natural Bridge without grinding up the steep trail. You'll get all the gorgeous views from the comfort of the lift. If, like many people, you plan to use the Skylift one way for the hard part then hike downhill to get out, be aware that the end of the trail is 1.1 miles from the Skylift parking area. The Skylift is weather dependent.

Kayaking and Canoeing

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, kayak and canoe rentals are available for the Red River and Mill Creek Lake. For a surreal experience, The Gorge Underground (a five-minute drive from Natural Bridge trailhead), offers kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding through an old mine that’s filled with water!

Fishing

Along with the Red River, Mill Creek Lake provides opportunities for fishing in Natural Bridge State Park. The lake contains bass, bluegill, rainbow trout, and channel catfish. Canoe rentals are available. Of course, you’ll need a valid Kentucky fishing license (one-day permits can be purchased online). You may even be able to borrow a pole and tackle from the office for free!

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is forbidden within Natural Bridge State Park. If you’re serious about climbing, drive the 15 minutes over to Red River Gorge Geological Area—a wonderland for climbers and one of the best places for sport climbing in the United States.

The first commercial via ferrata (climbing assisted by steel rungs and cables often seen in the Alps) in the United States is located just down Natural Bridge Road. Southeast Mountain Guides (formerly Torrent Falls) offers a challenging via ferrata course that makes climbing accessible to everyone. Just be sure to make your reservations before arriving at the course

Natural Bridge, Kentucky, in fall

Sabih Jafri / Getty Images

Where to Camp

Two officials campgrounds are situated only 1.2 miles apart within Natural Bridge State Park; many more can be booked in the surrounding area. Both campgrounds support RV and tent camping, have shower facilities, and are pet friendly.

Official campgrounds close from Nov. 13 to March 14.

  • Whittleton Campground: Of the choices for camping, Whittleton is closest to the Natural Bridge trailhead and Miguel’s Pizza. The peaceful walk along the creek to Whittleton Arch is pet-friendly.
  • Middle Fork Campground: Only five minutes by car from the Natural Bridge trailhead, Middle Fork Campground is right across Natural Bridge Road from beautiful Mill Creek Lake. Kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, and fishing are fun options there.
  • Other Campgrounds: Miguel's Pizza, Callies Lake and Campground, Natural Bridge Campground, Woodstock Campground, and Koomer Ridge Campground are all within a 10-minute drive.

Where to Stay Nearby

  • Hemlock Lodge: The Hemlock Lodge (2135 Natural Bridge Road) was built in 1961 and is the most well-known accommodation option. Although the 35 rooms at Hemlock Lodge feel their age, the location couldn’t be better. The shortest trail to Natural Bridge (less than a mile) begins behind the lodge. You’ll need to make reservations on the official Natural Bridge State Resort Park website.
  • Cliffview Lodge: Cliffview (900 Cliffview Road) is a 10-minute drive from Natural Bridge, but several private-access trails are available on the property. The 16 rooms at Cliffview are more updated and quieter than other options in the area—plus, there’s a private lake for fishing and swimming. Make reservations directly on the Cliffview website.
  • Cabin Rentals: Cabins of all sizes and luxury levels are scattered throughout the Natural Bridge area. Some are clustered together close to the main road while others are isolated at the ends of private drives. See some of our recommendations for cabin rentals near Red River Gorge.

How to Get There

Kentucky’s Natural Bridge State Resort Park is around an hour east of Lexington. Take I-64 East to Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway (exit 98). Get off Mountain Parkway at exit 33 (Slade) and turn right onto KY-11. Follow the brown signs. Miguel’s Pizza is on the left; most trailheads and attractions are along the right.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Henson Arch Trail and Whittleton Arch Trail are the only two trails in Natural Bridge State Park where pets are permitted. Both are accessible from the Whittleton Campground. For more pet-friendly trails, consider hiking in the nearby Red River Gorge.
  • Some trails have guardrails and protections in place, but (thankfully) Natural Bridge was kept natural! Be careful around the edges, and keep a close eye on children.
  • Kentucky summers are infamously humid. Carry more water than you think you’ll need while hiking.
  • Natural Bridge State Resort Park is exceptionally busy on holiday weekends and in fall. Try to visit on a weekday for less traffic on the roads and trails.
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The Complete Guide to Kentucky's Natural Bridge State Park