Daniel Boone National Forest

Red River Gorge Area
View of Courthouse Rock and Chimney Top from the top of Half Moon Arch. (Photograph courtesy Dave Hooper)

The Red River Gorge Geological Area, surrounding the middle section of the Red River, is a unique landscape containing more than 80 major natural arches and a most unusual assortment of vegetation. The geological area covers 25,662 acres and the terrain has been sculptured by wind and water for more than 70 million years. Sky Bridge, one of the most spectacular arches, is a solid rock span stretching along the top of a thin ridge. From the summit of this bridge, visitors are treated to a magnificent panoramic view of the Gorge. The Daniel Boone National Forest administers the area for year-round public use and enjoyment, while protecting its watersheds, wildlife, unique natural formations, and primitive character. Scenic drives lead visitors to many overlooks and to picnic areas and dispersed camping areas. The 36-mile system of loop trails in the area has been designated as the Red River Gorge National Recreation Trail. It provides access to many scenic and historical attractions and connects with a number of developed recreation areas and the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail.

The unique geological features of the area are primarily due to the resistance of the sandstone to erosion. Rockshelters, lighthouses, and arches boldly illustrate the power of erosional processes in the area. Where underlying rock is weaker than an erosion-resistant layer above it, differential weathering washes out the weaker layers. This process has led to the formation of hundreds of rockshelters. Where the ridges are narrow, these rockshelters eventually weather through, forming an arch. The area contains the largest concentration of rockshelters and arches east of the Rocky Mountains.

There is a complex and prolific plant community in the area composed of some 555 different species representing 100 families and 304 genera. The richness of the vegetation in the Gorge can be related to its diverse topography, proximity to the center of the mixed mesophytic forest, and glacial history.

The climate of the area is temperate with moderately cold winters and warm, humid summers. Temperatures average 32 degrees F in winter and 74 degrees F in summer. Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, averaging about 45 inches annually. Prevailing winds are out of the southwest.

The Red River Gorge Geological Area contains a high concentration of prehistoric sites that offer a unique opportunity for the study of the prehistoric cultures of the eastern United States. The rockshelters of the area have been used by humans for protection from the elements for thousands of years.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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