Natural Bridge State Resort Park is located in the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest where unspoiled wilderness is paradise for nature lovers. With over 19 miles of trails within the state park, a 60-acre lake, and numerous vacation rentals around Natural Bridge, Natural Bridge is an eastern Kentucky gem. The nature preserve has many opportunities for outdoor recreation, but these 10 hikes are absolutely perfect for families with kids.
1. Lakeside Trail
This short and sweet connecting trail is where many hiking adventures get their start. Located between the Lakeside Parking area and other park facilities, the trail eventually leads to a small lake, the Red River, and the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. The Lakeside Trail is only about a quarter of a mile, so walking the path is a great way to ease your family into the hikes to come. Kids may enjoy the easy, flat walk near a small lake, and the swinging bridge that crosses the Middle Fork of the Red River.
2. Laurel Ridge Trail
Hikers can walk around the rim of the cliffs at Natural Bridge State Park on the Laurel Ridge Trail. The trail winds along a ridge that starts at the top of Natural Bridge. While the Laurel Ridge Trail is considered an easy hike, it offers a variety of terrain young explorers can enjoy. The path leads to two different options: Lookout Point and Devil’s Gulch Stairway. From Devil’s Gulch Stairway, the trail connects with Needles Eye Stairway, and also to Battleship Rock Trail. Laurel Ridge Trail ends along the top of the ridge at Lovers Leap, an overlook offering vistas of the canyon below.
3. Low Gap Trail
This short trail of about half a mile is considered easy and engaging, crossing footbridges and following an old logging road. Young hikers can explore the area while crossing two wooden footbridges at the start of the hike. Then, they can explore along the old logging road, which eventually connects to the Rock Garden Trail. To continue hiking after the half mile, visitors can use the Rock Garden Trail and Low Gap Trail for another mile and a quarter.
4. Whittleton Trail
The Whittleton Trail runs next to a small stream for most of its length. It serves as a connecting trail between the paths in the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge. Kids can watch for the Mountain Central Railway as they walk the Whittleton Trail, which follows a logging railroad built in 1898. After about three-quarters of a mile, hikers can segue onto the Whittleton Arch Trail, which leads to one of the largest rock shelter-like arches in the park. Visitors can also continue on the 2-mile round trip hike to the arch and back to Whittleton Campground.
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5. Balanced Rock Trail
The trail is about three-quarters of a mile, but the hike is considered strenuous more so than difficult. The trail is quite steep, with more than 600 stairs to ascend. If your young hikers are ready for a challenge, take them on the uphill climb, past a small cave, an extraordinary sandstone block and to the top of Natural Bridge. If you aren’t quite ready for the trek, you can use the Balanced Rock Trail as the downhill part of a loop trip. It’s part of the Sheltowee Trace Trail, and also passes the Sand Gap Trail junction.
6. Battleship Rock Trail
Though the Battleship Rock Trail includes a series of wooden steps, most of the trail winds around the base of the cliffs. Starting from the Original Trail, hikers can make their way past the Rock Garden Trail, which splits off to the right, and continue the climb on the Battleship Rock Trail. Despite the incline, kids will enjoy crossing the wooden bridge and ascending the steps that are a part of the trail. Battleship Rock Trail offers a balanced mix of incline and flat land. While the steps could be a challenge, the path around the base of Lookout Point is relatively level.
7. Rock Garden Trail
The Rock Garden Trail begins at the Original Trail, just like the Battleship Rock Trail. It’s a pleasant hike for families, especially those with younger children. The trail is mostly on flat land and meanders around sandstone rock boulders that are sure to attract the kids. It’s on the longer side, around one mile and three-quarters. The Rock Garden Trail is considered moderately difficult because of the several steep stairs along the way. Most of the land, however, is level, and a great hike to spot birds and different plant species along the way.
8. Hood’s Branch Trail
If you have a family of avid walkers, the Hoods Branch Trail is the optimal choice. It’s on the longer side, at three and three-quarters of a mile. However, it’s a trail that offers sidebar opportunities to explore the park. Along the trail, hikers will pass the Upper Hood Branch stream, large sandstone rock shelters and even a swampy section that once had a small farm.
9. Hensons Arch Trail
A short and moderately strenuous hike will get you to a limestone arch and the entrance to a cave. The Henson’s Arch Trail is only 0.3 miles but has a steep section that places it in the moderately difficult category. After the brief challenge, however, even younger children will have no trouble walking through the relatively level forest. Kids will love the walk through the woods, the impressive arch and the small cave that set this trail apart.
10. Sand Gap Trail
A family of hiking enthusiasts would be able to tackle the Sand Gap Trail, despite it being Natural Bridge State Park’s most challenging trail. The reason for the challenge is not the terrain, but the sheer length of it. The entire trail is about seven and a half miles long and takes several hours to complete. The fact that there are no shortcuts also means that hikers power through until the end, or turn back. A part of the Sand Gap Trail follows the Sheltowee National Recreation Trail and travels through the Lower Hood Branch area. One of the best parts of attempting the hike is the various landscapes you’ll see.
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