Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, is known for bourbon and horses. Yet, its abundant breathtaking scenery is one of the preeminent reasons that visitors flock to this gem of the south-central U.S. With some of the most varied topography in the eastern part of the country, Kentucky’s biodiversity is unparalleled.
One of the most unique geographical features in Kentucky is its natural arches. It has 2,634 documented arches and bridges (a subtype of arch that is primarily water-formed). More are discovered almost daily.
By simple definition, a natural arch is a rock bridge that forms naturally between two cliffs with an open space beneath it. Where, then, are the must-see natural arches in Kentucky? Let’s explore the eight best natural arches in Kentucky.
1. Natural Arch
Located in the Natural Arch Scenic Area in McCreary County is Natural Arch. The area includes more than 171,000 acres of national forest land in four counties of southeastern Kentucky. Most of this land lies within the Big South Fork region which boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs as well as many recreational activities on land and water.
Natural Arch, one of Kentucky’s largest natural landmarks, is almost 100 feet wide and nearly 50 feet above the forest floor. Its impressive stature is awe-inspiring from any vantage point. As well, it assumes a different look based on the time of year you visit.
Natural Arch is considered a shelter natural arch, which occurs on a ridge top and is most often the result of a cavity merger. In other words, two cavities are shallow rock shelters that have formed on opposite sides of a narrow breadth of a ridge top.
The Natural Arch Scenic Area entrance has a parking area that leads to an easy, paved path. Panoramic View Trail #528 leads to the arch overlook. The overlook sits on a sheer cliff with breathtaking views of the arch and the entire area.
To hike to the arch and view it from its lower side, follow the marked trail sign to the Natural Arch Loop Trail #510 (one mile). This mostly paved trail features several overlooks. It also provides a side trail on the right that leads to a cliff facing into a canyon. The trail is easy, and two flights of stairs take you to the view of the arch at the canyon’s bottom.
A third hike in the Natural Arch Scenic Area is the Buffalo Canyon Trail #508. At 5.8 miles, this trail travels through a forest with a few passable water crossings with an elevation gain of 761 feet.
Although most of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is free, the Natural Arch Scenic Area has a fee of $5 a day, $7 for three days, and $50 for an annual sticker. The area offers two picnic shelters that can be reserved in advance. It also has a small amphitheater for special events.
2. Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge is located in the Red River Gorge in Powell County. It contains more than 100 natural sandstone arches and is one of if not the most visited arches in Kentucky. Natural Bridge State Resort Park is where you’ll find the trailhead to the 2.5-mile Original Natural Bridge Trail.
The Lexington and Eastern Railroad first promoted the Natural Bridge as a tourist attraction in 1895 when visitors first walked across the 30-foot-wide arch. Surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Arch is 78 feet wide and over 65 feet high. If you want to take a shorter trail, there is a 0.75-mile trail to the top of the arch. Additionally, the park offers a skylift to the top of the arch ($13 for adults, and $10 for children).
The Resort Park offers rooms and cottages at the Hemlock Lodge as well as 86 camping sites. In addition to hiking, you can enjoy kayaking canoeing, fishing, paddle boating, and swimming.
3. Yahoo Arch
Not far from the Natural Arch of Kentucky, Yahoo Arch is in the Yahoo Falls Recreation area of Big South Fork. The shortest trail to the arch is 0.8 miles. When you see the stairs with railings, you know you’re getting close. The uniquely shaped arch has a base of 70 feet and a height of 17 feet. It also features a smaller arch to its left.
The recreation area also spotlights Kentucky’s tallest waterfall by at least a dozen feet. The short trail to Yahoo Falls consists of large staircases descending the ravine to the falls. Hikers who want to see both the falls and arch are advised to tackle the falls first.
4. Creelsboro Natural Bridge
Also known as “The Rockhouse,” Creelsboro Natural Bridge is the largest natural bridge east of the Rocky Mountains. Located in Russell County near Jamestown, It is a meander natural bridge. (A meander bridge is a natural arch always associated with an active stream or streambed.) Over 60 feet high and 120 feet wide, the formation hovers over Jim Creek before the creek feeds into the Cumberland River.
The “hike” to Creelsboro is a short 0.2-mile out-and-back walk. A National Natural Landmark, Creelsboro sits off of Highway 379 approximately seven miles downstream from Wolf Creek Dam.
5. Princess Arch
Princess Arch is an easy 0.6-mile out-and-back trail accessible from the Chimney Rock Trailhead in the Red River Gorge Geological Area in Wolfe County. Follow Trail #233 Princess Arch Trail to get to the arch where you will find a small loop at the end. The slender arch is a 32-foot-long formation and offers scenic vistas on all sides. Princess Arch’s accessibility and brevity make it a popular year-round destination.
6. Angel Windows Arch
Angel Windows, a pair of two small arches that are clustered together at a cliff in Powell County, is located at Angel Windows Trailhead #218 off of KY-715 near Slade. A short and easy 0.6-mile hike, Angels’ north window has a span and height of seven feet. The south window has a span of four feet and a height of five feet.
The route to the arch is a clear, well-worn path that meanders back to Angel Windows. The trailhead gently descends into the forest where you’ll pass several overhangs before arriving at this unique natural arch.
7. Fern Bridge
Located in Olive Hill, Kentucky in Carter County, Fern Bridge is one of seven natural arches at Carter Caves State Resort Park. Fern Bridge can be seen along the scenic 3.6-mile Three Bridges Trail which loops around the main section of Carter Caves State Park. With a height of 110 feet and a span of 45 feet, Fern Bridge is one of three arches you can enjoy on this trail.
8. Sky Bridge
In Wolfe County, partially blacktopped Sky Bridge Trail #214 extends along a high, narrow ridge. The trail features breathtaking overlooks into the Red River Gorge and passes both over and below Sky Bridge. It’s an easy loop of 0.8 miles but an adventurous walk across the top, which has no protective barrier at places, so be forewarned! It is 23 feet high and 75 feet long.
Summary of the 8 Best Natural Arches in Kentucky
|Kentucky Natural Arch
|Creelsboro Natural Bridge
|Angel Windows Arch
The photo featured at the top of this post is © anthony heflin/Shutterstock.com
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