Scenic might be a little bit of a stretch for this 'scenic byway'. Or, that was what I was thinking at the beginning of this route. Cars on blocks in front of dilapidated trailers, people shooting targets right off the road (I laid a little heavy on the accelerator going by this), and a fairly uninteresting road will get you thinking 'What the hell were they thinking when they made this a scenic byway.'
Be patient, if you can put up with the first twelve miles, you'll quickly discover exactly what they were thinking.
The byway starts in Stanton, Kentucky and follows KY 11/15 through the previously mentioned not-so-scenic stuff. Stanton offer's a couple of fast food joints and a grocery store if you want to grab a quick bite to eat and top off your tank.
As you turn onto KY 77 (the byway is well marked), you'll be wondering if you shouldn't turn off and find a more interesting route. As the old adage goes, patience is a virtue - you only have about five more run-down trailers trying to sell you campfire wood before the road transforms.
Soon the run down homes get farther and farther apart, and a stream appears running along side of the road. The road itself is easy, little sweepers that run through the forest. I thought to myself, this certainly isn't anything special but it certainly is getting better.
You'll pass this thing, which I have no idea what it is, but it most be something because there are pull-offs on either side of the road to watch the water flow. For some reason it reminded me of that game 'Mousetrap' from many years ago.
After I finished reminiscing of childhood boardgames, I motored on up the road. About two miles later, I pulled over and watched as the road disappeared into a very small cave barely wide enough for a very small car. I knew this was what I had come looking for and things were about to get much better. Staring at the cave that the road disappeared into, I couldn't help but wonder what was on the other side awaiting me.
The Red River Gorge area is unique to the Midwest, offering the most natural rock formations in one concentrated area east of the Rocky Mountains. No doubt, it also offers up some great roads all with one common theme - they're all narrow.
Most of this route runs through the Daniel Boone National Forest or the Natural Bridge State Park, so the speed limits are low - topping out at 45 mph. The road conditions are great, and you'll get lots of opportunities to cruise through some great twisties.
Most of the road seems to be dug right into the side of the cliff.
What you get in payment for slower speed limits are some great scenery, lots of places to camp, and some fantastic pull-offs with beautiful scenery.
You'll be giving your brakes a good flogging slowing down to stop at all of the lookouts. I wouldn't recommend skipping any of them, each one is more fantastic than the last one.
In addition to great roads and lots of elevation changes you'll be followed the whole way by a beautiful river. It seems that the road designers opted to use nature's design when building the road as most of the road follows the twists and turns of the river.
The traffic was pretty low during the week when I ran this route. I would suspect that it gets quite heavy during the weekends, especially during the fall when the leaves are changing. I did notice a fair amount of cars pulled off to the side of the roads, most likely fishing or hiking, make sure you make a note if you're looking to loosen your throttle a little through some of the twisties.
After you're done looking at the great overlooks and enjoying the roads, take a minute to stop in at the former community of Gladie, KY. (You can't miss it - it's right off the road). All that exists here now, is this old log-cabin that was moved from one-half mile away.
So, lets take a minute to sum it all up. Beautiful rock formations that you can't find anywhere else in the Midwest, great roads carved into the side of cliffs with lots of twisties, beautiful forests with rivers running through it - is this a movie or a motorcycle trip? I'll put up with twelve miles of crap for thirty-four miles of bliss any day.
Things to Consider
Most of this route is a well known road, it can get crowded at times - especially in the fall when people are out looking at the fall colors. Also, most of this route goes through National Forest and a State Park, thus the speed limit will reflect the location and drop down to as low as 30 mph in some places and top out at 45mph most of the time.
There is no gas along the route directly (except at the end and the beginning), but the route is short enough that it is never a problem.
You can run this route in either direction and have a blast.
If you just plan on riding this route through, it will take less than 1 hour. To really enjoy it, take some time to pull off and see some of the sites, especially the arches. None of the arches are directly off the road, so expect a little bit of a hike to see them. But, it's not backcountry hiking, the paths are for the most part paved and at most it's only a quarter mile walk. Everything is very well marked so you won't have trouble finding anything. If you are planning on stopping, plan for about one full day to fully enjoy everything this route has to offer.
Lodging: There are a couple of hotels in Stanton if you would like to go that route. Or, there are plenty of cabins and bed and breakfasts for rent along the route - a simple Google Search for 'Red River Gorge Kentucky lodging' will provide you everything you need. Personally, I'd recommend camping in the area. There were four structured camp areas directly off the route. Or, if you are more adventurous, you can primitive camp anywhere in the National Forest. Near the Natural Bridge Park, Hemlock Lodge (the Park's resort) comes highly recommended.
The climate of the area is temperate with moderately cold winters and warm humid summers. Temperatures average 32 degrees in winter and 74 degrees in summer. Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, averaging about 45 inches annually. Prevailing winds are out of the southwest.
Nearby Things to See
With so much to see and do right of the route, you won't be wanting to stray to far off to find something to see. Actually, besides the sites in the park, there really isn't much to see or do nearby!
But, if you are in the Natural Bridge State Park, ride the Sky Lift. It's a little pricey at $8/person, but worth it for the views. The ascent begins one-half mile from the park entrance and ends within 600 feet of Natural Bridge. The lift is open daily first weekend of April through the last weekend in October. One note, if you are scared of heights, I would not recommend the ride up - it scared the you-know-what out of me and I'm not scared of heights.
Want to give your forearms a different workout than just twisting throttle all day? Swing by Torrent Falls Resort right off KY 11 and try your hand at rock climbing! They use a technique called Via Ferrata (don't ask me) that requires no experience what so ever and is safe for ages 10 to 80.
Red River Gorge Scenic Byway
This is a motorcycle ride in the state of Kentucky. This motorcycle route has 7 scenery characteristics and other road conditions to help you plan your road trip. This motorcycle map was created by OpenRoadRider in July. Click here to see other Motorcycle Roads by OpenRoadRider