Chattanooga Now Red River Gorge Geological Area

Chattanooga Now Red River Gorge Geological Area

November 1st, 2017 by Jennifer Bardoner in Get Out - Bestmonth

Courthouse Rock

Photo by Corey Heitz

Claim to fame: Highest number of natural arches in the East; home to some of the best traditional and sport climbing east of the Mississippi

Location: Stanton, Kentucky

Drive time from downtown Chattanooga: 5 hours

Known as "Red," the 29,000-acre gorge area features an estimated 150 sandstone arches, making it a contender for the most natural arches outside of Arches National Park in Utah — and a top-rated climbing spot.

A climber takes on one of the routes on the Solarium wall in Muir Valley Nature Preserve.

Photo by Jarek Tuszynski

Rocky top

In conjunction with the gorge, climbers also flock to nearby Muir Valley Nature Preserve and Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve. Both are privately owned but open to the public year-round, so long as first-timers sign a waiver. Visit or to access.

Safety first: If you prefer a guided expedition, there are numerous outfitters to help you safely learn to navigate the rock.

A natural rock bridge in the Red River Gorge Geological Area.

Photo by Jarek Tuszynski

Positively prehistoric

The area's numerous arches appear like fossils dotting the landscape, remnants of Mother Earth's innards from eons past. Cut in much the same way that formed the Grand Canyon, they are a smaller-scale representation of the power of water to carve a landscape.

From the top: Grays Arch is a particularly popular one. Though it's less than a 4-mile trek round-trip, the journey is rated as moderately strenuous due to the elevation gain. Those with energy to spare — and proper footwear — can try to scramble up the back left side of the 50-foot rock formation, though climbing and rappelling are not allowed.

The Solarium wall in Muir Valley Nature Preserve.

Photo by Jarek Tuszynski

Mi casa, tu casa

The arches aren't the only remnants of the past to be seen in the park. The Red River Gorge Geological Area is a National Archaeological District and on the National Register of Historic Places. The numerous rock shelters probably housed the continent's first citizens dating back 13,000 years.

Some of the earliest evidence of the domestication of plants has been found in the documented prehistoric sites. The area is also home to endangered species. The white-haired goldenrod, pictured here, is found only in Red River Gorge.

Some of the earliest evidence of the domestication...

Photo by John MacGregor