About 2 hours east of Lexington, is a collection of natural and man-made wonders well worth exploring. Nada Tunnel, Red River Gorge and the Natural Bridge State Park.
To see all of these beauties, drive from Lexington via KY route 11, take the loop on 77 then 715, then continue down through Pine Ridge where you join KY 15 turning right and heading along it till you come to Natural Bridge State Park.
The rural beauty of the drive is sure to impress at any time of the year. KY 77 is narrow and twisting, and allows close up views of the small farmsteads and the rock cliffs along the way. In the winter when the trees are bare you can see the natural terrain at its best; in the autumn, the brilliant colors accent the landscape. In summer the dappled shade is a cool contrast to the hot temperatures. It is the kind of a drive that invites you to decompress.
The Nada Tunnel is 900-feet long. In Kentucky, Nada is pronounced “Nay-Duh”. It is long enough to be dramatic, but short enough that you can see daylight at the other end as you enter it. It has earned the nickname, the “Eye of the Dragon”. It is a one lane tunnel; those who drive it are very courteous about taking turns. The Nada Tunnel was built to proved railway access to the Red River Gorge. The tunnel dimensions are very tight, twelve feet wide, thirteen feet tall, so keep that in mind in your driving plans. The tunnel was created for the Dana Lumber Company in 1910 and 1911. Nearby are prehistoric Native American rock sites. Looking ahead, in mid June, consider attending the Red River Gorge / Nada Tunnel Festival, which includes a talent contest, beauty contest, baby contest, and a car show.
Red River Gorge
Take the turn to the right at 715 (Sky Bridge Road) and follow it through the red river gorge. Most times of the year the traffic is very light, so slow down and enjoy the views of the majestic mountains, leafy trees, dramatic cliffs and the sparkling Red River. The Red River Gorge is home to towering sandstone cliffs, ancient rock shelters, bracing waterfalls, and more than one hundred natural bridges.
You will pass some landmarks of note including John Swift’s Lost Sliver Mine, one of several supposed locations where a legendary Englishman may or may not have stashed a huge horde of silver. A bit further on is Half Moon Rock. Then comes Princess Arch. The trail to Cloudsplitter begins at the dramatic and picturesque Sheltowee Trace Suspension Bridge. Near Indian Staircase you can take hikes that are gentle or nearly impossible, depending on your skill level.
Gladie Visitor’s Center reopens March 7 for the season. There, you can discover the cultural heritage of this portion of the Daniel Boone National Forest, and fine tune your plans to see the notable scenery nearby. Take a look at the special exhibits that help interpret the majesty of the gorge. Pick up some maps and trail information, as well as recreational fee passes, at the center, which is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
Further along turn right to access the Sky Bridge, a sandstone arch 75 feet long and 23 feet high. Just follow Sky Bridge Trail 214 as it loops through the landscape from the Sky Bridge parking area. The trail passes over and under the arch, giving you a good look from all angles.
Natural Bridge State Park
Next, continue on 715 till you arrive at 15, and turn right to access Slade and The Natural Bridge State Resort Park. In Slade, some of your dining options are Miguel’s Pizza & Rock Climbing and Sandstone Arches Restaurant. While in Slade, visit The Kentucky Reptile Zoo and Ye Old Peddler gift shop (be sure to ask the owner, Thelma, for some of her incredible fudge).
The Natural Bridge State Resort Park is a Kentucky state park on the Middle Fork of the Red River with some of the best hiking and climbing anywhere. The park is named for and conserves the dramatic Natural Bridge, which was formed by weathering over millions of years. The Natural Bridge is an 87-foot span, 65 feet high. Take the hike to the Natural Bridge, or for a more relaxing climb to natural bridge, enjoy a ride on the sky lift. It is open daily from the first weekend of April through the last weekend in October. You can enjoy many great outdoor adventures from kayaking and canoeing to fishing and birding in the park. Other notable sites in the park include “Lovers Leap”, “Balanced Rock”, and “Fat Man’s Squeeze”.