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U.S. Forest Service

Southern Region Viewing Area


Hieracium gronovii Hieracium gronovii, queendevil, a common hawkweed of dry sandstone ridges. Photo by Thomas G. Barnes*.

Viola blanda Viola blanda, sweet white violet, often on damp, cool sandstone outcrops. Photo by Thomas G. Barnes*.

Red trillium Red trillium in its red and white forms. Photo by Thomas G. Barnes*.

* Barnes, T.G., and S.W. Francis. 2004. Wildflowers and ferns of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky.

Rock Bridge Trail

Forest: Daniel Boone National Forest

District: Cumberland Ranger District

Description: Rock Bridge Trail is a 1.4-mile loop trail that traverses a variety of habitats from xeric uplands to mesic streamside. The area is at the southeast corner of the Red River Gorge Geological Area famous for its cliffs and vistas. Upland sites have forests of pitch and shortleaf pine and various oaks with a variety of ericaceous shrubs such as blueberries and mountain laurel beneath. It is common to find catbriar and sawbriar thickets off the trail. Upland sites are usually rocky with thin sandy soils. Vegetation in this harsher environment is usually woody, but some herbaceous species are present. More mesic forests include yellow-poplar, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, sugar maple, beech, and black birch. Shrubs found in this moister environment include spicebush, pawpaw, and mountain pepperbush. Herbaceous species are common in the mesic areas throughout the growing season. Sandstone and conglomerate cliffs are abundant in the Rock Bridge area and the trail works its way over and along cliffs in the descent from upland to streamside.

Wildflower viewing: While wildflowers can be found along this trail any time during the growing season (late March/early April to frost in mid-October), the most spectacular show is in spring. Upland site species include pink lady's-slipper, dwarf iris, trailing arbutus, teaberry, and spotted wintergreen. In late spring/early summer, mountain laurel, great laurel, several blueberries (Vaccinium pallidum, V. stamineum, V. corymbosum), and a huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) provide their floral colors. One might find a persimmon in flower as well. Trailing arbutus and partridgeberry are frequently found along cliffs. Where moisture is more abundant in places along the base of the cliffs, sweet white violet (Viola blanda) is often present.

In the mesic forest area, one can find large white trillium, red trillium, false rue anemone, bellwort, large-flowered chickweed, foamflower, wild ginger, Canada violet, spurred violet, hepatica, and purple phacelia. Near an old house site along Rock Bridge creek, one may see a carpet of blue phlox, and golden Alexanders. In some years, a large patch of pawpaws in the area is in bloom. Also in this general area there is a natural arch by the stream. Along the creek, there is usually a good showing of yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) with its delicate yellow-tinge purple star-shaped flowers. Numerous grasses (native bluegrasses, genus Poa), woodrushes (Luzula) and sedges (Carex) are also present. In a few places, Viola cucullata, the marsh blue violet can be found at the edge of or in small streams.

During summer and early fall, joe pye-weeds, tall meadow rue, goldenrods, and cardinal flower are found in a boggy area near the old homesite. Several hawkweeds (Hieracium venosum, H. paniculatum, H. gronovii), greater tickseed (Coreopsis major), false dandelion, rabbit tobacco (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and native lespedezas (Lespedeza virginica, L. repens) can be found in the drier upland areas.

Safety First: Primarily of concern is the presence of high cliffs. The trail through/over the cliffs is generally good and includes hand cut stone steps from the CCC days, although footing is rough in some places. Off the trail, encountering cliff is a distinct possibility and care should be taken to watch footing especially near cliffs. There are sections of the trail that are usually wet and even muddy so hiking boots are recommended. Both timber rattlesnakes (uncommon) and copperheads are poisonous snakes in the area. Mosquitoes and black flies are frequently encountered during summer. Poison ivy is abundant in a few areas along the trail. Long pants are recommended. Branches and logs may be encountered across the trail in places. Even though the areas along the creek are cool, summers tend to be warm and humid and the climb out can be strenuous for some people. Anyone taking this trail is encouraged to take water.

Directions: From Lexington, Kentucky, take I-64 East to the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway exit (Exit 98) just outside of Winchester. Take the Mountain Parkway to the Pine Ridge exit (Exit 40). Turn right at the bottom of the ramp to head north on KY 15. Travel roughly 0.8 miles, and then turn right onto KY 715. Travel about 0.5 mile, crossing the Mountain Parkway. At the end of the 0.5 miles, turn right onto Rock Bridge Road. Follow this about 4.5 miles to the parking lot at the very end. There are signs leading to the trail from the parking lot. It is generally better to start the trail from the right side of the parking lot as the other end of the trail has steps that help the climb up.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Daniel Boone National Forest, Cumberland Ranger District.

Nearest Town: Pine Ridge [Slade], Kentucky.