Red River Gorge Geological Area
The Red River Gorge is a unique and scenic natural area within the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. Known for its abundant natural stone arches, unusual rock formations, and spectacular sandstone cliffs, the Red River Gorge has been designated a geological area by the Forest Service.
The Forest Service manages the Red River Gorge Geological Area as part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Red River Gorge and surrounding areas have many designations and are managed to protect watersheds, wildlife, archaeological resources, the spectacular geologic features, and for year-round public use and enjoyment.
- Red River Gorge Geological Area - 29,000 acres, designated in 1974.
- National Natural Landmark - Designated by the National Park Service in 1976.
- Clifty Wilderness - U.S. Congress approved 12,646 acres as a Wilderness Area in 1985. It overlaps the eastern part of the Geologic Area.
- National Wild and Scenic River - U.S. Congress designated 19.4 miles of the Red River as a National Wild and Scenic River in 1993.
- National Scenic Byway - The Federal Highway Administration adopted 46 miles in and around the Red River Gorge as a National Scenic Byway in 2002.
- National Archaeological District - The National Park Service named 37,000 acres in and around the Red River Gorge a National Archaeological District in 2003 and listed it on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Red River Gorge Geological Area has over 100 natural arches, the greatest concentration of arches east of the Rocky Mountains.
The defining geologic strata of the Red River Gorge were formed about 300 million years ago. Sediment, sand and pebbles eroding from the ancient Appalachian Mountains were carried by a great river and deposited as a delta at the edge of a shallow inland sea that covered much of the middle part of North America at that time.
Over millions of years, the mountains were worn down, the sediments turned to rock and the inland sea receded. Gradually, streams began cutting down through the relatively flat layers of sedimentary rock. Because sandstone is a harder rock, it resisted erosion better than the shale and siltstone layers above and below.
Erosion and weathering over millions of years sculpted the striking sandstone cliffs and intriguing geologic features that we see today in the Red River Gorge. The deeply dissected landscape is an intricate maze of narrow, winding ridges and valleys separated by steep slopes and continuous bands of high sandstone cliffs, making travel between the uplands and valleys very difficult.
With passage of the Kentucky Wilderness Act of 1985, the U.S. Congress designated about half of the geological area as Clifty Wilderness. These lands were designated by Congress and are managed by the Forest Service as Wilderness, an area “retaining its primeval character…without permanent improvements or human habitation…protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”
The rugged terrain and lack of facilities within Clifty Wilderness offers hikers physical challenges, as well as opportunities for quiet and solitude.
As a wilderness area, Clifty is managed to preserve its natural conditions and to provide opportunities for primitive recreation. There are no modern facilities and few signs. A good map and backcountry skills are essential.