Family AdventuresRed River Gorge

Red River Gorge Rainout: Indian Creek, Chimney Top Rock and Princess Arch

Princess Arch

Angell and the kids and I wanted to get away and camp at Indian Creek, hike the Indian Staircase and get in some swimming at Jump Rock, and the Fourth of July weekend seemed like the perfect time to do it. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.

We loaded the car on Friday, but the forecast called for rain through the night and most of the day. Angell and I don’t mind hiking in the rain, but we were shooting for the Indian Staircase and I didn’t want to risk a fall on slippery rocks.

We waited until Monday, and even though the weather forecast was worse than Friday, we decided to go for it and let the chips fall where they might. A couple hours later, we drove through Nada Tunnel and headed for Indian Creek, where we’d never camped before. We passed many good sites that were taken before we settled on a site far up the creek, bordered by water on one side, and a huge weed patch on the other. It’d have to do.

Avery and Daisy exploring Princess Arch
Daisy and Avery, exploring
Daisy and Avery carried a couple of loads of gear from the car before running off to explore the creek while Angell and I settled into setting up tents, unpacking sleeping bags and inflating air mattresses – a familiar ritual performed countless times over the 26 years of our marriage. Once everything was in its place, I set to work building a fire for the night. By the time Angell called the girls up to eat, I had our fire going, and we each took our seats and talked and ate and laughed for the next few hours as the sun faded away behind the thick, gray clouds.

We talked until nearly midnight, thanks to Daisy, who had a bunch of conversation-starter questions loaded on her phone that were for sleepovers with her friends. Of course, she adapted them for us. It was one of the best nights around a campfire I ever experienced, being with ¾ of my favorite people in the world (our oldest daughter is in New York for the summer), listening to them share their hearts and humor. I’m proud that we know how to appreciate a quiet summer evening in the woods without iPhones, iPads and cable TV.

Just before midnight, the girls crawled into our old EMS two-man tent, and Angell and I slept in our roomy 3-person Big Agnes. I wanted to leave the rain flies off, I knew the rain was coming. I didn’t know when.

A change of plans

I woke around 7:00 to the sound of infrequent rain drops drizzling down on the tent. I got up to pee and put the camp chairs away, then crawled back inside the tent and found a comfortable position on my side and enjoyed the sound of the rain and thought back on the night before.

When Angell woke for good, we got up and gathered our things. Angell fixed breakfast, which consisted of cereal bars and sodas from the cooler, which I’d stored in the back of the car during the night. I broke out my MSR Pocket Rocket camp stove and made coffee and watched the clouds, wondering what we should do.

I nixed Indian Staircase once again, figuring we could just drive around and hit a few short, easy trails and scout out campsites for future trips. On the way out, we pulled into the parking lot at Jump Rock and walked out to find four-or-five kids with Jump Rock all to themselves. From there, we went on to the bridge, which freaked Daisy out a little. Naturally, Avery bounced around on it to make it even scarier.

Avery at Princess Arch
Avery, at Princess Arch
After lunch at Miguel’s, we decided to head up to Chimney Top Rock and Princess Arch and look around a bit. When I was a kid, my Dad brought me to the Gorge on frequent hiking and backpacking trips with the Sierra Club, but that ended when I was around 14 or 15 and he discovered the Smokies. I didn’t return to the Gorge on a regular basis until a couple years ago, so this is kind of new again.

We lucked out with the rain and walked out to Chimney Top Rock and enjoyed a gorgeous view of steam rising up through the river below. The acoustics were such that we heard shouts and laughter from people at Jump Rock as if we were still down there on the banks of the Red River. We surveyed the cliffs around us, speculating as to which was Cloud Splitter, what the name of Half Moon Rock might be (we didn’t know at the time). We promised to hike every ridge and explore every valley in the coming months and years.

Next, we crossed over to the other side of the parking lot at the top and walked down the hill to Princess Arch, which the kids loved. We crawled all over those rocks like ants, feeling them, taking photos, shooting video and marveling at its strange beauty. Again, I found myself hanging back and watching Angell and the girls and enjoying their curiosity and loving them and this moment.

Watch our Video Trail Guide

Click here for a link to video

Getting there – directions from the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway

  • Take exit 33 (Slade, Beattyville)
  • Take highway 11 north for 0.13 miles and turn left on 11/15
  • Take 11/15 north for 1.51 miles, then turn right on Nada Tunnel Road
  • Take Nada Tunnel Road 4.38 miles until you cross the bridge. Just after the bridge, turn left on the gravel road/613
  • Take 613 for 2.49 miles until you pass a farm and see a road to your right. Turn here, up Indian Creek
  • Along this road, you’ll find many suitable campsites that are first-come, first-served