Red River Gorge – Slade, KY: A Different Look

Slade, Kentucky Welcome Sign

Ofttimes when we visit a place, we have a destination in mind.  The Red River Gorge area of Kentucky is one of those places.  Visitors typically are focused on visiting beautiful and expansive views of the gorge, hiking some of the well known trails, taking a hike up to the Natural Bridge or something else.

This past weekend (August 31, 2019) I took my wife to the area fora hiking meetup.  This left me with a three hour window to do other things.  I am not able to hike some of these trails right now because my knee has been causing problems.

Red River Gorge
Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

So, after dropping my wife off, I headed back to Slade to do my “offbeat travel”  thing and find some of the unique and quirky of the area.  I had no problems with that, because inevitably, where there are lots of tourists, there are also the quirky and offbeat to draw them in.

Many dangerous cliffs in Red River Gorge, but a climbing heaven for rock climbers.

As the Welcome Sign above indicates, Slade is the “Adventure Capital of Kentucky.”  And it is true.  A drive around the area in the summer months will prove it as one can see license plates from all over the United States and Canada.   According to one website (GEARHUNGRY), the Red River Gorge is the second best, just behind Yosemite for rock climbing.  They call it a “must-do list contender for the serious climber.”   The site notes that there are over 1600 potential climbs in the area.  And Slade caters to these visitors big time.

Slade Welcome Center just off of Exit 33 on the Bert T Combs Mountain Highway
Miguels Pizza in Slade

A drive down Kentucky 11 (also called Natural Bridge Rd.) from the Slade Visitor’s Center will take you past the REALLY World Famous Miguels Pizza and its neighboring Miguels Rock Climbing Shop, both of which cater to climbers big time.

Founded by Miguel Ventura, who was from Portugal, the place has become a go to for climbers and hikers since 1984 (the name was changed to Miguels in 1986).   As the Ventura family continued to befriend climbers, they expanded and opened a campground and soon the place got the nickname “The Camp Four of the East” by climbers. (The Original Camp 4 is a climber’s campground in Yosemite National Park).  For over thirty years the Ventura family has made a name for itself all over the world as a result.  Then, in 2016 in the field behind the Pizza Shop, the Rock Climbing Shop was opened and now is a full-service climbing shop as well as the check-in spot for the campground.

Climbers and hikers from all over the world set up tents in Miguels expansive campground
Miguels Pizza in Slade, Kentucky
The Sign on Highway 11 for Miguels Climb Shop
The artsy Miguels Pizza front door has been opened with hands of people from all over the world

Rock climbing is not the only drawing card of the area.  Another big hitter are the more than 30 big hiking trails in the area.  It includes the 282 mile long Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail which begins in northern Kentucky on KY377 and travels south nearly 290 miles to its terminus at Pickett State Park in Tennessee.  The trail meanders through the Daniel Boone National Forest and also gets its name from the Shawnee name given to Daniel Boone by Chief Blackfish.

Star Gap Arch on Auxier Ridge Trail (#204) in Red River Gorge (Photo by Julianne Kravetz)

But Sheltowee is not the only trail.  There are many other trails from easy to very difficult. Most of the trails are numbered (all are in the 200s) and there are plenty of maps in the area.  Many of the trails offer spectacular views, many arches and lots of scary cliffs!

Cliffs as seen along the Auxier Ridge Trail (Photo by Julianne Kravetz)
Fall Colors over the Red River Gorge in Kentucky
Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Slade, KY
Natural Bridge Skylift

Drive down KY11 a little further and you get to Natural Bridge State Resort Park, home of a large geologic formation called Natural Bridge, which is 65 feet high and 78 foot long.  It is one of the few large arches in the Eastern United States.   The hike is about 2.5 miles long, but those that prefer a more casual adventure can take the Natural Bridge Skylift up to the scenic arch.

I had fun driving through the park and catching some of the unique.  For instance, where can you go to find a unique speed limit, like 23 MPH?  Then there are the other things…

Speed Limit 23 in Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Low Gap Trail leads up to the Natural Bridge Arch
Watch out for Bears!
One Lane Tunnel

Take the opposite direction from Slade on Kentucky 15 northwest to Kentucky 77 which leads to the Nada Tunnel (pronounced nay-duh by the locals), a 900-foot long tunnel which is considered as the “Gateway to the Red River Gorge.”  This unique single-lane rough hewn tunnel was originally built in 1911 for the Dana Lumber Company.  It was named for the small town of Nada, which was a logging town at the time.  Its original use was for a railcars, but has since been paved and is used by thousands of visitors every year as they traverse into the geologic wonderland of the Red River Gorge.

Entrance to Nada Tunnel
A lit up view of the interior of the otherwise very dark Nada Tunnel
Exiting the Nada Tunnel
Wild Things of Kentucky

For me, much of the fun is discovering the “other stuff” that can be seen on the road.  Probably the most interesting “touristy stop” along the way was the Wild Things of Kentucky tourist stop where they advertise their Kentucky Snake Pit, the Kentucky Aquarium, an hilarious restroom and other things.  Sadly for them, they literally JUST missed out on being included in my most recent book about unique and quirky tourist destinations. (Have you seen my new book?  If not, check it out HERE!)

Wild Things of Kentucky -another unique tourist stop
Feed the Goats that reside on the roof

Places like this always try to find things that become a drawing card for tourists.  Indeed, they have some unique finds in the shop.  And, for a small fee you can visit the “Snakes and turtles and fish…Oh My,” as their pamphlet advertises.  Over on the other side of the building you can feed live goats that reside on the roof of the building.  You can get a selfie with their “Sitty Hall” outhouse or with their own version of “Bigfoot.”

Selfie with Sitty Hall
Feed a Goat
Too funny/weird – The Snake Pit
The “Aquarium” includes a couple of turtles
Can’t be a trading post without the Indian
Inside the store
Entrance Fee for Wildlife Exhibit
Better not use the porch! Go use Sitty Hall.
They have goats…why not Goats Milk Products too
Lots of fun shirts and stuff… much of it Red River Gorge themed
Yes, they do have a resident Bigfoot.. He wants you to choose happy

And back to the road…a few more fun scenes from the Slade area roads

Big Arrow
Need Wood?
Go through the tunnel to get to The Depot
A bearable bear
There are folks that set up on an empty corner with lots of interesting stuff
Take the forest roads to the trails and there are forest service restrooms. Some of the signs are funny
And then there was this…

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Now have three books out. Check them out!

You can check my books out on Amazon for more fun reads about my quirky back roads travels.  Get them out on my Amazon page https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0784XVGSW

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A Grab Bag from America’s Back Roads – The N Things #AtoZChallenge

In 2018 I  will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada.  I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. My theme is called America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures.

 

The Nutt House Hotel – Granbury, Texas

Who would stay in the Nutt House Hotel?

Nice, California

We all know who is really Nice! Nice, CA

New River Gorge – Victor, West Virginia

A view of the New River Gorge in West Virginia taken in 1995
New River Gorge Bridge – One of the largest Arch bridges in the United States

Neah Bay, Washington

At Neah Bay in the northwesternmost corner of the contiguous United States in 2015
Looking out at Wa’atch Point, which is a cape off the northwestern peninsula near Neah Bay

Nashville, Indiana

One of the many kitschy shops in Nashville, Indiana. Really a fun place to visit

Not the Hotel California – Lima, Montana

“Not the Hotel California” in Lima, Montana
No Steaks and Burgers at this place in Lima, Montana

Nicholson Bridge (Tuckhannock Viaduct) – Nicholson, Pennsylvania

Tuckhannock Viaduct – Nicholson, Pennsylvania
The viaduct is dizzying when looking up from below

Nekoma Pyramid – Nekoma, North Dakota

The Pyramid in Nekoma, ND
Sumoflam and MSR Pyramid in Nekoma, ND

Nada Tunnel – Slade, Kentucky

The rough hewn stone Nada tunnel near Slade, Kentucky

Niagara Falls – Niagara Falls, Ontario

Niagara Falls, Ontario
Niagara Falls

Novelty, Ohio

I found Novelty in Ohio
Novelty Post Office

Normal, Illinois

Am I Normal? Who knows?
A Normal Water Tower

Nikko Shrine – Nikko, Japan

Perhaps the best “old shrine” in Japan, Nikko has been around for centuries. This is north of Tokyo. I visited Nikko in 1990.
The colorful pagoda in Nikko

National Mustard Museum – Middleton, Wisconsin

National Mustard Museum Sign, Middleton, WI
Poupon U Degree from the Mustard Museum – I got my MBA (Master of Bad Attitude)

North Bend Rail Trail – Cairo, West Virginia

My wife Julianne and her sister Laura at the North Bend Rail Trail HQ in Cairo, WV

Naches Tavern – Greenwater, Washington

Naches Tavern in Greenwater, WA (featuring Bigfoot!)
Dollar Bills on the walls at Naches Tavern

Newport, Oregon

Giant Mural on outside of Mo’s in Newport, Oregon
Mo’s Seafood – Newport, Oregon

Salem Sue – New Salem, North Dakota

Salem Sue Sign in New Salem, ND
Salem Sue in New Salem, ND – the World’s Largest Holstein Cow (Yes, that’s Sumoflam under the Udders)

Northside Murals – Cincinnati, Ohio

Large Mural on side of building representing the Northside district
Tall mural on side of a building in Cincinnati’s Northside

Nagasaki, Japan

Remains from A-Bomb in Nagasaki in 1988
Japans second most famous China Town (Tokyo’s is first). This one is located in Nagasaki

JJ’s Cafe – Newell, South Dakota

J J’s Cafe in Newell, SD
Sign at the door of TJ’s Cafe in Newell, SD. Bear in mind this is sheep country.

Nitro, West Virginia

Nitro WW I museum – Nitro, WV
Big Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox in Nitro, WV

Nolan Ryan Statue – Alvin, Texas

Sumoflam with Nolan Ryan in Alvin, TX
Welcome to Alvin, Texas, hometown of Nolan Ryan

New Orleans, Louisiana

Bourbon Street in New Orleans in 2011

Nebraska City, Nebraska

Sapp’s Coffee Pot Water Tower in Nebraska City
Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure – Nebraska City, Nebraska
Downtown Nebraska City

Nauvoo, Illinois

The completed LDS Nauvoo Temple in 2002

The Jay Vintage Neon – Needville, Texas

The Jay Cafe in Needville, Texas. Vintage neon sign

Mark Twain Statue – New London, Missouri

Mark Twain Statue in New London, Missouri

Willie Nelson Shrine – LSA Burgers – Denton, Texas

Willie Nelson Shrine at LSA Burger Co. in Denton, TX
Willie Nelson Portrait above his shrine

Nanobozho Muffler Man – Bemidji, Minnesota

Nanobozho, Muffler Man Indian in Bemidji, MN

Number Hill – Arco, Idaho

Number Hill – Arco, ID

If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon.  My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, will be available in late April or early May 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.

Books 1 & 2

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