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Backpacking Hanson’s Point – Red River Gorge, Kentucky

The Red River Gorge National Geological Area in Kentucky is by far one of my favorite places to hike and camp. At only 2 1/2 hours from my house in Ohio, It’s a quick and simple drive to some of the most dramatic scenery in the East. This area has been dubbed “Moab with trees” due to its numerous arches, bridges, and cliff faces. It is rugged and sometimes dangerous–making it even more alluring. It truly is one of the most wild and awesome places to get up close with nature. Unfortunately, the attractiveness of this place draws many people each year, and some are careless. There have been many wildfires started here due to people being careless with campfires. Just in the past few weeks many acres have been burned due to unattended fires and extremely dry conditions. I fear sometime in the very near future Hanson’s Point might be completely closed to outside traffic because of the carelessness of a few. In fact, there was just a forest fire there in the past few weeks due to careless campers not putting out a fire.

On a gorgeous weekend on September 10, 2016, my friend Robb and I decided to do an overnight backpacking trip up to a “secret” hidden spot known as Hanson’s Point. This location isn’t officially recognized by the Daniel Boone National Forest, but is on numerous maps and quite easy to find. I was first introduced to this location about five years ago when I did my first backpacking trip here with the Dayton Hikers Meetup Group. I had been here enough to know how to get to it.

The hike to the Point starts easily enough. We parked at the Gray’s Arch trail head, which is one of the most popular and frequently visited areas. From there, we took the road back a few hundred yards until we reached the Sheltowee Trace trail. This hike is fairly easy (for this region), and covers a ridge with gorgeous views and dramatic slopes on both sides. There are many campsites along the path, but resist the urge to camp at these and go for the big prize–the campsites at the top near Hanson’s Point.

Jeep Renegade with Gear

The new Jeep Renegade on its first road trip with gear!

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Gray’s Arch trail head sign

The hike along the Sheltowee ridge is fairly easy, with only a few minor ups and down and rocks to scramble. It could be muddy and difficult after heavy rain, but not dangerous. There are many vistas and views to the surrounding mountains from here.

Robb on the Ridge

Rob posing on cliff’s edge on the Sheltowee Trace trail

Once we made it to the connector for the Rough Trail, we veered left. After about a quarter mile and on the right we found the unofficial Hanson’s Point trail. This trail is fairly steep, but not hard. It’s more difficult because it’s not maintained, and the hardest aspect is the blow downs and overgrowth. It seems to be getting more difficult every time I visit–which, in all honesty, makes me enjoy it more. You really have to work to get the payoff here, like many places I have been out West.

Sheltowee Trace Trail

The Sheltowee Trace trail

We finally made it to the top, after scrambling through brush and over logs and under wasp’s nests. The large group camp at the top of the ridge was a sight for sore eyes. I wanted to press on to a campsite closer to Hanson’s Point, so we passed a few other backpackers and pressed on. Finally, we found the spot, dropped our gear and set up our hammocks, and then hiked over to the Point. We knew storms were on their way in, so we wanted to be sure to get out to the point and back before they slammed us.

Hennessy Hammock

The Point was just as beautiful as I remember. With sweeping views across the Gorge that are reminiscent of deeper wilderness. This place is wild and rugged, not for the faint of heart. There are plenty of things that can kill you here–bears, snakes, stinging things, and steep dropoffs, which are the biggest killer of all. Hanson’s Point is beautiful but dangerous. There are no handrails here, and nothing to protect you from falling several hundred feet to your death. If you come here, be smart, be safe. Don’t take risks, and don’t overestimate your abilities.

After our visit to the Point, we headed back to camp to chill out and enjoy the scenery. Our relaxation was short lived, however, after a cold front swept through and brought howling wind, rain, and lightning for the next few hours. We sheltered in place under our tarps and stayed perfectly warm and dry. The rain blew by and finally stopped after dark. We were even able to get a small fire going with some wood we had collected and kept dry under our tarps.

The next morning we were greeted by beautiful fog that blanketed the Gorge. It was absolutely beautiful, and I was able to capture some amazing shots with my phone.

Sunlight in the morning

We had breakfast and coffee and headed back down the mountain and back to the car. The hike was beautiful, and I never get tired of being in “the Red”. As a customary measure, I introduced Robb to Miguel’s famous pizza, which was absolutely fantastic after a weekend in the woods.

Miguel's famous pizza

Red River Gorge is wild, dangerous, and beautiful. It’s one of the only places within a two hour drive from my house where I feel I can experience “real” wilderness–like that of being in the Appalachians or out west. I never get tired of coming here, and love bringing new friends who have never experienced it before. This is my kind of place, and I plan on being back many more times in the near future.

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