Over a million people visit the Red River Gorge area every year to see the incredible views and take part in the range of outdoor activities on offer. From hiking to horseback riding, you won’t get bored on your trip.
But it’s safe to say one of the most unique experiences on offer is underground kayaking in Red River Gorge.
Working your way through the flooded mining caves in an illuminated kayak is a trip like no other.
If you love the idea of kayaking underground at Red River Gorge, this guide will give you everything you need to know to plan your trip.
Looking for the best kayaking spots in the US? Check out our guide on the best places to go kayaking in Michigan – there are some you won’t want to miss.
What You Need to Know About Red River Gorge
Red River Gorge is situated in the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) which has over 500 miles of trails running throughout sandstone cliffs and limestone rock.
Designated a National Geological Area, the gorge is the core of the Red River Basin. It was carved out by the Red River over millions of years, just like how the Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River.
Now, the Red River Basin has an impressive 150 arches as well as countless waterfalls and unique rock formations.
Underneath Red River Gorge is an old mining cave which is now flooded. The water reaches depths of 25 feet in areas, and the abandoned caves are now home to underground waterfalls, rock formations, and even wildlife.
How to Prepare for Underground Kayaking
If you are totally new to underground kayaking, it can seem a little daunting. But it’s actually much easier than you might think.
There is no wind, waves, or current underground in the historic cave, so the water is extremely gentle and easy to paddle.
This is a stark contrast to above-ground paddling which can involve rapid, strong currents, and the elements.
Take a torch
If you’re into night kayaking, you’ll know all about kayaking in the dark. Although it’s pitch black in the old mining caves, underground kayaks are fitted with lights and you’ll be wearing a headlamp to light your way.
If you’re concerned about the lack of light in the dark cave, take a bright torch along with you for added illumination.
Underground, the temperature remains fairly constant at around 50 degrees so it is fairly cold. You’ll need to know what to wear when kayaking.
Wear quick-drying layers and pack extra socks in case you get a little wet. A form-fitting sports underlayer is best to keep your body temperature constant, layered with a waterproof jacket and gloves if you’re susceptible to the cold.
If you’re very concerned about getting cold, a drysuit is a good option to keep dry and warm while you’re underground, but it isn’t essential.
Take the whole family
Underground kayaking is great for people of all abilities so it’s a popular activity for families with kids.
It is quite difficult to fall in since the water is calm, but even if someone did capsize, there isn’t a current to pull them away, so it’s a safe trip for kids and those who aren’t the best swimmers.
There are also double kayaks and tandem kayaks available for those who are a little nervous about taking on the caves solo.
Book guided cave tours
Underground kayaking at Red River Gorge is led by a friendly guide from an adventure company who will supply you with the kayak, lights, paddle, personal flotation device (PFD), helmet, and headlamp – so you won’t need to worry about buying your own gear or missing the proper precautions.
You’ll find both group tours and private family tours available so make sure to book in advance to secure your spot.
What Lies Beneath The Gorge Underground?
The 100-year-old flooded limestone mine system holds an interesting history. If you go with expert guides, they’ll teach you about the old mining system and how it was used as you explore in your see-through kayaks.
There is some wildlife to see when on your underground adventure. Rainbow trout are known to follow the kayaks and because the water is so clear, they’re easy to spot swimming around.
If you’re really lucky, you might even see a Kentucky brown bat hanging from the limestone walls.
But the main attraction of the underground mine is the natural beauty of the rock formations. You’ll get to explore an underground waterfall and spot the glistening ore of the rock as you go. It’s an incredible thing to see and a truly unique experience.
Must Do Things at Red River Gorge
Underground kayaking at Red River Gorge is an unforgettable one-hour tour. But to make the most of an entire day at the gorge, here are some other things you can do:
The Red River is a popular spot for kayaking if you’re looking to go on an unguided adventure. Some of the river is classed as difficult and only for experienced kayakers. However, there are calmer spots for beginners who want to give this fun adventure a try.
People travel from all over America for the incredible climbing adventure opportunities at Red River Gorge.
There are both unguided climbs for experienced climbers as well as guided climbs for beginners who want to give it a try.
If you have your own climbing gear and you’re looking for the best spots, here are a few of the most popular:
- The Indian Staircase is a 200-foot advanced scramble. Starts with a 1.75-mile hike and takes around six hours to complete.
- Motherload, Dark Side, Thanatopsis, and The Legend are the best Sport climbing crags.
- Fortress Wall, Pebble Beach, Tower Rock, Roadside Attraction, Bedtime for Bonzo, and Rock Wars are the best Trad climbing crags.
The guided tours cost anywhere from $50 to $200, depending on the trip. But they come with rock climbing experts and all the equipment you need. These take place on much easier cliffs and usually go out as groups.
Yes, you can zipline 300-feet above Red River Gorge over five different ziplines. This is another professionally guided group tour that takes around three hours to complete.
You’ll reach speeds of 55 mph and there are four different canopy bridges to cross on the trip.
It’s the perfect activity for any age or ability so it is a popular one with families with small kids.
There are dozens of hiking trails options all over Red River Gorge with some unbeatable views the higher you get.
If you’d like an easy hiking trail without much elevation, your best hiking options are:
- Sky Bridge Red River Gorge
- Angel Windows Trail
- Whistling Arch Trail
- Bison Way to Indian Staircase
- Tower Rock Trail
For those looking for something a little more rugged without the need to be an experienced hiker, there are also some moderate trails. These have some steep spots, cross creeks, and require a little more effort to complete:
- Rock Bridge Trail
- Copperas Falls
- Gray’s Arch Trail Loop
- Indian Staircase Trail
- Auxier Ridge Trail
Finally, if you’re an experienced hiker looking for a hardcore hike with steep climbs and an off-trail feel, these are your best options:
- Swift Camp Creek Trail
- Cloud Splitter Shortcut
- Martin’s Fork to Sheltowee
When you’re hiking through Red River Gorge, you’ll almost definitely spot a horse or two. Although you can take your own horse, there are also companies that offer horseback riding to visitors as an excursion.
You’ll take a leisurely ride down some of the prettiest trails to see waterfalls and scenic views. It’s more affordable than you might think too, with a one-hour horse ride costing around $40 per person.
There are some great fishing holes on offer for anglers. The middle section is best for fishing, where you’ll find smallmouth bass, spotted bass, and sunfish.
You’ll need a permit to fish so make sure to check out the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife to follow their restrictions.
Make the Most of Your Trip to Red River Gorge
Underground kayaking at Red River Gorge is a bucket list item for so many people. There’s nothing like exploring a side of the gorge that not everyone gets to see.
But with so much to do and explore at the Gorge, it can feel overwhelming trying to fit it all in.
If you’re a fan of kayaking, make sure to read our full guide on kayaking the Red River Gorge for tips on taking on the Red River above ground.