Until this year I didn’t realize how beautiful Kentucky’s nature scene really is. With nursing school ramping up and my free time slowly dwindling away, I needed an adventure. The last weekend in January is usually full of winter snow, ice, cold gusts, and the desire to be inside with hot chocolate, but with this unusual warm winter I decided to have a go at a Red River Gorge hike.
For those of you who know the Gorge well you probably know they had several wildfires this fall, which left many of the trails and roads closed until Christmas. The newly reopened trails and roads promised a scenic and quiet hike for a mid-January morning. My departure was an early one, around 8 AM to be exact. The Gorge is about 45 minutes from Lexington, KY, but the drive is stunning, especially at sunrise and with the early morning fog.
Once you arrive in the Gorge it is another 20 to 25-minute drive to where I hiked out from. If you didn’t know this place existed, you would simply never find it. The Copperas Creek Falls are a staple of any Gorge lover’s bucket list, but getting on the correct trail can prove challenging even for the most experienced guide. The trail is unmarked, but so many people visit that a trail has been forged in the clay. The tricky part is that when you leave from the river, there are several mini forks off the trail that are easy to fall for. However, once you are on the trail it is unmistakable simply because it looks like you just stepped out of a Jurassic Park movie! Even in the dead of January, the trees are full and the moss is a vibrant shade of lime. The fungi are a myriad of orange and yellow, making them easy to spot and fun to photograph.
Most of the hike is along the creek bed so be ready to get your feet wet. The deeper you get into the forest, the more silenced and more tranquil the trail gets. If you follow this unmarked but well-loved trail, about 5 miles in you will eventually hit a large group of boulders with trees growing off them. This is the final marker before a 5-minute walk to the falls.
I had a serious preconceived notion about what these “falls” would look like with all the rain we had in January, but I could not have been more wrong. Through the trees is this magical little clearing reminiscent of a Lord of the Rings scene or something out of a fairytale. A little aquamarine pool of rain and river water greets you with a glass-like calmness. The hue is simply breathtaking and unbelievable unless you see it for yourself. The pond extends approximately 15 yards across and 10 yards wide. Gazing up from the little frothy white water is a thin waterfall cascading down into the pool below. A crescent moon-shaped rock overhang, which resembles a shallow cave, encapsulates the backside of the waterfall. The ground is sandy and muddy and the rocks are like giant red creatures inviting you to climb them.
The most wondrous thing about the falls is the 360-degree view you can have of them. If you stand on the rocks just to the right and back of the falls, you can take a beautiful panoramic shot of the area, and while it will never adequately describe the scene in person, it is a close second. The group of people I went with are also into photography, so we spent some time setting up beautiful long exposure shots that give the falls this smooth, gentle appearance.
If you are looking for a fun weekend getaway and can’t afford or don’t have time to truly “GO” somewhere, I implore you to think about a day of hiking at the Gorge. If you’re feeling adventurous I would highly recommend attempting this trail if you can find it. Most “Gorge locals” or people who spend the majority of their time there will be able to get you where you need to go and point you in the general direction if you get lost. The beautiful thing about this place is the kindness of the people who dedicate their life to exploring it. The climbers, the hikers, and the campers are all willing to help you if you should need it, and it is a great way to meet some new people. Join in a group and trail behind them or just ask if you can walk with them and most likely you’ll get a “yes!” Enjoy this beautiful state and explore somewhere new at the Red River Gorge!