Cloudsplitter – Red River Gorge

Trail: Cloudsplitter via Sheltowee Trace – Out and Back

Trailhead:  Red River Gorge Parking Lot (37.82341051876443, -83.62776341772184) – Parking fills up fast.

Miles: 4 miles – I did a little extra exploring and ended up at 5.43 miles and in 2:30 hours.

Difficulty: Sheltowee Trace section is easy. Cloudsplitter is hard.

Fees: No fee for day hiking; backcountry camping – $3/day; $5/3 day; $30/annual.

Trail notes/Waypoints: Waypoints: Jump Rock (37.82409, -83.6257) Suspension Bridge (37.82785, -83.6245) Cloudsplitter Trailhead (37.83775, -83.62261) Cloudsplitter Arch/Crack (37.83806, -83.62166)

Summary: Jump here for a quick breakdown.

Map and elevation profile of Cloudsplitter Trail in Red River Gorge
Map and elevation profile of Cloudsplitter Trail

My last post covered the second half of The Girl’s and my latest trip to Red River Gorge, where we hiked the Copperas Falls Trail with a side hike to Hopewell Arch. We started the day by hiking to Cloudsplitter, which is what this post covers. A lot of people will choose to connect to Cloudsplitter via Indian Staircase, but given that we recently explored Indian Staircase, we decided to take a different route. I am glad we did, as this section of Sheltowee Trace was beautiful. We got an early morning start with no other hikers around, and the solitude of the trail was exceptional.

The sandy trail of the Sheltowee Trace
The sandy trail of the Sheltowee Trace

The trail is soft sand surrounded by lush forest with the Red River just off to the right-hand side.  Roughly 0.2 miles into the trail, you will see Jump Rock in the Red River. I have never jumped off the rock, and I am unsure of the river depths here. Please be careful if you choose to jump off the rock.

Jump Rock in Red River off the Sheltowee Trace in the Red River Gorge
Jump Rock in the Red River

The sandy trail continues along the river for another 0.3 miles. The trail you take diverges to the left. To the right lies the Sheltowee Trace Suspension Bridge crossing over the Red River. We took a little bit of time to explore the bridge and the opposite bank before heading back on our hike.

Sheltowee Trace Suspension Bridge over the Red River in Red River Gorge
Sheltowee Trace Suspension Bridge over the Red River

After the split, the trail starts to climb for the next half of a mile. You will cross over the road you drove in on before heading on through the forest surrounded by ferns and rhododendrons.   

The next mile is relatively level with short ups and downs. Keep your eyes out for wildlife. We saw a couple of copperhead snakes and a few skinks. The Girl inadvertently stepped on the tail of one of the copperheads as it slithered across the trail. It did not strike and thankfully continued off into the woods.  All was good.

Copperhead Snake in Red River Gorge
Copperhead Snake lying on the edge of the trail

At roughly the two-mile mark there is an unmarked offshoot trail to the left.  Here is the start of the unofficial trail to Cloudsplitter, and where things start to get challenging.

Cloudsplitter Trail Red River Gorge
Cloudsplitter Trail

The trail quickly climbs in elevation as you ascend surrounded by rhododendrons. Over the next 0.3, miles there are several steep sections of rock and root scrambles.

One of the few sections of root and rock scrambles on Cloudsplitter Trail in Red River Gorge
One of the few sections of root and rock scrambles

After the last scramble, you get presented with the biggest challenge of the trail. In front of you is a 20 to 30 foot section of rock scramble where you will have to use a rope to climb to the top. There is a permanent rope attached to a tree at the top. The tree is a little awkward to navigate around once at the top. (Both The Girl and I found this section more challenging than Indian Staircase.)

Rope climb up to Cloudsplitter in Red River Gorge
Rope climb up to Cloudsplitter

After the rope climb section, there is one last short rock scramble.  From here you have the first of several beautiful views.

The backside of Clousplitter
The backside of Clousplitter

A short walk up the rock will get you to the top of Cloudsplitter. The views of Red River Gorge from here are phenomenal. We took a short break up here to rest, took in the panorama, and grabbed a couple of snacks.

The view from the top of Cloudsplitter Trail in Red River Gorge
The view from the top of Cloudsplitter Trail

Before heading back to the trail, there was a little exploring I wanted to do.  I had heard about an arch or cave that sat under Cloudsplitter, and I wanted to try to get to it.  To get to the opening, you have to navigate through a series of small cracks in the rock that make up Cloudsplitter.

The first crack in the rock starts to the right of the base of the rope climb. Walk around to the right-hand side of the rock where you will see a small crack in the rock. Here you need to find a way to climb to the top of the crack. Once up, you walk back through another seam and will find a dead tree. You climb up this tree to another seam in the rock. I had to stop here. I did not see a safe way of proceeding. I saw what I thought was the right way. I also noticed that it looked like I could easily get stuck here. I was by myself at this point as The Girl did not want to try this section. If I got stuck, I was by myself, and I would not have been able to get out. The risk just was not worth it. I will be back to try this again when I have a safety net.

Rock scramble on the Cloudsplitter Trail in Red River Gorge
Rock scramble on the Cloudsplitter Trail

After trying and failing to find the cave, we headed back down the trail the way we came. The hike back was uneventful but beautiful nonetheless. As we got closer to the Red River, the number of people started to increase.  By the time we reached Jump Rock, the trail and river, were crowded with swimmers and hikers enjoying the hot spring day.

Jump Rock - Red River - Red River Gorge
Jump Rock – Red River – Red River Gorge

Summary: Cloudsplitter Via Sheltowee Trace Trail is a short but challenging hike with plenty of rock and root scrambling. The views of the river, forest, and vistas are simply beautiful. In a relatively short distance, the scenery varies quite a bit from the lowest point along the Red River to the top of Cloudsplitter. Lastly, the rope climb up to Cloudsplitter can be dangerous. Please know your limits and allow others to know theirs.

Have you hiked Cloudsplitter? Let me know what you think. If you were able to find the cave, and have any tips on accessing it. Then please let me know.

As always, have fun, take care of yourself, and please be courteous to others out on the trails.

Published by Natural Wanderer

NaturalWanderer.com

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