The hike along Auxier Ridge to Courthouse Rock is one of the best hikes in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. Along this trail you will be treated to splendid scenery and beautiful views. I highly recommend this hike.
Directions to the trailhead
The Red River Gorge is located about an hour southeast from Lexington, Kentucky. The most common way to get to the Red River Gorge is to take the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway and get off at exit 33 at the tiny town of Slade. From here take Route 15 east for 3.5 miles. Next, take a left onto Tunnel Ridge Road. Drive down this road for about 3.7 miles until it ends, and park in the parking area on the right. The trail to Auxier Ridge will exit the parking area on the north side, which is the left side of the parking area as you drive into it.
The Auxier Ridge Trail, #204, exits the parking lot and winds down into the woods. When you have gone .87 miles, you will see the Courthouse Rock Trail, #202, intersecting / exiting on the left. Here you are faced with a decision. These two trails combine to make a lovely loop, and you can get to Auxier Ridge and Courthouse Rock by going either direction. Adding the Courthouse Rock Trail to your hike adds .85 miles, and it adds to the variety of the hike as well. My preferred way to hike this loop is to stay on the Auxier Ridge Trail at this point and return along the Courthouse Ridge Trail, so that is what I will describe.
Continuing along the Auxier Ridge Trail, the walking is quite easy and pleasant. The trail is easy to follow, except for one point somewhere between 1 and 1.5 miles. Here the trail takes about a 90-degree turn to the right and down a small hill, but an unofficial trail continues straight and into a campsite. I have missed this turn a few times when I am running the trail or hiking very fast and not paying enough attention. If you find yourself on a narrowing trail that goes through a campsite and then quickly becomes overgrown then you have made the same mistake. Turn back, go through the campsite, and the trail will be so obvious you will wonder how you possibly could have missed it.
As you continue along Auxier Ridge Trail the trees will begin to thin. At 1.8 miles you will find yourself on exposed, bare rock surrounded by fantastic vistas. Walk out towards the edges of Auxier Ridge to take in the views, but be careful. A stumble could mean falling over 100 feet. To the left Haystack Rock can be seen along Auxier Ridge, and Double Arch can be spotted across the hollow. Back and to the right is the impressive monolith of Raven’s Rock. Forward and to the right is the aptly named Long Wall, and straight ahead along the trail is Courthouse Rock.
To get to Courthouse Rock and the end of the trail, continue onwards to some stairs. Shortly after the bottom of the stairs the Courthouse Rock Trail exits to the left. To get to the base of Courthouse Rock, continue past some large and impressive boulders. It is easy to get lost winding around the boulders and there are some large drop-offs, so be careful. Be even more careful if you decide to scramble around the base of Courthouse Rock or up to the top of it. The easiest path to the top of Courthouse Rock is on the east side and can be arrived at by scrambling around on the right. There will be an obvious chimney/gulley. This is 4th class climbing, which means that climbers consider it difficult enough to require the use of hands but not usually a rope. If you fall while climbing this you will probably die. Also, remember that what goes up must come down, and climbing down is usually more difficult than ascending. If you were planning to rappel off the top, you should be aware that there is a scarcity of good anchors on the top of Courthouse Rock. If you want to get into rock climbing or rappelling safely, you should read this article for information about local guide services.
After checking out Courthouse Rock go back and turn right just before the steps. The Courthouse Rock Trail lacks the brilliant views of Auxier Ridge, but it is a lovely shaded walk through the woods. After a bit more than a half mile the Auxier Branch Trail, #203, veers off to the right. This trail can be used to connect to the Double Arch Trail and make a much larger loop, but the hike to Double Arch will be covered in a future article. Going left at the fork will keep the hiker on the Courthouse Rock Trail, and after about another 1.5 miles the trail returns to the Auxier Ridge Trail. The parking lot is .87 miles to the right. All together, the Auxier Ridge Trail and Courthouse Rock Trail loop covers 5.19 miles.
Auxier Ridge is one of the most beautiful hikes in the Red River Gorge. As this article is being written the area is temporarily closed due to an escaped and illegal campfire. Please treat the area with respect. Do not litter, chop down trees for firewood, or vandalize the cliffs with carvings. If you do not know how to tread lightly outside, please learn. http://www.lnt.org/ is a good place to start.
The Red River Gorge is an amazing place. To read about another amazing hike, click this link. If you are looking for a place to stay while hiking there, you should read this article. If you want to fuel up before or after your hike, then you should read this article. If you would like to know about the other fun activities that the Red River Gorge offers, then you should definitely read this article.
If you are looking for a guidebook to hiking in the Red River Gorge area, then I highly recommend Hinterlands, as well as Red River Gorge Trail Guide, both by Jerrell Goodpaster. They cover the unofficial and official trails of the Red River Gorge, respectively. These fine books are available at most local businesses in Slade and around the Red River Gorge, or they can be ordered online from www.lostbranch.com. Most of the trail distances in this article were taken from these two books.