“Rough Trail lives up to its name with numerous tough climbs and descents.
— Chris Chaney
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Rough Trail has a lot of steep climbing and descending. This trail as a run should not be taken lightly. There are some unforgiving technical sections as well as some big cliffs.
Rough Trail is rough. From end to end Rough Trail packs in more climbing and descending than any other trail in the area. In short, Rough lives up to its name.
The trail is just shy of 8 miles long and traverses the Red River Gorge across its heart from west to east. At the east end the Swift Camp Creek Trail #219
continues into Clifty Wilderness for almost another 7 miles making for a long trail outing of nearly 15 miles one way.
Rough Trail begins on the western end at the busy Martin's Fork Trailhead. It's used heavily by rock climbers, backpackers, day hikers, and trail runners. From the TH hike back toward Nada Tunnel and cross the road at a footbridge. Right away the woods are cool and dark and the trail stays tight with the small stream. The 1st Section climbs up Martin's Fork and gains Tunnel Ridge at the end of the Gray's Arch Trail #205
From the intersection with Gray's Arch Trail Rough continues on toward Gray's Arch itself through its 2nd Section, first continuing out a broad, flat ridge before dropping steeply down a newly cut section of trail and then some steep stairs. At the bottom of the stairs run or walk a few yards to the right for a fantastic view of Gray's Arch before turning around and continuing east on Rough Trail. The trail continues down into the deep valley and immediately begins climbing up to Rush Ridge. The 2nd Section ends when the trail levels out on top.
The 3rd Section immediately drops steeply over a rock step from the crest of the ridge and then passes under an overhanging section of cliff and then into a narrow slot canyon for a short distance before coming out on a steep and thickly vegetated slope that drops down and down and down to Rush Branch. Again, Rough Trail begins climbing steeply as soon as it hits bottom. The 3rd Section ends with the 3rd climb along the trail as Rough Trail intersects the Sheltowee Trace on Pinch Em Tight Ridge.
Once on top of the ridge the first real reprieve comes as Rough Trail runs with the Sheltowee Trace straight out the ridge for about a mile before beginning another brutal descent. In the valley, the trails cross two creeks in quick succession before splitting. The Sheltowee heads north and Rough continues east, once again beginning a lung-burning climb out of Chimney Top Creek to gain Chimney Top Rd.
At the beginning of the 5th section is another respite before the descent into Parch Corn Creek. Have faith; there is one more big climb before the end at KY 715.