With summer officially in full swing, many Kentucky families are heading out of town for vacation. However, what some of them often don’t realize is that they can enjoy a reasonably priced vacation inside state lines at one of the Kentucky’s 50 state parks.
To get a glimpse of what the state parks have to offer, I, along with my more outdoor-savvy boyfriend, visited Natural Bridge State Park in Powell County park for two days and nights, and I can safely say that whether you are looking for an action-packed trip or a relaxing getaway, this park has something for you. From rock-climbing at Red River Gorge to lounging by the lodge pool, a wide variety of activities offered will please the whole family.
The park offers several lodging options. If you prefer to be close to nature, two campsites are near the park. If you would rather sleep indoors, the Hemlock Lodge at the park has 35 rooms, each with a balcony that overlooks a portion of the park and a pool that is free for all lodge guests to use. Several one- and two-bedroom cottages are also available for lodging. Click here for more information about campsites, lodge rooms and cottages at the park.
We chose to stay at the lodge for two nights, which was nice because we could enjoy the outdoors for most of the day, then cool down inside our room in the evening. While the lodge is not any sort of swanky hotel, the rooms have all the amenities you need for a long weekend or a few-night stay, and the large balconies allow you to comfortably enjoy the park’s lush forest.
On our first day at the park, we arrived in the early afternoon and, after talking with the helpful front desk staff, decided to head down to Mill Creek Lake— a small but pretty lake that is about a five-minute drive from the Hemlock Lodge. We rented a canoe and fishing poles and canoed around the lake for a couple hours. Though we didn’t have any luck fishing, it was great enjoying the sun while we rowed around the lake.
After our canoe trip, we decided to venture down the road from the lodge for dinner. We went to Miguels Pizza , which is a staple among Natural Bridge Park visitors, particularly rock-climbers. With a campsite right next to the restaurant, people were hanging out all around the restaurant, eating, socializing and drinking bottles of Ale-8-One.
The pizza – with a long list of toppings such as broccoli, pesto and pasta swirls – was delicious, and I will definitely stop there again the next time I’m in the area.
After dinner, we relaxed at the lodge the rest of the evening and rested up for our hike the next day.
The next morning, we hiked the Balanced Rock Trail, which meets up with the Original Trail to Natural Bridge. It was a short hike —three-quarters of a mile— but the parts of the trail with long sets of steep steps reminded me that I probably need to hit the gym more often. But besides these few areas, the trail could be done by most hikers, especially because there are plenty of spots along the trail where you can stop to take a break and enjoy the beautiful views. Just be sure to bring some water (which we foolishly forgot to do)!
The other trails at the park are as short as a quarter of a mile, with others as long as 7.5 miles, so there is a trail for hikers of all levels. The popular Original Trail is also three-quarters of a mile and is the easiest path to the the 78-foot natural sandstone arch, for which the park is named.
Though the Natural Bridge provides a breath-taking view of the mountains and town below, other natural wonders — like caves and giant sandstone walls — can be spotted along the various trails. Click here for the full list of park trails.
Once we reached the Natural Bridge, we planned to take the park Sky Lift back down the mountain to enjoy the view from above, but the lift was being worked on for maintenance. However, the hike back down took about half the time as the hike up, and it was a relief to be walking downhill, rather than up the steep stairs.
When the Sky Lift is running, it costs $10 per person for a round-trip ride, or $6 for a one-way trip. The lift is a nice option for people who want to enjoy the view from Natural Bridge, but may not be able to hike up one of the trails.
After our hike, we relaxed by the pool for a couple hours and later decided to stay at the lodge for dinner. The Sandstone Arches Restaurant at the Lodge has a full buffet – which offered a variety of options, including soup and salad, chicken fingers, fried fish and even hot browns – as well as a full menu from which you can order a la carte.
Tired from our hike and full from the buffet, we relaxed at the lodge again for the rest of the night and headed back to Lexington the following morning.
Because we visited the park on a Monday and Tuesday, we weren’t able to take part in any of the park’s unique weekend events, such as Hoedown Island or night canoeing.
Square dancing at Hoedown Island takes place on Friday and Saturday nights by the lake below Hemlock Lodge throughout the summer. An open-air dance patio allows space for square dancing as a rotating list of singing and dancing groups provide entertainment. Admission is $3 per adult and children under 12 are free. Dances are held every Friday from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend and on every Saturday from the last Saturday in April thru October. Click here for a more detailed Hoedown Island schedule.
Night canoeing is offered this summer on June 30, July 28 and Aug. 4, in addition to a variety of other family-friendly activities offered almost daily at the park.
Visit parks.ky.gov/natural-bridge , call 606-663-2214 or 800-325-1710, or email email@example.com for more information about Natural Bridge Park.
Photos by Jill Seelmeyer