It’s Difficult: Indian Staircase Red River Gorge Hike In Kentucky

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The Indian Staircase is unequivocally one of the most monumental areas in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. A few centuries ago, the Adena Native American Tribe hollowed out the steps found on what appears to be a relatively large boulder. Although anyone who has seen it would liken it to a super-sized boulder, it is actually an extraordinarily smooth and large granite stone merged to the edge of a cliff.

The Indian Staircase Red River Gorge Hike is difficult. There have been instances where people stopped halfway and had to be guided down by fellow hikers. If you must attempt this climb and hope to enjoy the spectacular views it offers, you must do so entirely prepared and with some company, just in case.

What Makes The Staircase So Amazing

The Red River Gorge is quite a recreational destination since there are lots of fun activities visitors can enjoy during their time there. Also, the top of the stairway offers a breathtaking and transcendent view of the entire area.

Getting to the Indian Staircase is accessible from the Bison Way Trailhead, which can be spotted a few feet away from the Gladie Learning Center.

You simply have to head north into the Hemlock Forest, not to worry though it’s completely safe. Once you’re out of the woods, turn left and take the road which leads to the Sheltowee Trace Trail. At this point, it’s about a few hundred yards before you get to the Indian Staircase. Remember to keep an eye out for an “I.S.” sign inscribed unto the white diamonds trail blaze.

History Of The Indian Staircase

According to local legends, the Red River Gorge was once inhabited by Native Americans known as the Adena. It’s believed that these indigenous people were the ones who carved out the steps on the rocks.

Besides this, there’s also lots of evidence pointing to the lifestyle and culture of the people who once resided around the sandstone arches, some of which include household items and clothing in the large rock shelter.

Although they make for a great hike, we can agree that the steps’ positioning on the Indian Arch is entirely exposed. This means it would be in your best interest to take a few essentials and leave your backpack at the campsite since you’ll be spending quite some time hiking through the rock scrambles before you reach the top of the staircase.

Who Is The Indian Staircase Trail Hike Suited For?

While it might seem incredibly steep, the staircase is just a feasible 45-degree slope. It should be a sinch to anyone with standard hiking equipment and a reasonable level of hiking experience.

The main trails in the gorge were all marked, so it was a surprise to see that the way leading to the Indian Staircase wasn’t. However, this shouldn’t be an issue since you can always find your way there by checking your GPS or using an official map.

Navigating the Indian Staircase can be tricky, not to mention the staircase’s exposure which requires extreme caution. For these reasons, letting your kids or pets tag along might not be such a great idea.

Inexperienced hikers are less likely to enjoy this hike as they may find the climb tedious. However, people curious to see the staircase can still make the trip even if they aren’t experienced hikers since there are lots of areas to be explored without actually climbing the staircase, for instance, the Daniel Boone National Forest.

The Location Of The Indian Staircase

The Indian Staircase is located in Kentucky, 43 minutes east of Lexington. For those making their way to the Indian Staircase from Cincinnati, the drive to the gorge should last only a few hours, two to three at most.

The Red River Gorge and Indian staircase rock formation are known far and wide and this is mainly because rock climbing experts come from all directions, all year round, to see and climb this popular hike and to feel the adrenaline rush that comes from standing at the lookout point and watching the steep drop-offs.

As you’d expect from such a historic archeological site, the Red River Gorge features one of the most spectacular and rugged sceneries in the entire area. Not only this, but it’s also the domicile of more than 80 unique rock arches, large and small.

The Bison Way Trail

There are more than a few ways to get to the Indian Staircase, for instance, the Bison Way Trailhead located along KY-715. If you ever find yourself in this location and would like to make a stop at the Indian Stairway, you must follow the Bison way trail down to the Sheltowee Trace (#100). Once you arrive at the Sheltowee trace, take the spur trail West till the staircase is in sight.

How Difficult Is The Hike To The Top Of The Indian Staircase?

On your first time seeing the boulder walls, the hand and foot holds might seem a bit shallow, although you’ll find it to be nothing more than an optical illusion. You’ll also find nothing to worry about as soon as you ascend.

It’s common knowledge to refrain from looking down during a hike since it has the nasty effect of making people feel disoriented. For some reason, most people aren’t affected by this when scaling up the Indian Staircase.

So far, the only issue has been people who attempted climbing the Indian Staircase Loop wearing thongs and unsuitable footwear. If you plan on doing more than just exploring and sightseeing, remember to pack shoes with good grip, hiking boots, or perhaps a pair of sneakers.


Walking through the long-unmarked trail when going to the Indian arch or making your way through the Sheltowee Trace can be quite an adrenaline-pumping adventure.

Aside from the tall, magnificent trees and cliffs, there are many attractions to be seen regardless of the route you take to the Red River Gorge, for instance, the Adena Arch, the Frog’s Head, and the largest rock shelter commonly referred to as the Cathedral.