Rock Shelters

What is a rock shelter?

Rock shelters are recessed areas along cliffs that create an area sheltered from the wind and rain. Because they are protected, rockshelters sometimes contain incredible information about the past; however, the clues are often tiny and usually very fragile.

Ancient seeds found in rock shelters tell us that local people changed from hunters and gatherers to gardeners about 3,000 years ago. Pollen grains preserved inside rock shelters can tell us what kinds of trees were growing in the area 10,000 years ago. Animal bone collected from shelters shows native people ate a lot of deer and turkey, but also caught fish, mussels, turtles, elk, bear, raccoon and opossum.

Rock shelterDo your part to help preserve archaeological sites in rock shelters!
Camping in rock shelters is prohibited on the Daniel Boone National Forest. Please follow this restriction and you will be helping preserve these fragile sites.

Digging in rock shelters is prohibited and punishable with fines and incarceration. In addition, looting rock shelters for arrowheads or pottery disturbs the animal bone, seeds, and pollen grains, making study of the past impossible. Please do not disturb these sites and educate others about these sensitive sites. If you see someone digging in a rock shelter, you should not approach them; however, you can call 859-745-3100 and report the activity. Try to describe the location as specifically as possible when calling.

There's No Place Like Cliffline

The uncommon filmy fern prefers moist, shaded crevices along a north-facing cliff. The sun doesn't shine fully on the rock face from this angle, preventing the rock from warming up in the hot summer.

The white-haired goldenrod, a threatened species, is found only in the Red River Gorge. This plant prefers nitrate-rich soils found at the base of cliffs and in rock shelters.

Another rare species that lives in the forest's rocky places is the endangered Virginia big-eared bat. In the spring, female Virginia big-eared bats raise their young in dark rock shelters and caves. Males and females fly along the cliffline to catch moths and then carry them to rock shelters to eat.

The cliff caddisfly spends its entire life along moist cliff faces. This insect's larvae will spin a hollow tube of sticky silk and cover it with grains of sand. After crawling inside, the larvae will carry its new home as it walks along the rock. When grown, the adult emerges and can fly, but it never goes far from the cliff wall where it was born.

Green salamanders have an even more impressive trick. They use their sticky toes to climb up and down shear rock. Their grasping tail, flattened head and body, and lichen-colored markings make them well-adapted to live and survive within rocky crevices.