Welcome to Kentucky! No doubt, when you think of the Bluegrass State, your mind drifts to horse derbies, Fort Knox, and the state’s renowned fried chicken; mine certainly does. But, there are so many more things to do in Kentucky than that!
With a national park, museums, outdoor recreation, family-friendly fun and more — you’ll never run out of things to do in this beautiful state.
Here are 25 things to do in Kentucky that you’re going to love.
MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK
In west-central Kentucky, a mysterious subterranean world beckons to adventurers. This world is Mammoth Cave, the world’s largest known cave system and one of America’s most unique national parks.
Mammoth Cave National Park has drawn visitors since prehistoric times. To this day, archeologists continue to discover Native American artifacts, cave drawings, and burial grounds in lesser-explored parts of the cave. Since the 19th century, tourists have flocked to the caves for their own underground exploration.
Today, Mammoth Cave National Park spans nearly 53,000 acres of forested lands and river valleys above ground, and extensive caves and tunnels underground. Visitors visit the caves, but the park also hosts fishing, horseback riding, trail running, and other activities. There are even a handful of historic cemeteries and churches on the massive grounds.
Note that entering Mammoth Cave National Park costs nothing, but tours, campgrounds, and picnic sites do have fees. You’ll want to check the park’s website to decide on your tours and book ahead to save your spot.
Read More: MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK – EPIC GUIDE
KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL
Bourbon whiskey is the most famous of all Kentucky’s exports and products. Kentucky bourbon’s smooth, fiery flavor has a national and international following. Whiskey fans need to look no further than Kentucky to find distillery tours and whiskey-related activities.
Enter: the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Get a taste of the legendary Kentucky bourbon, or find out in detail the distilling process, or do both! Discover secret ingredients and get to discuss the process with renowned brewers behind the scenes.
Join the list of over 2.5 million visitors to explore all 38 distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Tick items on your wish lists and increase bragging rights when you make stops at world-famous distilleries.
In 1953, Bill Samuels, Sr. introduced Maker’s Mark to the world after much experimentation. His revolutionary recipe, involving red winter wheat, stood out from the stiff bite of rye whiskey, and thus, his brand launched into stardom.
Today, the Samuels’ still produce their whiskey on Star Hill Farm, a national historic landmark in Loretto, Kentucky. Tours at the site require a bit of walking around quaint farmland and end with a delicious whiskey tasting of a true classic.
BULLEIT WHISKEY AND BOURBON DISTILLERY
Now, if the spicy flavor of rye suits your fancy, you’ll want to head down to Shelbyville and visit the Bulleit Whiskey and Bourbon Distillery. Bulleit came about in 1987, and has since grown into a popular choice for craft cocktails.
The distillery has a few different tour options, but each walking tour includes a whiskey tasting and jaunt around the grounds. Check out the distillery’s calendar; it often hosts whiskey-related workshops for the public to enjoy.
BOUBON TRAIL CRAFT TOUR
For whiskey fans interested in trying something new, the Bourbon Trail Craft Tour has what you need. The tour explores four different craft distilleries in Kentucky: Castle & Key Distillery in Frankfort, Copper & Kings American Brandy Co. in Louisville, Log Still Distillery in Gethsemane, and The Bard Distillery in Graham.
The tour takes about five days as you hop through cities, so it’s a great time to explore Kentucky’s charm along the way.
In 1805, a peaceful community of like-minded individuals decided to create a home in Kentucky. They christened their land Pleasant Hill, and for nearly a century, the Shakers of Pleasant Hill lived in their small utopia. However by 1923, Pleasant Hill became private land, until in 1968, the restored community opened to the public as a living museum.
Today, Shaker Village is a bed and breakfast restaurant, working farm, and museum rolled into one. Guests can stay the night at the inn, dine on farm-fresh meals at the Trustee’s Restaurant, take horse-drawn carriage rides, and explore farm animals and local wildlife on the village’s grounds. After visiting, you’ll have a newfound understanding of what farm life in the 19th century was like!
CUMBERLAND FALLS STATE RESORT PARK
Get your taste of rustic adventure and resort luxury at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. The scenery alone will have you in awe, from the gorgeous stone and pine DuPont Lodge, to the majestic 60 foot drop of the thundering Cumberland Falls.
When you visit Cumberland Falls, you’ll have endless outdoor activities to enjoy. Archery, hiking, rafting, and swimming are popular past times within the park. You’ll definitely want to plan your dates to coincide with Cumberland Fall’s “moonbow,” a rainbow produced at night by the moon – one of the only moonbows in the world!
NATIONAL CORVETTE MUSEUM
In Bowling Green, KY, one of the world’s greatest collections of gorgeous vehicles waits. The National Corvette Museum opened in 1994 in the same city as the only Corvette Assembly Plant in the world. As you can imagine, the museum has an enormous assortment of Corvettes, each of them stunning in its own right.
Your visit to the museum includes all the speed-racing ‘vette exhibits in the museum, including interactive exhibits and a Corvette simulator test drive. You can often find a car show going on the weekends and other public events hosted by the museum, so check out their calendar online. And, if you get hungry, grab a bite at the Stingray Grill – the food is as unique and eye-catching as the grill’s namesake, the Corvette Stingray.
Read More: 13 THINGS TO DO IN BOWLING GREEN KY THAT YOUR FAMILY WILL LOVE
CHURCHILL DOWNS & THE DERBY MUSEUM
The biggest event in Kentucky goes down on the racetrack of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It begins with a single shot fired, a loud BANG, and then the fastest horses in racing take off to compete in the Kentucky Derby.
For a day of racing and fine dining, visitors should check out the Stakes Lounge, Matt Winn’s Steakhouse, while watching the race. But, there’s more to Churchill Downs than just watching a horse race. You can also check out The Kentucky Derby Museum, which details the nearly two centuries of derby history on its walls.
Read More: 23 OUTSTANDING THINGS TO DO IN LOUISVILLE KY: BOURBON COUNTRY
DANIEL BOONE NATIONAL FOREST
Daniel Boone’s name is famous in the United States. The pioneering frontiersman created the Wilderness Road, which served as a pathway to the western U.S. for thousands of settlers. The pathway led to the creation of some of the first settlements in Kentucky. His many adventures turned Boone from an ordinary man to an American folk hero.
In 1937, the U.S. honored Boone by naming 708,000 acres of forested land near London, Kentucky after the adventurer who helped pioneer it. Today, Daniel Boone National Forest is a favorite haunt for hiking, bird-watching, camping, fishing, and boating.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN BIRTHPLACE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
On February 12, 1809, a man who would alter American history was born in a single-room cabin in the forests of Hodgenville, KY. His name was Abraham Lincoln – I’m sure you’ve heard of him.
While Illinois is famous as the place Lincoln married Mary Todd and launched his presidential campaign, it is Kentucky that boasts the birthplace of Lincoln. At the national historic site, you’ll explore the origins of the 16th President. And, you’ll get to see the first-ever memorial built to the president. (It was built 13 years before the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.)
Visitors to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site should plan on spending some time hiking the area where Lincoln grew up. You can visit The Sinking Spring, where the Lincoln family gathered water, run through the very trees Lincoln no doubt played in, and hike the 56 steps which lead up to the neo-classical memorial building.
BIG FOUR BRIDGE
Once upon a time, four railroads crossed the Ohio River along the Big Four Bridge. The massive 2,525-foot bridge no longer has steam engines barreling across it, but the Big Four Bridge remains as busy as ever with pedestrians today.
In 2011, the decommissioned Big Four Bridge received millions of dollars of infrastructure to turn the structure into a pedestrian-friendly bridge connecting Louisville, KY, to Jeffersonville, IN. It’s a popular by-way for visitors to explore two different cities on the shores of the Ohio River.
LOUISVILLE SLUGGER MUSEUM & FACTORY
Country songs, Babe Ruth, and Joe DiMaggio have immortalized the Louisville Slugger baseball bat. But at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, you’ll discover the intriguing history of the bat itself and the players who used it.
The museum owns several prized baseball bats from MLB history, including Babe Ruth’s notched bat and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game streak bat. The museum also has sections dedicated to Black baseball players like Jackie Robinson, a tour of their famous facility, and their famous signature wall displaying all the players and managers who worked with Louisville Slugger over the years.
If you plan on visiting the museum, tour reservations are recommended. You can get tickets online and check out the latest traveling exhibits to plan for while you’re at it.
MUHAMMAD ALI CENTER
In 2005, the city of Louisville, KY welcomed the opening of the Muhammad Ali Center. The center commemorates the life and legacy of Ali, focusing on the six core principles that Muhammad Ali used to guide his career and life.
The museum has several exhibits, six of which are based on Ali’s key principles: Dedication, Confidence, Spirituality, Conviction, Respect, and Giving. There is also an interactive exhibit that shows kids and adults how Ali trained at Deer Lake, and allows them to learn boxing techniques from Ali’s daughter, Laila.
The Muhammad Ali Center frequently hosts traveling exhibits that provide cultural enrichment on topics such as sustainability, social justice, and Civil Rights.
KENTUCKY HORSE PARK
Horses are a big deal in Kentucky. If you’re looking for an equine-related adventure, check out Louisville’s own Kentucky Horse Park. The grounds of the park have raised and bred horses since 1785, and the KHP has been sharing the world of horse training with the public since 1978.
The Kentucky Horse Park is more than just a farm. Its mission is to celebrate humankind’s relationship with the horse. Visitors to KHP can explore the International Museum of Horses, watch live training demonstrations, and even take a ride on a friendly thoroughbred.
The KHP even has its own campground, complete with a pool, tennis courts, and access to the Legacy Trail; talk about a unique way to stay and play in Kentucky!
Read More: 26 FANTASTIC & FUN THINGS TO DO IN LEXINGTON KY
Despite popular belief, there is not a giant mound of gold hiding in Fort Knox. But, you can still visit Fort Knox – just keep in mind you won’t find any gold nuggets and that it is an active Army base, so don’t do anything too wild while there.
Fort Knox covers 108,955 acres and is, in fact, an actual city, as well as an active Army base. Civilians can’t access every part of the base, but they can explore the George S. Patton Museum to see historical uniforms, massive tanks and machine guns, and other exhibits surrounding Patton and the U.S. Army’s legacy.
HARLAND SANDERS CAFÉ AND MUSEUM
Is there anything more Kentucky than fried chicken? No, definitely not. To experience the history of Kentucky Fried Chicken in all its glory, swing by the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, AKA the original KFC, located in Corbin, KY.
Not only is the Harland Sanders Cafe an adorable cottage-style building on the outside, but it’s also the same quaint 1940s restaurant on the inside. The museum portion of the cafe has unique exhibits, including a model of Sanders’ motel room concept. (He wanted to offer guests a place to stay after enjoying their fried chicken, but the idea never panned out.)
You can also tour Sanders’ office and the kitchen where he created his super-secret recipe for KFC! When you’re done, you can order up fresh KFC from the cafe – what could be better?
The Diamond Caverns of Park City rivals its neighbor, Mammoth Cave, in beauty and splendor. When workers discovered the cave in 1859, it instantly became a tourist destination. Its walls drip with stalagmites in fanciful spirals and glittering sculptures of calcite.
Tours in Diamond Caverns take about an hour, leading visitors deep into the mysterious world of shimmering caves. The tours are kid-friendly; however, the steep steps and lengthy walks can prove strenuous for younger children. Keep in mind that children under the age of 4 must be in front-mounted baby carriers, so make sure you have the right equipment before bringing a baby along for the tour.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park is home to a mind-blowing natural marvel. Yep, you guessed it; it’s an all-naturally made bridge! The sandstone bridge is 78 feet long and 65 feet high, bigger than many man-made bridges!
Natural Bridge State Resort Park offers plenty of hiking trails around the bridge and other scenic areas of the park. It also has a lovely resort lodge with a restaurant and cozy camping grounds for visitors to stay at, plus fishing, canoeing, and boating opportunities.
NATIONAL QUILT MUSEUM
The National Quilt Museum of Paducah displays some of the country’s most dazzling quilts. Think of the museum as an art gallery with traveling exhibits that detail the story, making, and art behind quilt making.
At any given point of the year, the National Quilt Museum has hundreds of unique quilts on display. Plus, if you enjoy quilting or want to learn, the museum offers quilting demonstrations to the public. So you’ll definitely want to check their website before visiting to see what exhibits and demos are scheduled during your visit dates.
Read More: 18 FUN & PHENOMENAL THINGS TO DO IN PADUCAH KY
USS SACHEM RUINS
In Petersburg, KY, a ghost ship rests on the Ohio River. It was known as the USS Sachem in its glory days, a warship that served honorably during both World Wars.
In its heyday, the USS Sachem was the workshop of Thomas Edison during WWI, before becoming a vessel fighting against Japanese forces in WWII. After the wars, the Sachem fell into disuse, becoming a haunting ruin that kayakers and fishermen explored on dares.
Today you can visit Sachem only by boat. Visitors can’t go inside, but they can cruise around the vessel and imagine what life was like on the venerable vessel a hundred years ago.
The whole family will love diving into the watery world of the Newport Aquarium! This state-of-the-art institution has something for everyone, from pirate ships to alligators.
The Newport Aquarium has over a dozen themed exhibits, each with its own aquatic or landlubbing counterparts. The kids will love the interactive Shark Overlook where they can view the finned kings of the ocean, and there’s a playground for them to enjoy as well. The aquarium also has a several touch-related attractions, from the Shark Touch to the Tide Pool interactive exhibit. It’s a great time for kids of all ages!
Who wouldn’t want to see giant dinosaurs up close and personal? At Kentucky’s Dinosaur World, located in Cave City, you can do just that.
Dinosaur World is a walk-thru, interactive site housing life-sized dinos, a prehistoric museum full of fossils, and dino-related activities like fossil digging and excavating dinosaur bones. The park is outdoors and encourages coolers, since there’s not much shade among the dinos. But, you can swing by the gift shop or museum to cool off before returning to the T-Rex that’s waiting for you!
At the Creation Museum, Christian-based stories from the Bible come to life. The museum features exhibits detailing the life of Jesus, Moses, and other famed Biblical figures, illuminating the world of Jerusalem and the ancient Middle East for its visitors.
At the museum, you can see a realistic reproduction of Eden, grab a bite at Noah’s Cafe after visiting with an animatronic Noah, and discover the timeline of the Bible. There are also exhibits detailing mythical dragons and their relationship to the Bible, a petting zoo with wallabies, and more. You can even watch the heavenly planets cross the sky at the Creation Museum’s planetarium!
MOTHER GOOSE HOUSE
Built in 1940, the Mother Goose House brings to life a favorite children’s story while also serving as a delightful bed and breakfast. The house resides in Perry County, and has been featured on HGTV and the Oprah show because of its whimsical design.
Visitors to the Mother Goose House can enjoy taking in the view, or if you’d like to see inside, you can visit the arts and crafts store that has taken up residency in the iconic goose. Alternatively, you can live out a storybook chapter and stay the night at the house. The single-room bed and breakfast includes a four-course dinner in the morning by the current owners, Harmony House Bed and Breakfast.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO KENTUCKY
- YOUR KENTUCKY VACATION
- LOUISVILLE: 23 Outstanding Things To Do In Louisville: Bourbon Country
- BOWLING GREEN: 13 Things To Do In Bowling Green KY Your Family Will Love
- LEXINGTON: 26 Fantastic & Fun Things To Do In Lexington KY
- PADUCAH: 18 Fun & Phenomenal Things To Do In Paducah KY
WHERE TO STAY IN KENTUCKY
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