The Ultimate Kentucky Travel Guide

The Ultimate Kentucky Travel Guide

The Ultimate Kentucky Travel Guide

Kentucky: The “horse country” offers a unique blend of southern charm, rich history, and natural beauty through its several world-renowned museums, historic sites, awe-inspiring panoramic mountain vistas, several complex cave systems, wildlife, and obviously some of the World’s best racecourses & bourbon! Kentucky, a land of pure amazement with spell-bounding spectacles both above and under the ground, is unquestionably one of the top destinations in the US! Here is my Kentucky travel guide featuring all of the top Kentucky attractions, trip planning information, and a Kentucky attractions map.

To make it easy for you to navigate the content, I have organized my Kentucky travel guide into two sections. (1) A brief introduction to Kentucky, a little history, some geography, commute, and weather. (2) Major Kentucky attractions, if you wish, you can skip the introduction and move on to the next section, Kentucky Attractions.

History: On June 1, 1792, Kentucky officially became a US State becoming the first US state situated west of the Appalachian Mountains. The name Kentucky originated from the Wyandot Indian name for “plain,” referring to the central plains of the state. The state’s nickname, the Bluegrass State, is because of the vast expanses of Bluegrass, a grass species found across the state. Kentucky is famous for breeding horses, tobacco farms, and, of course, the Kentucky Derby.

Geography: Located in the southeastern region of the US, Kentucky is bordered by seven other states, including Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio in the north, Tennessee in the south, West Virginia and Virginia in the east, and Missouri in the west. Interestingly, Kentucky Bend is an area surrounded by Missouri and Tennessee but is still considered a part of Kentucky. Kentucky’s geography is incredibly diverse, primarily characterized by its vast expanses of rolling hills dotted with small towns and farms, but also home to several large lakes, including Lake Cumberland and Kentucky Lake, many complex cave systems, wetlands, and forestland, including the Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky and Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky.

Getting There

Flight: Louisville International Airport (SDF), Lexington Blue Grass Airport (LEX), and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Intl (CVG) are the major airports in Kentucky.

Drive: If you live in any of the neighboring states, you could drive to Kentucky. However, if you’re coming from far, it’s better to fly into Kentucky since the attractions in Kentucky are scattered all around the state and entail a significant amount of driving.

Train: Amtrak offers two rail services (1) City of New Orleans connecting Chicago, Memphis, and New Orleans, stopping at Fulton, KY (FTN), and (2) Cardinal connecting New York, Washington, DC, Charlottesville, Charleston, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Chicago, stopping at Ashland, KY (AKY), South Shore, KY and Maysville, KY (MAY)

Kentucky Travel Guide | Know Before You Go

Climate: Kentucky experiences hot, humid summers with temperatures frequently exceeding 95°F. Winters are cold and bitter, with nightly temperatures dipping below 23°F. Spring is pleasant, and Autumn is primarily sunny and enjoyable. To make the most out of your trip to Kentucky, it’s recommended you plan your trip between April and October, considering that summers can be too hot in the Bluegrass State.

Time zone: It’s worth noting that Kentucky has a peculiar characteristic of being split into two distinct time zones. The Eastern part of the state falls under Eastern Time, whereas the Western part follows Central Time. This is particularly imperative to keep in mind when planning or traveling within the state of Kentucky.

Getting around: I highly recommend renting a car in Kentucky, as public transportation is sparse and found only in a few major cities, including Lextran in Lexington, TARC in Louisville, and TANK in a few parts of northern Kentucky.

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Things To Do in Kentucky

Kentucky Attractions Map

Kentucky Attractions Map

Kentucky, known over the globe for its horse racing and bourbon, is home to a plethora of spell bounding attractions, including some of the Nation’s best museums, historic sites, wildlife viewing opportunities, waterfalls, unmatched scenic mountain vistas, several complex cave systems, and obviously, some of the World’s best racecourses!

To simplify and make it easy to follow, I have grouped and arranged the attractions in Kentucky into four primary regions – Northern, Western, Southern, and Eastern Kentucky!

Northern Kentucky, where the major cities and the state’s capital are located, features several internationally acclaimed museums, including the Ark Encounter, Creation Museum, Kentucky Dery Museum, Kentucky Horse Park, Muhammad Ali Center, and many others.

Western Kentucky is home to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, 170,000 acres of picturesque forest & wetland, offering great outdoor experiences, including camping, hiking, and wildlife viewing!

Southern Kentucky, also called the Mississippi Plateau, is the “Cave Capital of the Nation,” featuring several caves, including Mammoth Cave National Park, the World’s longest cave system, Lost River Cave, and Diamond Caverns. The Southern region of Kentucky also features a few incredible museums and family-friendly attractions, including the National Corvette Museum, Historic RailPark & Train Museum, Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo, and many others, which I have reviewed in detail below in my list of Kentucky attractions.

Eastern Kentucky, home to the Cumberland Plateau and Daniel Boone National Forest, offers unfathomably beautiful nature, including the majestic Cumberland Falls, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Sky Bridge Arch, and much more!

Here are the must-see places in Kentucky, starting in Northern Kentucky, followed by attractions in Western Kentucky, Southern Kentucky, and Eastern Kentucky, traversing the state in an anti-clockwise direction!

Creation Museum

Creation Museum | Kentucky

Creation Museum

Creation Museum, an Internationally acclaimed museum in Northern Kentucky, offers an incredible opportunity to experience the earth’s history as God has revealed it in the Bible. The museum features stunning life-size exhibits, botanical gardens, a planetarium, a zoo, fossils, captivating shows, and much more!  Read More >

Newport Aquarium

Newport Aquarium

Located in Newport, Northern Kentucky, the Newport Aquarium is among the top Aquarims in the US, popularly known for its variety of fascinating marine creatures and state-of-the-art exhibits, including Shark Bridge, Hatchling Harbor, many acrylic tunnels, Penguin Palooza, Gator Alley, interactive experiences, and several galleries.

Newport Aquarium Kentucky

Ark Encounter

Ark Encounter | Kentucky

Ark Encounter

The Ark Encounter, located in Williamstown, Northern Kentucky, is renowned the World over for its full-size replica of Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions stated in the Bible. The Ark, with three decks filled with spectacular exhibits, is also known to be one of the largest freestanding timber-frame structures on the planet.  Read More >

Kentucky Horse Park

Kentucky Horse Park

The Kentucky Horse Park, located in Lexington, is a working horse farm and a theme park celebrating and showcasing Kentuck’s rich history associated with horses and racing through its many museums, shows, horse parades, barns, and horseback trail and pony rides, and is unquestionably a must-visit on a trip to Kentucky! 

Kentucky Horse Park | Lexington Kentucky

Keeneland

Keeneland | Kentucky

Keeneland

No trip to Kentucky is complete without visiting one of the state’s race courses! Keeneland is a race course & horse auction company that offers tours of its beautifully landscaped grounds & some of its facilities via its several guided tours, including Morning Works Tour, Backstretch Tour, and Behind-the-scenes Sales & Racing Tour.

Big Four Bridge

Big Four Bridge

Big Four Bridge, a historic landmark in Kentucky built in 1895, served as a railroad bridge for cargo & passenger trains connecting Louisville & Indiana until 1969. The bridge was repurposed as a pedestrian bridge in 2013 with a one-of-a-kind LED lighting system that lights up the bridge every night & since then has become an icon of Louisville!

Big Four Bridge Louisville Kentucky

Frazier History Museum

Frazier History Museum | Kentucky

Frazier History Museum

Located in downtown Louisville, Frazier History Museum is a great place to learn about the rich history of Kentucky and the US through its world-class exhibits and collection of firearms, weapons, and artifacts. It’s also the home to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center and the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, in downtown Louisville, is famous worldwide for its Slugger baseball bats, named after Kentucky’s legendary baseball player, Pete Browning, who scored several hits using the bats made at the Slugger Factory. The Museum offers factory tours and features the “Big Bat,” World’s largest baseball bat! 

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory | Kentucky

Muhammad Ali Center

Muhammad Ali Center Kentucky

Muhammad Ali Center – Kentucky

Muhammad Ali Center, also located in downtown Louisville, is a museum and hall of fame dedicated to Louisville’s legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. The Museum, through its several exhibits, historical videos, interactive displays, artifacts, and galleries, depicts the incredible journey of Muhammad Ali’s life, boxing career, and core principles. 

Speed Art Museum

Speed Art Museum

Established in 1927, the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, adjacent to the University of Louisville Belknap campus, is Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum that showcases a massive collection of artwork from all over the globe through its several galleries, events, talks, and exhibitions and ranks among the top finest art museums of the Nation. 

Speed Art Museum | Kentucky

Kentucky Derby Museum

Kentucky Derby Museum | Kentucky

Kentucky Derby Museum

The Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville preserves & showcases the rich history of the Kentucky Derby, “America’s Greatest Race,” held annually at Churchill Downs since 1875. The Museum features two floors of exhibits & memorabilia, a short movie, “The Greatest Race,” in its state-of-the-art theater, and guided tours of Churchill Downs Racetrack. 

Louisville Mega Cavern

Louisville Mega Cavern

Located in Louisville, the Louisville “MEGA” Cavern is a former limestone quarry so large that it’s earned the title of the “Largest building in the State of Kentucky!” The massive 100-acre limestone cavern can now be explored and enjoyed through several guided tours & activities, including Mega Tram, Mega Zips, Mega Quest, and others.

Louisville Mega Cavern | Kentucky

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace | Kentucky

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace

Honoring the 16th President of the US, Abraham Lincoln, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park preserves two historic sites. The birthplace site, enshrined inside the memorial building, and the boyhood home site, the Knob Creek Farm, where President Lincoln lived with his family in his childhood. 

National Quilt Museum

National Quilt Museum

Located in Paducah, Western Kentucky, National Quilt Museum boasts a massive collection of some of the finest fiber art collections from around the globe. Since 1991, the Museum has exhibited the work of many talented quilters and is home to more than six hundred quilts displayed in its several galleries and hosts several exhibitions annually. 

National Quilt Museum Kentucky

Land Between the Lakes

Land Between the Lakes | Kentucky

Land Between the Lakes

Kentucky is not just about horses! One of the best places to visit in Western Kentucky, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area features 170,000 acres of scenic forest & wetland, offering great outdoor experiences, including camping, hiking, lake access, and wildlife viewing in its awe-inspiring Elk & Bison Prairie scenic drive! 

South Union Shaker Village

South Union Shaker Village

Dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of the rich history of the Shaker community, who lived in the area from 1807 through 1922, the South Union Shaker Village in Auburn, Southern Kentucky, offers insight into the lifestyle of the Shaker community, which was centered around principles of simplicity, communal living, and celibacy.

South Union Shaker Village Southern Kentucky

Chaney's Dairy Barn

Chaney's Dairy Barn | Kentucky

Chaney’s Dairy Barn

Located in Bowling Green, Chaney’s Dairy Barn is a must-stop on your trip to Kentucky! Chaney’s Dairy Barn not only serves some of the best ice creams ever, but they also offer self-guided farm tours with a robotic milking demonstration, a playground, a gift shop, and their divine Moo-Pie, freshly baked cookie topped with homemade ice cream.

Aviation Heritage Park

Aviation Heritage Park

Aviation Heritage Park, located on Three Springs Rd, Bowling Green, is a park celebrating the state’s distinguished aviators by displaying the historic aircraft flown by them, including a military helicopter, combat aircraft used by US Navy, a T-Bird jet fighter, the World’s first supersonic trainer, and several others.

Aviation Heritage Park | Kentucky

Lost River Cave

Lost River Cave Kentucky

Lost River Cave

While caves are not uncommon in Kentucky, the Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Southern Kentucky, is a unique natural wonder where the “Lost River” literally disappears after entering the seven-mile-long cave. Lost River Cave offers guided boat tours of the cave and also features a gift shop, a few hiking trails, and a butterfly habitat.

Historic RailPark & Train Museum

Historic RailPark & Train Museum

Historic RailPark & Train Museum, once the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Train Station in Bowling Green, Southern Kentucky, is now one of the state’s prominent museums featuring the history and heritage of the region’s railroads through its several exhibits accessible via self-guided tours of its two-storied museum building and railcar tours. 

Historic RailPark Train Museum Kentucky

National Corvette Museum

National Corvette Museum | Kentucky

National Corvette Museum

Drawing sports car enthusiasts from all over the globe, National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green, celebrates and showcases the evolution of the iconic Chevrolet Corvette, “America’s Sports Car,” through its several galleries, annual events, car shows, and a massive collection of Corvettes, and is one of the must-see places in Kentucky!

Diamond Caverns

Diamond Caverns

Diamond Caverns, located in Park City just a few miles south of Mammoth Cave, is often referred to as “Kentucky’s most beautiful cave,” which was discovered in 1859 and named after its several sparkling diamon-like calcite formations. The stunning cave formations at Diamond Caverns can be explored via guided tours offered year-round.

Diamond Caverns | Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park

The Ultimate Guide To Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park, located in Southern Kentucky, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Kentucky’s most popular tourist attractions that preserves the Planet’s longest cave system. Mammoth Cave is home to over 400 miles of explored caves & stunning cave formations, accessible via guided cave tours.  Read More >

Dinosaur World

Dinosaur World

Dinosaur World, an outdoor dinosaur theme park with over 150 life-size dinosaur sculptures placed throughout a massive park in a natural setting, is a fun place in Cave City, Southern Kentucky, for kids and grown-ups alike! Dinosaur World is a chain of theme parks that offers similar parks in other locations, including Florida and Texas.

Dinosaur World | Kentucky

Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo

Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo

Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo

Located in Horse Cave, Southern Kentucky, Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo is an animal park featuring Australian animals and birds in its various sections, including Outback featuring kangaroos & emus, the Exotic Bird Garden, walk-in Aviary, and guided tours of Kentucky Caverns previously known as Mammoth Onyx Cave.

Natural Arch Scenic Area

Natural Arch Scenic Area

One of Kentucky’s most stunning sandstone arches, the Natural Arch in Daniel Boone National Forest, Southeast Kentucky, is a towering natural arch measuring about 100 feet tall. The Natural Arch Scenic Area features an easily accessible overlook offering panoramic views of the arch and three other hiking trails for an up-close view of the arch.

Natural Arch Scenic Area | Kentucky

Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls | Kentucky

Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls, located in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, is a majestic waterfall measuring 69 feet tall and 125 feet wide, which is the largest waterfall in Kentucky, popularly known as the “Niagara of the South,” and is among the rare places in the Planet to see a moonbow, a lunar rainbow formed during full-moon nights. 

Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum

Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum

Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, located in Corbin, Southeast Kentucky, is the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken, where Harland David Sanders opened his roadside restaurant and motel, which soon became the World’s most famous chicken chain restaurant. The Museum features artifacts & memorabilia from the early days of KFC.

Colonel Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum Kentucky

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park | Kentucky

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Named after the Cumberland Gap, a mountain pass in the Cumberland Mountains between Kentucky, Tennessee, & Virginia, the Cumberland Gap National Park features spectacular natural scenery, including mountain vistas, waterfalls, caves, & wildlife. While there’s a lot to see, the Pinnacle Overlook & Gap Cave are the top attractions in the park.

Gorge Underground

Gorge Underground

Gorge Underground, a former limestone mine in Daniel Boone National Forest abandoned when a natural spring started flooding the mine, is now open to the public through guided boat & kayak tours. The tours through Gorge Grotto, part of the Gorge Underground, are very well narrated and adventurous, with history & tales about the quarry.

Gorge Underground | Kentucky

Sky Bridge Arch

Sky Bridge Arch - Eastern Kentucky

Sky Bridge Arch

Located in the Red River Gorge Geological Area in Daniel Boone National Forest, Sky Bridge Arch is the most popular and easily accessible sandstone arch formation in the region, which boasts over a hundred other arches. The arch is accessible via a 0.6-mile moderately strenuous roundtrip hike, including a flight of 75 stairs, but it’s worth it.

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge is another massive spectacular sandstone arch in Daniel Boone National Forest, measuring about 75 feet long and 65 feet high. The Natural Bridge arch is located in the Natural Bridge State Resort Park and is accessible via a 1.5-mile roundtrip “Original Trail hike” or the Natural Bridge Skylift, which in itself is an adventure.

Sky Bridge Arch | Kentucky
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Planning Your Trip To Kentucky

Ark Encounter | Kentucky

Visiting outside the winter & scorching summer months, spending a minimum of two weeks or breaking down your Kentucky trip into multiple visits, and staying close to the attractions is the best way to explore Kentucky!

As you have seen above in my Kentucky attractions list, Kentucky is home to a plethora of breathtaking vistas and amazing experiences spread all over the state. Moreover, each attraction is unique and captivating, making choosing one over the other extremely difficult. If you’re unable to explore all the attractions in Kentucky on a single trip, I recommend splitting your Kentucky trip into multiple visits, focusing on one or two regions of Kentucky at a time.

Best Time To Visit Kentucky: While Kentucky’s diverse attractions can be enjoyed throughout the year, winters are bitterly cold and not the best time for enjoying the outdoors. Summers can also be scorching and humid, making Spring and Fall my favorite time of the year to visit Kentucky. Fall, especially October & November, is the best time to see the peak fall colors in Kentucky. However, if you are a horse racing fan, the Kentucky Derby is held annually in May, making it an exciting time to visit the “Horse Country.”

Time Required In Kentucky: With several remarkable experiences and attractions in Kentucky spread across its Southern, Northern, Western, and Eastern regions, and considering the long drives between these attractions, I highly recommend spending at least two weeks to see all that Kentucky has to offer. Or divide your Kentucky trip into multiple visits, exploring one region of Kentucky at a time. No matter how you plan your trip, I recommend spending a minimum of five days in Northern Kentucky, two days in Western Kentucky, four days in Southern Kentucky, and three days in Eastern Kentucky.

Hotels In Kentucky: While there are several campsites and vacation rentals available in many parts of Kentucky, but if you’re like me and prefer the comfort and convenience of a hotel room, here are my top picks for hotels in the different regions of Kentucky, strategically selected close to the major attractions of the area –

Restaurants In Kentucky: While popularly known for its bourbon and fried chicken, Kentucky offers many more exceptional culinary experiences! Here are a few restaurants and Kentucky delicacies you must try on your trip to Kentucky – Bourbon balls, bourbon-flavored candy at Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory, Frankfort, in Northwest Kentucky. Moo-Pie, freshly baked cookie topped with homemade ice cream, at Chaney’s Dairy Barn, Southern Kentucky. BBQ mutton at Old Hickory Bar-B-Que or Moonlite Bar-b-q Inn, both in Owensboro, Northern Kentucky. Rich and flavorful Kentucky Derby pie at Kern’s Kitchen, available at several locations in Kentucky. Mint Julep, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, is made with bourbon, fresh mint, syrup, and crushed ice, available at all bars in Kentucky. And delicious tart and sweet Shaker Lemon Pie at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

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Featured Posts From The Blog

Ark Encounter | Kentucky

I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Kentucky Travel Guide, and I hope it will help you plan your trip to Kentucky. You can find other US attractions and destinations in my USA Travel Guide.

Happy feeding your soul!
Shreyashi

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