Kentucky is a place filled with caves, mountains, roaring rivers, important historical sites, parks, bourbon, and a culture deeply rooted within the communities. The Appalachian Mountains cover eastern Kentucky, while forests and plains cover the rest of the state. There are hundreds of places to explore on a day trip that gives visitors a truly unique experience they will never forget.
Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the place where the Chevrolet Corvette is made, and a lot of attractions surround the American muscle car. Tours are available at the GM Assembly Plant during normal business hours. Visitors learn the car’s history at the National Corvette Museum and can even drive or ride in one for a few laps in NCM Motorsports Park. Other motorsports can be seen at Beech Bend Raceway.
For outdoor adventure, the Lost River Caves is an underground labyrinth to explore by boat or diving, and tours are available for the whole family. Other fun places are the Beech Bend Amusement Park and Splash Lagoon, rock climbing locations, and the Riverview at Hobson Grove. The history of Bowling Green can be seen at the Historic Railpark and Train Museum, Civil War historical sites throughout the city, aviation museums, and at the Downtown Fountain Square.
The horse capital of the world is located in Lexington, Kentucky, where Southern hospitality is still the norm, and the vibrant city offers attractions for everyone to enjoy. The city’s history with horses’ dates to the 19th century and some of the horses, including Man o’ War, who had over 1.3 million visitors in the early twentieth century.
Visitors to Lexington can take guided tours of horse farms or visit the Kentucky Horse Park, visit historic homes, including the largest Shaker village on earth that spans 3,000 acres. There are also plenty of retail shops, boutiques, restaurants, breweries, and distilleries. The Keeneland Racecourse is also open for touring, betting, and catching a race.
3.Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Historical Park
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While Mr. Lincoln spent most of his years in Illinois before his presidency, he was actually born in Kentucky and spent some time growing up there. The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Historical Park is a place that has gathered all the history of Mr. Lincoln’s early years to preserve and to educate anyone who wishes to learn more about his amazing life.
Tours are provided by historians and begin with a short movie about Mr. Lincoln’s life in Kentucky and beyond. People discover little known facts during the tour around about cabin living in the 1800s before, during, and after the American Civil War. Visitors will see the Sinking Springs, which gives the property its water, the Exhibit Hall featuring artifacts, and a trail with 56 granite steps that represent every year of Mr. Lincoln’s life before it tragically ended within his presidency. Gift shops and self-guided tours are available.
Bardstown, Kentucky is famous for its bourbon and is a large part of that culture industry. The Lux Row, Willett, Maker’s Mark, Barton 1792, and Preservation Distilleries are popular attractions to visit.
To view the Kentucky countryside, visitors take a ride on the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, which travels along the hills and hollows that make Kentucky so unique, while passengers enjoy country-style dining and drinks of their choice. Other unique attractions include the Abbey of Gethsemani: a Trappist Monastery, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Old Talbott Tavern, Jim Beam American Stillhouse, My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral, Kentucky Railway Museum, and so much more. Unique shopping and dining are abundant in most parts of the town.
5.Big South Fork Scenic Railway
This railway runs through the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in Eastern Kentucky. The station is located in Stearns, Kentucky, at the foot of the large mountain range. The K&T Railway Track runs for seven miles up into the mountains, passing whitewater rapids and cliff sides that provide a view of miles of Kentucky countryside.
The excursion begins at Stearn’s Depot, which has a gift shop, concessions, and picnic tables. The halfway point marks the Barthell Coal Camp and Stearn’s Company Mines, where thousands of people worked during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Blue Heron Mining Camp is at the end of the track, which has another gift shop and concessions available.
Cave City is filled with adventures that are both above ground and below ground, and the main attraction is the Mammoth Cave, State Park. There are a ton of fun activities at Mammoth Cave, including ziplines, hiking and biking trails, cave tours, playgrounds, and open areas for picnics.
There are dozens of other places to visit within the city, like Big Mike’s Mystery House, Kentucky Action Park, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Mammoth Cave, Froggett’s Guntown Mountain, three golf courses, two archery and gun ranges, J.B. Haunted Mansion and Raven’s Cross Haunted Village, Treasure Trove Park, and unique shopping, antique shops, and dining of all kinds.
7.Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
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This large state park has a large number of various activities that are fun and entertaining for the whole family. One main attraction is the Du Pont Lodge, which is a 51-room log resort lodge that offers room and board, special events, a gift shop, a big observation deck, and rental spaces.
The Cumberland River flows right through the park, and visitors often go fishing and kayaking on the river. The Riverview Restaurant has country-style dining and a family-friendly atmosphere, the community pool is open during the warmer months, and the Cumberland Falls is the main attraction of the park. The waterfall is a massive 125 ft. wide and falls down 69 ft into the rocks below. Hiking and biking trails run along the Cumberland River as well. Horseback riding and hunting expeditions are available from some of the private businesses within the park.
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This small city is unique. Adults often go to the Bourbon Barrel Tavern and the Axe Play to enjoy fine beers and throw axes both for fun and in contests. Special events and daily shows can be seen at the Historic State Theater and the Hardin County Playhouse, which are both located in the same building in downtown Elizabethtown.
This city has many parks, including the American Legion Park, which has a huge playground for kids and picnic areas. Elizabethtown Nature Park also has play areas, hiking trails, and creeks. Freeman Lake Park is a large area with hiking and biking trails and a beautiful lake for fishing and boating. Other notable places include the Elizabethtown Aquatic Center, Greenbelt Parks and Trails, Hardin County Veteran’s Tribute, Lincoln Heritage House, The Brown Pusey House, and the Hardin County History Museum, among many others within the city.
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Frankfort is the home of the State Capitol Building and many other amazing government buildings and historical sites. There is plenty of history in Frankfort, and it can be seen at the Berry Hill Mansion, the Capital City Museum, Chuck Bogart’s Free Railroad Tours, Historic District Walking Tour, Daniel Boone’s Grave at Frankfort Cemetery, and the Governor’s Mansion.
Kentucky is famous for its breweries and distilleries. Visitors can find Goodwood Brewing, Sig Luscher Brewery, West Sixth Brewery Farm, Buffalo Trace, Castle and Key, Glenn’s Creek, and Three Boys Farm Distilleries all within Frankfort. The Prodigy Vineyard and Winery are there for wine-lovers as well. Visitors can also find parks, playgrounds, art centers, unique shops and restaurants, and theaters to visit during a day trip.
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Grand Rivers is a very small town with a population of less than 500 but is part of the Paducah micropolitan area. The entire area of Grand Rivers covers just less than two miles, but there is no shortage of great things to do outdoors and around town.
Grand Rivers is known for its annual Arts & Crafts Festival, Fish Fry Festival, and Hunter’s Moon Festival. Shopping brings many visitors to the area for The Home Place, specialty shops such as Patti’s 1880’s Settlement, and The Chandlery Ship Store, which is inspired by the surrounding lakes. Visitors who want to spend time on the lakes can access marinas, boat rentals, go fishing, or swimming.
11.Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum
Colonel Sanders from the Kentucky Fried Chicken fast-food restaurant is an icon in pop culture and is based on a real person—Harland Sanders. Colonel Harland Sanders founded KFC in 1940 and operated the restaurants until 1956. He also created the KFC secret recipe still used today.
The Harland Sanders Café and Museum is located in North Corbin along U.S. Route 25, where the Sanders Café was built in 1937. The present Sanders Café was built in 1939 after the original structure burnt down. A motel was added and opened in 1940. The restaurant is family-friendly .
Irvine is a small town that sits right on the Kentucky River at Station Camp Creek. Its history is dominated by the frontier life where people like Daniel Boone and others are part of the legends. The natural beauty is Irvine’s most famous quality. People often visit Red Lick Valley, Estill Springs, Sweet Lick Knob, and many places along the Kentucky River to see the views.
The Kentucky River offers water fun like boating, fishing, and watersports. Boat rentals are available in a few places along the docks. The downtown district and the shoreline offer unique country-style restaurants, and all-American foods and shopping experiences found nowhere else. There are also art studios and museums, distilleries and bourbon museums, wineries, breweries, golf courses, many historical sites, horse stables, farms, special events and nightlife, spiritual attractions, and sports events that happen throughout the year.
13.Kentucky Horse Park
This park is an equine theme park that gets people close to all different kinds of horses. The park is centered on education, fun, and safety for both people and animals. Presentations are available each day to show people how horses help shape the world, both past, and present. Tours are offered, but people can also walk the grounds themselves. Horse rides and training are available in many different kinds of horses for both kids and adults.
There is a concession stand within the park and also a picnic area where visitors are welcome to bring their own lunches. There are many places that call this park it's home, where people can see how a live horse farm works and operates. The International Museum of the Horse, American Saddlebred Museum and Gift Shop, and the Visitor’s Center provides educational experiences through exhibits, a short movie narrated by William Shatner, libraries and archives, artifacts, artwork, and so much more.
14.La Grange Quarry
An old rock quarry just outside of LaGrange has been turned into FRP La Grange Quarry, a place where visitors can lounge in clean water. The quarry is filled naturally by rainwater, and no groundwater infiltrates the pool, which means the water is crystal clear and isn’t mixed with any toxins or farm runoff chemicals.
All visitors to La Grange Quarry must be over eighteen years old and be on a raft, tube, or other flotation devices. The quarry waters are extremely deep, and swimming is not allowed. Fishing is also prohibited along with all pets. Many visitors like to kayak, canoe, or paddleboard.
15.Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
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Western Kentucky and Tennessee is home to the 170,000 acres Land Between the Lakes. The popular outdoor recreation area has a visitor center and welcome station with accessible facilities and attractions, including the Homeplace 1850’s Farm, a Planetarium, Woodlands Nature Center, and an Elk and Bison Prairie.
Visitors to Land Between the Lakes can enjoy camping at several different sites, backpacking, hiking, and water fun. Boating, fishing, and hunting are popular at Land Between the Lakes as well as target shooting in defined areas, swimming, and geocaching. Visitors can also drive and experience the park through self-guided drives.
238 Visitor Center Dr. Golden Pond, KY, 42211, Phone: 800-861-7077
16.Lost River Cave
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Kentucky has many natural wonders, and Lost River Cave is one of them. Located in Bowling Green, Lost River Cave was donated to the local college in 1986, and restoration efforts have begun around the surrounding area, lead by the college.
Visitors can take cave boat tours of the cave, soar on the ziplines, or enjoy the nature programs at the park. There are also opportunities for kids, including the Junior Naturalist Program and Charlie Miller Butterfly Habitat. The cave park is frequented by scouting and school groups in the fall and spring and can sometimes have high foot traffic.
2818 Nashville Road, Bowling Green, KY, 42101, Phone: 270-393-0077
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Louisville is known around the world as Bourbon City and one of the best new food cities in the country. The city is also the most populous in Kentucky and is most famous for hosting the annual Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and baseball.
One of the most popular attractions for adults in Louisville is the city-wide micro-distillery trail as well as the Churchill Downs, Muhammad Ali Center, and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. There are also casinos, several city parks, art galleries, retailers, The Kentucky Science Center, Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay, and the Louisville Zoo.
18.Louisville Mega Cavern
One of the largest caverns in the US is found in Louisville, Kentucky. The cavern was created by a mining company to create a limestone quarry and was blasted in for over four decades before coming under private ownership in 1989. Construction in the Louisville Mega Cavern is ongoing, with storage spaces and offices being built inside part of the four million square foot cavern. Although the cavern is underground, it is considered the largest building in Kentucky.
The Mega Cavern also has a tram and several attractions, including zip lines. The Mega Quest is also inside the cavern and features a series of aerial rope challenges all underground. Visit during the holiday season to enjoy Lights Under Louisville, an underground Christmas lights display that stretches several miles.
1841 Taylor Ave, Louisville, KY, Phone: 877-614-6342
19.Mammoth Cave National Park
Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park means spending the day exploring caves, hiking, canoeing, picnicking, camping, horseback riding, or cycling. The Visitor Center is uphill from the Historic Entrance and is the endpoint for all cave tours. Visitors can meet rangers, get maps for hiking, and learn about cave history through educational exhibits, including how the cave is home to more than seventy species that are endangered or threatened.
There are several special events that visitors to Mammoth Cave National Park can enjoy including guided walks, workshops on preservation, genealogy, and more, as well as Free Discovery Days where entrance to the park is free.
20.Natural Bridge State Resort Park
The Natural Bridge was established in 1926, but the sandstone arch has stood for thousands of years, with some guesses that the natural bridge is more than one million years old. The sandstone is 78 feet long, 20 feet wide, 65 feet high, and 12 feet thick and continues to develop naturally today.
Today, the park is comprised of 2,400 acres, and the Daniel Boone National Forest surrounds it. There are just under nineteen miles of trails that lead to the natural bridge, as well as a pong, island, and a 400-acre lake for fishing and canoeing that can be explored. Visitors can also play golf, go horseback riding, participate in hunts, and go boating at the State Resort Park.
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Paducah is a Kentucky Rivertown that was founded in 1827 by one of the most famous explorers in history—William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Because the town sits in the Four Rivers Region, there are no shortages of river and water recreation to be enjoyed, including Land Between the Lakes.
Visitors to Paducah can enjoy a vibrant arts scene with many galleries and theaters, as well as downtown murals that can be seen. Paducah also prides itself on its history and offers the Lloyd Tilghman House & Civil War Museum, Paducah Railroad Museum, and The William Clark Market House Museum.
22.Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park
Pennyrile Forest was established in 1954 and showcased more than 15,00 acres of hardwood trees. The Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park now has 863 acres and a lake that spans 56 acres with a newly constructed lodge with 24 rooms overlooking the lake. The lodge is open all year round. Camping is also available in the park.
Most visitors to Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park spend the day biking, hiking, boating, camping, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, or playing golf. Several short, easy trails are available for walking; however, longer and more difficult hikes up to thirteen miles long are marked for more experienced hikers.
20781 Pennyrile Lodge Road, Dawson Springs, KY 42408, Phone: 270-797-3421
Petersburg is a rural community in Boone County, Kentucky, that is home to less than 700 people, but has great historical significance. Petersburg is home to an archaeological site that reveals an ancient Indian settlement, as well as an 18th-century outpost, Tanners Station.
Petersburg offers two main attractions—“The Ghost Ship,” and The Creation Museum. The Ghost Ship is the remnants of the USS Sachem that was abandoned in Petersburg in 1987. The Creation Museum features 70,000 square feet dedicated to the Creationist perspective as presented in The Bible Book of Genesis. There are 160 exhibits total that detail a 6,000year-old history of the earth from a biblical perspective.
24.Red River Gorge
One of the most beautiful places for outdoor recreation in Kentucky is Red River Gorge. Visitors travel to the gorge for hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, backpacking, ziplining, and more. The gorge is found within the Daniel Boone National Forest and is known for its sandstone arches and cliffs and amazing rock formations.
Visitors to the park can also play a round of mini-golf or visit the Reptile Zoo; walk over one of the most famous sandstone arches in the world at Natural Bridge State Park; or seek out adventure at Thrillsville Adventure Park in Slade, Kentucky. Guided services for climbing and rappelling are also available in Capmtom at the Southeast Mountain Guides, and at the Red River Gorge Guides. There are also several places to eat in Red River Gorge from Steakhouse to Smokehouses, pizza to Mexican.
25.Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill
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The history of Kentucky Shakers goes back to 1805, and in a 105-year span, the Shakers at Pleasant Hill constructed over 260 buildings, 34 of which are still standing today. The village is a National Historic Landmark, as well as the largest collection of original 19th-century structures in the United States.
Visitors should begin their experience at the Historic Centre, which is a museum dedicated to the village history, then stop at the barn to meet the animals before heading to The Preserve. The Shaker Village also offers hayrides, a local artists studio, daily adventures that include demonstrations, talks, tours, exhibits, and hands-on activities, and seasonal exhibitions.
3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg, Kentucky, 40330, Phone: 859-734-5411
25 Best Kentucky Day Trips
- Bowling Green, Photo: tamu/stock.adobe.com
- Lexington, Photo: jackienix/stock.adobe.com
- Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Historical Park, Photo: Stephanie Frey/stock.adobe.com
- Bardstown, Photo: quasarphotos/stock.adobe.com
- Big South Fork Scenic Railway, Photo: Petr/stock.adobe.com
- Cave City, Photo: Brian/stock.adobe.com
- Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Photo: Diane Johnson and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Elizabethtown, Photo: taviphoto/stock.adobe.com
- Frankfort, Photo: David Davis/stock.adobe.com
- Grand Rivers, Photo: Barry Fowler Photos/stock.adobe.com
- Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, Photo: chinnarach/stock.adobe.com
- Irvine, Photo: andi/stock.adobe.com
- Kentucky Horse Park, Photo: DarrenDwayne/stock.adobe.com
- La Grange Quarry, Photo: Thanakorn/stock.adobe.com
- Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Photo: Jesse Kunerth/stock.adobe.com
- Lost River Cave, Photo: Leo Quintana/stock.adobe.com
- Louisville, Photo: This Life In Trips/stock.adobe.com
- Louisville Mega Cavern, Photo: bjphotographs/stock.adobe.com
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Photo: Brian/stock.adobe.com
- Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Photo: ehrlif/stock.adobe.com
- Paducah, Photo: Steve Wile Images/stock.adobe.com
- Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, Photo: helgidinson/stock.adobe.com
- Petersburg, Photo: Nady/stock.adobe.com
- Red River Gorge, Photo: oliclimb/stock.adobe.com
- Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Photo: Sherman Cahal/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com