A bounty of outdoor activities in Kentucky showcase the unique landscapes, cave systems, state and national parks and waterways
The Bluegrass State is a wealth of ready-made fun and exciting options for travelers of all ages. Each region has so much to offer. Those interested in getting outside will find that the outdoor activities in Kentucky are plentiful.
Southern Central Kentucky
South Central Kentucky’s Southern Shoreline Region, with its dozen lakes and wide-ranging cave system, abounds with recreation opportunities. With its 1,200 miles of shoreline, Lake Cumberland provides boating, fishing and water sports. Houseboat rentals offer a unique lodging experience.
More adventure awaits at the Daniel Boone National Forest. Virtually all outdoor activities are available along with group campgrounds, guides and outfitters. The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area encompasses Tennessee and Kentucky and provides visitors with a wide range of outdoor activities.
Adventures continue in the aptly named Caves, Lakes and Corvettes Region of South Central Kentucky. Mammoth Cave National Park is the appropriate place to begin your adventure. With more than 390 miles of explored area, this is the largest cave system in the world. More than a dozen park ranger guided tours are offered. Nearby Crystal Onyx Cave has provided pre-historic finds.
Barren River Lake State Resort Park sits on one of the region’s six lakes. The lodge offers 51 guest rooms and is open year-round. The fall through spring seasons provide wonderful birding opportunities.
Bowling Green is home to the famed National Corvette Museum, and you do not have to be a car enthusiast to enjoy and appreciate this symbol of Americana. Lost River Cave features Kentucky’s only underground boat tour and is open year-round. Educational tours of the cave explain the significant place Bowling Green had in the Civil War and its importance to both Union and Confederate causes.
With the sprawling Appalachian Mountains as the backdrop, outdoor adventure takes first place in Eastern Kentucky. Scenic routes, hiking and horse trails, national and state parks and every imaginable outdoor activity await in Kentucky’s Appalachians Region.
Carter Caves State Resort Park, with a 28-room lodge and campsites, has much to offer the nature enthusiast. There’s plenty to do, from birding and fishing to canoeing and caving. Bat Cave is the largest cave in the park. It is open only in the summer and is the home of an estimated 40,000 Indiana bats called Myotis that hibernate there in the winter
Taking a few days away from outdoor exploration provides a wonderful opportunity to discover the history and heritage of the rugged mountain people and their descendants that settled this land. Learn their story at the Highlands Museum & Discovery Center, Kentucky Folk Art Center, Kentucky Coal Museum, Mountain HomePlace, and a Civil War-era working farm.
The Daniel Boone Country Region of Eastern Kentucky offers five state parks. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park’s DuPont Lodge offers great views of the Cumberland River and a large stone fireplace that’s the centerpiece of many evening gatherings. Not to be overlooked are the cottages, cabins and campsites that provide an outstanding choice of accommodations. Riverview Restaurant offers menu selections that are as good as the view. As at all Kentucky state parks, there is a wealth of outdoor adventure just outside your front door.
On the opposite side of the state, Western Kentucky offers natural attractions, art and creativity along with welcoming cities and towns. Do not be fooled by the name Bluegrass, Blues and BBQ Region. There are plenty of outdoor activities waiting for you in the area, home to music legends Bill Monroe, the Everly Brothers, W. C. Handy and world-famous barbecue.
Concerts and festivals featuring the area’s music and food traditions blend nicely with the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden, Dogwood-Azalea Trail and John James Audubon State Park. The Botanical Garden in Owensboro has tours and can provide catered luncheons in a wonderful setting. John James Audubon State Park, near Henderson, offers a variety of trails. Much of the naturalist’s art concepts were developed near his hometown.
The Western Waterlands is a fitting moniker for one of the state’s most popular vacation destinations for outdoor activities in Kentucky. The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, bordered by Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, welcomes the water enthusiast with every imaginable pleasure. From fishing, water skiing and sailing to kayaking, swimming and just relaxing, this area has it all. Hiking, biking and horseback riding keep landlubbers busy. Do make sure you dine at any one of the outstanding lakefront restaurants.
Before you leave this scenic region, a visit to Paducah’s vibrant downtown is a must. This historic area features the National Quilt Museum and a delightful mix of working artisans.