Kentucky is a state that continues to surprise me.
With its rolling green hills, bourbon trails and gorgeous horses, what’s not to like!
However, these are just a few of the things that make this state a place I keep wanting to come back to.
So, come explore this gorgeous state with me, and see my pick for the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in Kentucky.
Looking for more US travel inspiration?
Check out these guides on the best places to visit in…
Mammoth Cave National Park
This is my favorite place to visit in Kentucky, hands down!
Mammoth Cave National Park has a network of caves that stretches over 400 miles underneath several states. It is believed that most of the cave system hasn’t even been discovered yet, with 600 miles still to be explored by humans.
There are cave tours for everyone, from wheelchair accessible tours to tours that will have you crawling through tunnels with only a headlamp to light your way.
Although humans may not have seen much of the cave system, it has the most thriving cave wildlife found on the planet. Endangered animals are also found deep within the cave system, such as the Kentucky Cave Shrimp, the Indiana Brown Bat, and seven species of freshwater mussels.
Come to the park and camp and spend a few days at one of the front country sites at Mammoth like I did and enjoy all the park has to offer, or if you choose to rough it, you might want to backpack into a back country site and live for a few days in solemn peace. Mammoth Cave National Park is a place everyone should see before they die.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park
If you think the west is the only place where you can see arches, you will be surprised to see this Kentucky tourist attraction.
Natural Bridge spans 78 feet in width and stands 65 feet high. This arch is over one million years in the making and has weathered over that time to become the spectacle it is today.
The arches don’t stop there. There are over 150 arches in the park to see, so you can spend a week here and still not see them all.
In addition to seeing the arch, you can hike to destinations such as “Lovers Leap” and “Fat Man’s Squeeze”. There are over 20 miles of trails to choose from as well, so you won’t be bored at this park full of moderate to strenuous hikes.
The resort is a cozy place to stay with your choice of staying in a room at the lodge, a cottage or finding your spot at the campground. Staying here and then spending time in the picturesque Red River Gorge is a great way to spend a holiday.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
If you’re looking for things to see in Kentucky, and you’re a fan of cocktails, you’ll be in luck because Kentucky has a trail that’s not for hiking but for drinking!
You better pick a designated driver to prepare because there are 18 bourbon distilleries on this trail and can take up to a week to complete. The trail includes a stay at a historic tavern, a night on the town in Louisville and lovely scenery at some of Kentucky’s most prestigious horse farms.
But, what better way to get to know Kentucky than to tour a list of interesting towns, learn their history and have some fun while tasting the different bourbons made in the area?
I’m not a bourbon lover, but this tour made me a believer in what the rest of the world knows, Kentucky knows how to entertain and they know their bourbon!
Broken Leg Falls
For another fascinating place in Kentucky to visit, come see the aftermath of a storm that ripped the serenity from where it had lived comfortably for a thousand years at Broken Leg Falls.
Once a thriving state park visited by many, now a weathered war torn representation of its former self.
In 2012, a, F-3 tornado ripped through the state park, leaving it in ruins. Downed trees and bridges a shadow of their former selves still beckon you to explore, if not with a different mindset. This is nature, in its ravaged unkempt self, sometimes wonderful and sometimes wrapped in organic anarchy. Only time will heal.
Come see the waterfall in all its glory among the ravaged debris that has been left for nature to deal with. A contradiction of perfection and pandemonium fight for a front seat in your frontal lobe. Sit and enjoy the waterfall and contemplate the moment that the twister hit and find beauty in the chaos.
I sat with my family recently and saw the destruction at the park first hand. It’s been 10 years since the tornado hit, but you can still see the trees snapped off at the midsection and destruction all around as if it just happened. A reminder that everything can change in an instant.
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
If you remember reading stories from the famed first explorer of Kentucky, Daniel Boone, you’ll remember the recollection of spring green forests and wildlife so abundant you could “kill 99 bears in one season and 30 deer in a day”. Well, that’s Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.
Packed with lush green forests and more wildlife than you may be comfortable with, you have to keep an eye out when you’re in the forest. My first bear encounter was here in “the Gap” when I was very young.
I’ll never forget seeing the baby bear up in the tree as mama stood at the base coaxing her down. What a great memory of visiting this special place in the mountains and one of the best places to visit in Kentucky.
History and folklore abound in the Appalachian Mountains. Historic cabins and settlements are still in “the Gap” today for all to find who seek them from the westward expansion that began in the 18th century. Daniel Boone himself called these woods home in the 1700’s and wrote of many of the popular places you can visit today.
You will also find the most beautiful waterfalls and scenery that only get better with every turn. Take a ranger led hike and become a Junior Ranger, or take one of the hikes that include more than 80 miles of trails in the park.
PS: Don’t miss the Gap Cave (yes, more caves)! At this park, you can explore 18.5 miles of caves and tell your friends you went spelunking on vacation!
What do Muhammad Ali and Kentucky Fried Chicken have in common?
They both call the great city of Louisville their home!
Named after a French king and makers of the best wooden bats in the world, this city has a penchant for the unique things to do. Where can you bet on a horse race and zip line in a cave in the same visit? Louisville has all that and more and is definitely a cool place to visit in Kentucky.
Come tour the city and see a play at the famed Louisville Palace. After, you can have your pick of of restaurants in the victorian neighborhood of Old Louisville. Top off the night with a bourbon tasting at Angel’s Envy Distillery. There’s so much to discover in the largest city in Kentucky.
Louisville Mega Cavern
Have you ever been zip-lining?
How about zip-lining in a cave?
No? Well, here is your chance to kill two birds with one proverbial stone!
Louisville Mega Cavern is a man-made cavern that stretches under the city of Louisville for 18 miles. Fifty years ago, it was a mining limestone quarry that supplied much of Kentucky and the surrounding states with building materials.
Today it is more than 4,000,000 square feet and is the largest “building” in Kentucky.
It’s so huge that you can zip line, try the ropes course, take a tram to discover the interior or a walking tour. There’s so much fun to be had at this unique destination found in Kentucky.
Red River Gorge
Yet another scenic area awaits your visit when making your summer to do list in Kentucky! The Red River Gorge puts the “Gorg” in gorgeous, and if you’re a rock climber, there is no better place to hone your craft than Red River Gorge.
The sandstone cliffs prevalent at this gorge are so perfect for climbing that it is considered one of the world’s top destinations for climbers. Many books have been written about climbing in the gorge and have furthered the interest by climbers from all over the world.
Hiking and camping can also be enjoyed in the gorge as there are more than 60 miles of trails in the park. If you love the outdoors, be sure to put this destination on your list for your next excursion in Kentucky!
By far, the largest Kentucky tourist attraction is the annual Kentucky Derby. You can’t visit Kentucky in the springtime and avoid going to watch a race at this time honored event that Kentucky holds so dear.
Since 1875, The Kentucky Derby has been held at Churchill Downs, bringing horse racing enthusiasts from all corners of the globe. It’s such an extravaganza every year, that it has been called “the “Super Bowl and Mardi Gras rolled into one”.
Starting a month before the horses even break through the gate, a festival atmosphere begins. Events including parades, firework displays and hot air balloon releases add to the jovial atmosphere.
Don’t forget your fancy hats. The dress code is bowties and sundresses in every spring color imaginable. Wear your seasonal finest and come see the best thoroughbreds in the world. The Kentucky Derby is sure to be a bucket list item on many lists.
You can’t talk about The Kentucky Derby without mentioning Lexington. Lexington is home to many of the prized horses for the Derby.
Rolling green hills and expansive flower laden pastures rule this city where there is one horse to every 12 people.
But, Lexington is more than fabulous horse farms. It has a personality all its own exemplified in the culture and activities.
There’s historic landmarks and boutique open air markets. There’s distilleries and wonderful bed and breakfasts. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it in this “big little city”.
Muhammed Ali Center
The Muhammed Ali Center is not just a museum to memorialize one of the greatest athletes of all time, it is a place of education and a place of inspiration.
Muhammed Ali was larger than life and this museum perfectly represents him and his mission to leave this world better than he found it.
The building itself is a work of art, built in an art deco style that also tells a story using multi-colored custom tiles that make a picture of Ali’s face and various silhouettes.
But the inside is where the magic of the man still lives on in the principles that he saw so important. Confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality were the core values that Ali lived by and the exhibits displayed in the museum teach to this end.
The Muhammed Ali Center deserves a grand place among the great museums in Kentucky for helping a legend live on through works and what he held to be true.
Did we miss any of your favorite places in Kentucky?
Let us know in the comments if there are anymore places in Kentucky you’d like to see on our list!