When you think of Kentucky, Bluegrass music, good bourbon and dramatic horse derby races probably come to mind – but the state actually has a multitude of attractions that draw tourists and locals alike.
Whether you’re visiting the Bluegrass State from somewhere else or you’re just wanting to explore a little near your home, there are tons of adventures out there for you and your family. Here’s our list of some of the most exciting:
Mammoth Cave National Park
The longest known cave system in the world is right here in Kentucky. There are more than 400 miles of recorded caves located right inside Mammoth Cave National Park. The cave tours offer a wide range of options and difficulty levels that are designed to make them accessible to the broadest number of people possible (so don’t be afraid to head that way even if you’re not in the best of shape).
Above ground, the park isn’t exactly shabby, either. It has world-case hiking, camping, ranger-led programs, canoeing and kayaking.
Have your kids recently had their imaginations captured by the new “Jurassic World” movie? If you want to tap into all that enthusiasm, Dinosaur World is just a short distance down I-65 from Mammoth Cave National Park.
The dinosaur statues peeking through the foliage are fun, but your kids can also pan for real minerals, check out the artifacts at the on-site museum and even dig for fossils. There’s also a very cool dino-themed playground where your little ones can blow off tons of energy during their visit.
Newport Aquarium isn’t just known for being one of the best aquariums in the entire country, it’s packed with all kinds of fish, crocodiles, penguins and stingrays – but it is particularly known for its amazing collection of sharks.
If “Shark Week” captures your attention every year, you definitely don’t want to miss this stopping point on your travels. You can walk through a glass tunnel where you can watch these amazing fish swim all around you and above your head. If you’re particularly brave, however, you can pass over the aquarium’s Shark Bridge, which will put you inches above a giant shark tank.
Famous for hosting the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs is one of the state’s most defining attractions.
Tourists and locals flock there by the thousands for the Derby, but the Downs are well-known as a great place for date night throughout the racing season. Their Twilight Thursdays offer racing, live music, food trucks and craft beers. The Downs also has Family Adventure Days each year, which range from creative activities for kids to Trick-or-Treat night.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Defined by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail celebrates this amazing craft that is deeply associated with the state’s history. Kentucky does, after all, produce roughly 95% of the world’s bourbon.
You’ll need to leave the kids at home for this one, but you can either follow the official Bourbon trail (which hits 18 distilleries around the state over about four days) or you can strike out on your own as you visit the origin spots for the birthplace of bourbon.
Red River Gorge
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to follow in Daniel Boone’s footsteps as he took in the wonders of the untamed wilderness for the first time? Well, you have your chance at Red River Gorge.
Located deep inside the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Gorge is approximately 29,000 acres of untouched natural wonders. Hunting and trapping are permitted within the area, and there are family camping sites and cabins that you can enjoy for an extended stay.
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
Long considered one of the most beautiful places in the country, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park offers a bevy of experiences that will put you back in touch with the natural world.
When you’re at Cumberland Falls, you can take advantage of the numerous campsites (which all have electricity and water hookups) for some peace and quiet, go on a guided trail ride on horseback, hike the Eagle Falls Trail or hunt for fossils and gems at the Gem Mine.
The Louisville Zoo
Are you looking for a great spot for true family fun and adventure? Whether your kids are toddlers or teens, there’s plenty for everybody at the Louisville Zoo.
The zoo has award-winning exhibits that include a Gorilla Forest and an amazing HerpAquarium that’s home to King Louie, the famous albino alligator – plus all kinds of rides and other attractions. The zoo also has a variety of events throughout the year that are sure to keep you coming back, including family movie nights and “Brew at the Zoo” evenings (for the 21-and-over crowd).
Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay
Is summer somehow not complete until you’ve made it to at least one amusement park? Then pack everybody into the car and head over to Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay.
The Hurricane Bay water park offers everything from deep relaxation at one of the luxury cabanas to wild rides on Adventure River and Buccaneer Beach. At Kentucky Kingdom, you’ll find everything from easy no-scare attractions for your little ones and 5D cinema shows to rollercoasters and scream-inducing rides like the “FearFall.”
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Do you like to explore places that are a little bit unusual or, maybe, outright spooky? You don’t want to skip the Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
On a purely aesthetic level, the gothic revival architecture of the sanatorium is amazing, and the place is part of the National Historic Register – but that’s not why most people visit. The sanatorium is reputedly one of the most haunted places on earth. People come from all over the nation to visit room 502 and see the morgue and body chute for themselves, and public tours and scheduled investigations run all year long.
There’s so much to see in Kentucky, no single list could do it justice – and we think that once you start to explore what this great state has to offer that you’ll understand why people never want to leave!