World Class Kentucky Parks
Unique Family Travel Spots in the Bluegrass State
When I ask people what they know about Kentucky, the most common answers include Kentucky Fried Chicken, horses, and bourbon. Most people are not aware of the unique, natural sites that await to be explored. The state has an extensive parks system. I would like to introduce you to four vacation spots where your family can have truly unique experiences: Land Between the Lakes, Mammoth Cave, Cumberland Falls, and Red River Gorge. These four parks span the state, but conveniently lie at 2 hour intervals from each other. Read on to see what awaits at the four World Class Kentucky Parks.
Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area
In far western Kentucky lies Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area. The Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers ran very close to each other on their way to joining the Mississippi. In 1959, these rivers were dammed and were connected by a canal creating Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, with the 170,000 acres between the two designated as a national recreation area in 1963. Located about 90 minutes up I-24 from Nashville, Land Between the Lakes offers loads for the family to do. The lakes are enjoyed by boaters. Sailboats, pontoons, ski boats, speed boats, house boats, fishing boats, and jet skis all share the calm, clear waters. On land, miles and miles of trails through verdant, wooded hills await with abundant wildlife. Bald eagles nest here. Americas great herd animals await in the Elk and Bison Prairie. At the visitors center, red wolves can be viewed. Your family can rent a cabin or camp out if you prefer. Rent jet skis and zip through wakes left by boats. Then, go bird watching while hiking through the hills. My first trip here was during college and has still left an impression. Link
Mammoth Cave National Park
A little over 2 hours directly east on the Western Kentucky Parkway in central Kentucky is found the next of the World Class Kentucky Parks, Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world. This World Heritage Site has over 400 miles of caverns that have been explored. There is evidence of human presence in the caves for over 6000 years. Mammoth Cave is a wonderful travel location for the family. Multiple tours are available for different fitness and experience levels, from short and easy, to long, wet, and grueling. Remember to bring a jacket as the temperature is always 52 degrees F. The cave is immense and beautiful. Huge stalagmites and stalactites adorn the passages. View fish without eyes in the sparkling, subterranean streams. I first visited Mammoth Cave on a field trip in grade school. I loved it as a child, and your kids will love it, too. The surrounding area has rolling hills and forests with plenty of trails to wander. As a teen, our family would camp here, enjoying each others company as well as the forest and hills. Link
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
Heading east another 2 hours through the rolling hills of the Cumberland Parkway takes you to another of the World Class Kentucky Parks, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in southeastern Kentucky. As with the previous parks, families can hike, camp, and enjoy nature. The Cumberland River tumbles 68 feet, sending up a huge spray across its 128 feet breadth. As impressive and beautiful as this is though, what makes Cumberland Falls “world class” is the moonbow. Moonbows are created when moonlight is refracted by the spray of a waterfall, creating a rainbow. Cumberland Falls is the only location in the western hemisphere where you can view a moonbow. I first experienced this while in high school. It is a neat feeling beholding something so unique that the vast majority of people will never see it. There are trails all through the park and amazing photo opportunities of the falls from all angles await. There are camp sites available, but if your family does not enjoy camping, then stay at DuPont Lodge with rooms overlooking the falls and dine in the Riverview Restaurant. Link
Red River Gorge National Geological Area
Two hours north of Cumberland Falls off of I-75 in east-central Kentucky is Red River Gorge, another World Class Kentucky park. This 29,000 acre region of the Daniel Boone National Forest has been designated a National Natural Landmark and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Along with the brilliant scenery, what draws travelers to the Red River Gorge is rock climbing. Cliffs cut by the Red River are known by rock climbing enthusiast world wide. Shape magazine, The Wilderness Society, and others rank it as one of the best rock climbing destinations in the United States. Families will find many tours and rock climbing experiences. Over 60 miles of trails await for the family to explore. Canoeing and zip line experiences can be enjoyed too. Lying adjacent to Red River Gorge is Natural Bridge State Park. The natural bridge is 68 feet high and 75 feet wide; beautiful and definitely worth a look. Link
As you can see, these four World Class Kentucky Parks each make for a wonderful family weekend or can be strung together to give your family amazing and unforgettable experiences.