From spooky haunted antebellum mansions to the "Grand Canyon of the South," Kentucky’s 49 state parks are as unique as they are beautiful. Divided into three general categories—resort parks, recreation parks, and historic sites—there is a park to pique the interest of just about everyone. And while all of them have something worthwhile to offer, this hand-picked selection of not-to-be-missed parks highlight some of the best, road trip worthy options in the Bluegrass State.
1. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park – Corbin, KY
Let’s just kick off this list with the cream of the crop. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is already a huge draw for visitors thanks to its spectacular falls. Measuring 65 feet high and 125 feet wide, this is one of only two places in the world (and the only one in the Northern Hemisphere) where you can see a "moonbow" if you come on a cloudless, moonlit night. It’s like a rainbow, but at night. Pretty cool, right? Book a Rainbow Mist Ride with Sheltowee Trace Outfitters, who offer daily trips to Cumberland Falls during the summer, and get up close to the falls.
Those traveling with children won’t want to miss the latest attraction the park offers: gem mining. Young minds can learn about local crystals and minerals in a fun and hands-on environment. Also an exceptional place for hiking, fishing, camping, and boating, naturalists will in delight in the variety of wildlife and activities this park has to offer.
2. White Hall State Historic Site – Richmond, KY
Glimpse into what life must have been like in the antebellum South, complete with scandals and ghost stories at the White Hall State Historic Site. History buffs will love exploring the 44 rooms of this richly decorated home of renowned emancipationist General Cassius Marcellus Clay.
Tours are led by guides in 19th-century period costumes and are packed full of Kentucky history. As you walk through the mansion, the guides will tell tales of the spooky experiences that have been reported over the years: seeing mysterious lights, hearing voices and music, smelling roses or cigar smoke in strange locations, and much more.
White Hall is open April 1-October 31, Wednesdays through Sundays. Look for special event tours throughout the year, such as the "Scandals and Ghost Stories" and “A Victorian Christmas.”
3. Big Bone Lick State Historic Site — Union, KY
Looking for a one-of-a-kind holiday away from the crowds? Big Bone Lick and its ice age fossil remains could be just the ticket. Take a hike on the 4.5-mile Discovery Trail, complete with models of some of the massive creatures that once roamed the land, including giant mammoths and mastodons, and the enormous stag-moose. The museum has recently upgraded displays on fossils, geology, ice age mammals, Native American history in the area, and the chronology of scientific study at Big Bone.
Great for a fun family bonding experience, this historic site has a pet-friendly campground and has a laundry list of stuff to do. Try your hand at orienteering, go hiking or fishing, play a round of mini golf, or, better yet, spend some time hanging out with the resident herd of bison.
4. Natural Bridge State Resort Park — Slade, KY
You don’t have to go to Utah to see natural arches! Nestled into the Daniel Boone National Forest is the huge sandstone arch for which this park is named, but there are also about 200 other natural arches within a 10-mile radius of the park. You’ll find about 20 miles of hiking trails here, including the original .75-mile trail out to the Natural Bridge itself. Try the strenuous, 7.5-mile Sand Gap Trail for a real challenge.
If hiking isn’t possible or it’s a sweltering Southern day, try the Skylift. It’s essentially a ski chairlift that will take you up and away – and within 600 feet of Natural Bridge.
For the most fun that three dollars can buy in modern America, learn the steps to a traditional Appalachian square dance at "Hoedown Island," open on Saturdays from May through October.
5. Carter Caves State Resort Park – Olive Hill, KY
Does getting muddy, slimy, and wet with some friendly neighborhood bats sound like fun? Then head to the caverns at Carter Caves Park. With the highest concentration of caves in the state, this park has a tour suitable for everyone, include those who prefer to stay dry and clean. Tours range from an easy 45-minute walk through X Cave to truly adventurous seasonal crawling tours (with and without bats). A couple of the tours are even available year round.
To add to the fun, the park offers a number of events throughout the year including their October "Haunted Trail" and murder mystery dinners. A wide variety of other activities from hiking to exploring one of the several natural bridges in the park make this a great choice for anyone looking for something a little bit off the beaten path.
6. Breaks Interstate Park – Breaks, VA
Yes, you read that right. Breaks Interstate Park is one of the rare parks that sits in two states – Virginia and Kentucky. Smiles from sun up to sundown are practically guaranteed with the spectacular views at "the Breaks" as locals call it. The 5-mile-long canyon that makes up the bulk of the park is among the deepest east of the Mississippi River and provides some of the best opportunities for hiking and kayaking in Eastern Kentucky. And did we mention the views?
Hikers, geocachers, and botany lovers of all kinds will love an outing here with 25 miles of trails and more than 60 species of trees and a wide variety of fauna to identify and enjoy. For the adrenaline seekers, there is a well-respected mountain bike trail and epic whitewater rafting in the park.
With so many parks to choose from, you’re almost guaranteed to be close to a wonderful natural space when you visit Kentucky. While this list covers a few of the most popular ones, you can find a complete list of state parks here.
Originally written by RootsRated for Kentucky Tourism.
Featured image provided by Al