Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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Kentucky is an underrated travel destination filled with outdoor recreation, natural beauty, interesting history, and musical culture. On a weekend trip in Kentucky, you can sample local distillery spirits, hike among impressive rock formations, venture inside massive caves, visit horse farms, and learn about art in a city museum. Overnight accommodations are budget-friendly throughout Kentucky, and there are lots of family-friendly areas that are perfect for a road trip.
For ideas and inspiration, here are some of the best weekend getaways in Kentucky.
Many people visit Louisville in May to attend the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. During this time of the year, there are lots of events happening in Louisville, including parades, a marathon, and fireworks. But this is a wonderful weekend getaway spot during any time of the year. The city is filled with restaurants, breweries, museums, and golf courses. There’s the Louisville Zoo, Muhammad Ali Center, and Kentucky Science Center in town. Depending on when you plan your trip, you can even attend a local festival, such as the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Kentucky State Fair, and Forecastle Festival.
The Red River Gorge is a stunning natural place that is well-known among rock climbers. This is a popular climbing destination that is filled with sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, and waterfalls. For outdoor recreation that’s a little more low-key, you can hike along the gorge area’s many trails. Campgrounds are available in the area for overnight stays too. Some highlights of the park are the Double Arch, Indian Staircase and Indian Arch, and Arch of Triumph. The Gorge Underground is an exciting place where you can go kayaking or take a boat tour.
The Kentucky city of Lexington is known for its bluegrass music and Kentucky Horse Park. There is a bluegrass festival held in June that is fun to attend. On a visit to this large city, you can check out the Kentucky Horse Park and American Saddlebred Museum. The Keeneland Racecourse is a great place for watching horse races and even taking a horseback riding lesson. The Bluegrass Country Driving Tour is self-guided and takes you around the area to see the horse farms and scenic rolling hills. Victorian Square is a romantic area in downtown Lexington where you can shop and dine at local restaurants.
One of the best parks in Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park is an impressive park with the longest cave system in the world. There are thousands of years of history to learn about during a visit here and tours you can join to learn more about how the cave formed and what’s inside. There are three campgrounds and over 13 backcountry campsites at Mammoth Cave. You can also spend your days in the park kayaking and boating along the Green and Nolin Rivers. There are over 80 miles of hiking trails to explore, and horseback riding is a popular option too, since there are 60 miles of trails that are horse-friendly.
Located in western Kentucky, Paducah is one of the most charming small towns in the U.S., filled with arts and culture. Visit the LowerTown Arts District to see craft boutiques and artist studios. There are dozens of murals throughout town to see as well if you enjoy public art. Paducah Wall to Wall murals depict the history of the area and each has a unique story to tell about Paducah’s past. Another place to check out for craft inspiration is the National Quilt Museum. For some scenic exercise, head to the Clyde F. Boyles Greenway Trail, and for more nature, visit the Fort Massac State Park just over the Illinois border.
Bardstown is a prime place to visit for the weekend if you love bourbons and enjoy checking out distilleries. This area is home to multiple distilleries and is considered to be the “bourbon capital of the world.” There is a Kentucky Bourbon Festival that you can attend if you really want to immerse yourself in the local culture. Otherwise, this is a quaint small town with museums to learn about whiskey production and the Civil War. More options for things to do are taking a historic downtown talking tour or riding in a carriage around town to see the sights.
You can plan a weekend getaway to Bowling Green, Kentucky, which is in the southern part of the state and has a little of everything – art, sports, history, and golf courses. It is a nice place to visit during the fall season because there are apple orchards nearby. To get out in nature, there’s the Lost River Cave system to explore. Meanwhile, Beech Bend Park is a great amusement park for families to visit during the summer. Another attraction is the National Corvette Museum, where you can see iconic sports cars. Mammoth Cave National Park is just about 30 minutes from Bowling Green, so it’s easy to combine these two destinations on a weekend trip.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail features 18 distilleries and has a passport and field guide program to help you visit as many of them as possible. There are transportation partners available for hire to help you make the route from one distillery to another in a safe way. Some hardcore bourbon enthusiasts start the trail in Louisville and then move on to Shepherdsville, Owensboro, Bardstown, Lebanon, Danville, Lawrenceburg, and Lexington. That route would take you more like a week to complete, but if you only have a weekend, you can focus on just one part of the trail instead. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail website has maps and suggested itineraries to help you plan your trip.
Here’s a state park that features beautiful rock formations, hiking trails, flowing creeks, and a golf course. The Chained Rock Trail and Hemlock Garden Trail are popular places to hike in the park. Pine Mountain State Resort Park has 12 miles of self-guided trails to explore and is a popular place for bird-watching. The park is also home to a championship 18-hole golf course, plus a nine-hole mini-golf course for family fun. There’s a lodge here where you can stay overnight and enjoy views of the mountains during a weekend trip. The lodge has a pool that is available exclusively for overnight guests and opens during the summer months.
Newport, Kentucky is a town in the northern part of the state and along the Ohio River. It has an aquarium that is fun to visit for families. There is also the East Row Historic District with Victorian homes from the 19th century. The Stained Glass Theater, Falcon Theater, and World Peace Bell are other local attractions to add to your itinerary for a weekend trip to Newport, Kentucky. Plan to spend some time along the riverfront in Newport because this is where events and festivals commonly take place.
The town of Versailles, Kentucky is a quaint small town near the Kentucky bourbon distilleries. There are distilleries and taverns in the town where you can enjoy the local flavors. Aside from craft spirit sampling, Versailles is a destination for outdoor activities, such as paddling, biking, off-roading, and rock climbing. Many people make a point to visit Three Chimneys Farm, the Jack Jouett House Historic Site, and the Bluegrass Railroad and Museum during a trip to Versailles.
This state park makes an excellent weekend getaway and is a beautiful natural area near Jamestown, Kentucky. The lake is idea for watersports and a place where you can rent a houseboat, pontoon boat, or fishing boat. Near the lake, there are hiking trails and a disc golf course. Other things to do in the park are rent fishing poles and play a game at the 18-hole mini-golf course. There are campsites here to help you get in touch with nature, plus a lodge if you prefer more comforts of home. The lodge has 63 rooms and overlooks the lake. It also has an indoor pool for year-around fun. The Rowena Landing Restaurant is located onsite for when you get hungry.
For a weekend in Kentucky, you can also make a point to visit Frankfort, which is a favorite place among foodies. There are some great restaurants here, as well as brewery and distillery options to grab a locally made drink. Some of the top attractions in Frankfort are Cove Spring Park, the Capital Gallery of Contemporary Art, and Berry Hill Mansion. There are vacation rental properties that you can rent near the river and enjoy a weekend getaway filled with canoeing and kayaking.
Travelers who enjoy nature and hiking will love taking a weekend getaway to the Pinnacles of Berea. There are amazing views along the trails here, plus rock climbing opportunities for an extra challenge. When you are done hiking, you can check out the shops and restaurants in Berea, before staying overnight in town. Camping is not allowed at the Pinnacles, although you can bring your dog along for the adventure. Berea is known as the Folk Arts & Crafts Capital of Kentucky, so there are plenty of opportunities to see artisan studios, glass studios, fabric stores, and unique shops. Chestnut Street is a fun place to go for a walk to see a sculpture park and do some antique shopping.
Parks and outdoor adventures await you when you plan a trip to London, Kentucky. This destination is home to the Sheltowee Trace Recreational Trail, Wildcat Off-Road Adventure Park, and Camp Wildcat Civil War Battlefield. Many people spend their days in the London area of Kentucky getting active with hiking, boating, kayaking, and fishing. There’s the World Chicken Festival that takes place in London and honors the legacy of Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The festival takes place in September and features lots of family fun with free music, vendors, carnival rides, and contests.
It’s fun and relaxing to spend some time in Elizabethtown, Kentucky for the weekend as you wander around and check out the architecture and local cuisine. There’s the Elizabethtown Nature Park for your outdoor activities and farmers markets to shop for organic foods. Visit the Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum to learn about antique cars, and plan to see an afternoon or evening show at the Historic State Theater Complex.