Known for bourbon, horse racing, and stunning natural beauty, Kentucky is an exciting destination. This iconic state is also home to numerous off-the-beaten-path points of interest and attractions. While the roaring crowd and snarled traffic knots up over at Churchill Downs in Louisville, there’s an underground zip line adventure just six miles away. Whether you want to wander among a hundred dinosaurs or explore 20 caves, there’s something fun for everybody in Kentucky. Book a stay at a Kentucky vacation rental for your upcoming getaway. Take a look at the top 10 hidden gems in the state.
1. Kentucky River Palisades, Nicholasville
Paddle the Kentucky River Palisades in kayaks or canoes rented from Palisades Adventures at High Bridge. Experience the Palisades in the Tom Dorman Nature Preserve, where the Kentucky River cut through layers of limestone, creating the high cliffs, exposing the oldest visible geological formations in the state. The woodlands lining the cliffs include chinquapin oak, sugar maple, blue ash, and rock elm. Enjoy the nature preserve year-round during daylight hours.
2. Kentucky’s Stonehenge, Munfordville
You don’t need a passport to visit Kentucky’s Stonehenge, which the designer based on the one in England. Chester Fryer used large rocks he found by scouring over 1,000 acres of land. His other artistic rock displays include Garden of Gethsemane, Rock Gardens, Earth Mysteries, and Rock Park. The owner of this private property welcomes guests during daylight hours. Park on the street and enjoy the rock exhibits from a safe distance.
3. Lost River Cave, Bowling Green
Lost River disappears into a seven-mile cave system, and your options for excitement start at that vanishing point. A tour guide leads you along a trail, sharing the story of the blue hole and Civil War soldiers who disappeared. Choose the boat tour or a guided kayak tour inside the cave. Outside the cave, activities include zip lining, hiking, treasure mining, and playing bird bingo (get a bingo sheet in the gift shop).
4. Conrad-Caldwell House, Old Louisville
Take a step back in time to the Victorian era when you tour Old Louisville’s Conrad-Caldwell House. Built in 1893, this opulent home museum looks like a castle with its gargoyles and turrets. For a change of pace, the Megacavern offers some unique underground adventures, including zip lining and rock climbing. While you’re in town, check out a Distillery Tour with Mint Julep or one of the other fine tour guides. Score a bottle of fine Kentucky spirits to take back to your Louisville vacation rental for a nightcap.
5. Carter Caves State Resort Park, Olive Hill
Let the crowds have Mammoth Cave and Red River Gorge while you grab some elbow room at Carter Caves State Resort Park. With more than 20 caves to explore and beautiful arches to discover, this site combines the best of the more popular attractions without all the crowds. Walk, crawl, and rappel through the caverns on your own, or join guided tours.
6. Berea Pinnacles, Berea
People know Berea as a college town, and as a hub for arts and crafts. Visitors to the area typically don’t know about the stunning overlooks and hiking trails to the Berea Pinnacles on Indian Fort Mountain. The college owns the land as part of its forest reserves, and maintains a nice trailhead with restrooms and a shower. Great picnic areas feature sweeping mountain vistas that make the climb totally worth the effort.
7. Old Mulkey Meeting House, Tompkinsville
The 1804 Mill Creek Baptist Church split into two groups in 1809, with 150 of the original congregation choosing to stay with the Pastor John Mulkey. The other 50 took the church name, and built a separate church. The Old Mulkey Meeting House congregation kept no written records, and when Mulkey passed away, the members abandoned the building to join a different church. As a state park, the meeting-house and grounds include free tours with recorded audio interpretation available. Other park activities include horseshoes, basketball, and picnic facilities.
8. Dinosaur World, Cave City
A giant Tyrannosaurus Rex standing by I-65 near Cave City beckons you to visit to Dinosaur World. This outdoor museum of over 100 prehistoric creatures features a trail that meanders through the dinosaur-infested forest. An informational sign identifies each exhibit, and gives historical information. Look for the dinosaur eggs and raptor claws scattered throughout the site. The playground includes a fossil dig for the tots, and a covered picnic area for other family members to enjoy while watching the little ones scrabble for real fossils.
9. South Union Shaker Village, Auburn
In 1807, a religious sect founded the South Union Shaker Colony, based on a shared belief in diligent work, pacifism, celibacy outside of marriage, and gender and racial equality. They supported the village with farming and furniture manufacturing. The colony closed and sold most of the land in 1922. Of 200 original structures, only nine remain as part of the museum to preserve the culture and history of the Shakers. Visit the village year-round to jog, bike, picnic, or enjoy demonstrations and tours.
10. Ark Encounter, Williamstown
The Ark Encounter theme park showcases a full-scale Noah’s Ark replica that features 100 exhibits that tell the story of the Biblical flood. In this immersive experience, visitors ascend the ramp, pass through the huge doors, and enter the softly lit interior to begin the tour of the museum-type displays. The park includes a zip line experience that lets riders choose a level of adventure from casual to extreme on their lines that reach up to 17 stories high and speed across the landscape at breathtaking speeds up to 50 mph. Some visitors prefer to hop on a camel for a ride at the Ararat Ridge Zoo, and visit with ostriches, kangaroos, and other critters.
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