Exploring Kentucky: Road Trips through the Bluegrass State
By Kimberly Graf. Published on October 1, 2018
We tend to discount Kentucky quite often. In all reality, Kentucky is the home to much of our American culture, and specifically southern American culture. Just at a glance, Kentucky is known for many things: the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Fried Chicken, bluegrass music, Lincoln's birthplace, and even Kentucky Bourbon. Before we write Kentucky off as another flyover zone, let’s take a look at some of the amazing road trips to be had in the Bluegrass State.
Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway
This trip starts in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln's birthplace. Here you will find a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln in the town square, as well as The Lincoln Museum. The museum features a variety of exhibits surrounding Lincoln's life, including his presidential campaign posters and wax-figure scenes depicting Lincoln's life, from birth to his assassination.
Just outside Hodgenville are two sites: Lincoln's replica birthplace cabin and Lincoln's boyhood home recreation. Lincoln's birthplace cabin is approximately 3 miles to the south of Hodgenville down Highway 31E. When you are finished looking at the stellar recreation, take Highway 61 to Buffalo, and then Highway 470 until it rejoins 31E. Just a few miles north of this junction is the replica of Lincoln's boyhood home at Knob's Creek.
Getting back on Highway 31 will put you in New Haven, Kentucky. Just a little to the north and east here is the Abbey of Gethsemani. While it isn't necessarily part of Lincoln's heritage, it's the founding Trappist monastery in the United States. Continue north on 31 until you reach Bardstown, and follow the Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway onto Highway 150. Here, you'll pass through the amazing backdrop of Lincoln's boyhood days on your way to Springfield. This entire route passes through the Lincoln Homestead State Park, with plenty of recreation and historical opportunities.
Historic downtown Springfield, Kentucky is an amazing place to get out and get something to eat, or get some shopping done. It's only 16 miles from Springfield to Perryville, Kentucky. Here is the Perryville Battlefield Historic Site, where you can get out and witness Civil War re-enactments and learn about Kentucky's role as a border state.
This trip covers about 71 miles and will take approximately three hours to drive all the way through, but as always, leave additional time for sight-seeing and other various activities.
Red River Gorge Scenic Byway
The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway begins in Stanton, Kentucky. Traveling east along Highway 11 will put you right on the Byway. This lovely drive through Daniel Boone National Forest is its own reward, with lovely natural views. The foliage is gorgeous in the fall. Taking a left onto Highway 77 will put you through Nada tunnel, a 900 foot long old railway tunnel that has a clearance of 12 feet on either side.
At the other side of the tunnel, you'll encounter even more wonderful, natural views as you take Route 715 through the Red River Gorge Geological Area. Stop for a moment and see some of the natural wonders this place has to offer: huge rock bridges, waterfalls, and formations unlike anything else.
A little ways up the road is Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center, where you can learn about the culture, wildlife, and geological formations found in the Red River Gorge. All through this are there are handfuls of trails and scenic overlooks. Some of the natural wonders here can only be seen from the trails! Soon enough you'll come across Sky Bridge. You can stop here and travel on foot across the nearly mile-long natural rock bridge. The views from the top are spectacular!
Just a little ways down the road is a short trail leading out to Angel Windows, another fascinating rock formation. If you continue down Highway 715, turn right onto Highway 402. This takes you through the Natural Bridge State Park, and the towns of Pine Ridge and Slade. Still more beautiful wilderness and outdoor adventure awaits! At Slade, turn left down Highway 11 and take a slight detour to Zachariah, home of Torrent Falls and the Via Ferrata.
This entire drive is only 46 miles in length. Driving straight through takes approximately an hour, but there is so much to get out and see that you should definitely plan to spend more time in this gorgeous countryside.
Attractions of Kentucky
If you're on a sightseeing mission, Kentucky has plenty of attractions to wonder at! This road trip spans 78 miles between Lexington and Louisville. There's so much to see in these two cities and on the road between them that this trip is definitely worth it.
You can start in either place, but starting in Lexington is probably your best bet. Lexington has a few attractions. The Mary Todd Lincoln house is the birthplace and former home of Abraham Lincoln's wife. Up to 15 people can tour through the country-style home of this former First Lady. Also here is the Kentucky Horse Park, a horse-themed park with outdoor recreation, horseback tours, and museums of equine history.
When you're finished exploring here, I-64 will take you straight into Louisville. There's so much to do here, it'd be criminal just to drive through! Louisville is the home of Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby. There's a Kentucky Derby museum located here, as well as tours of the famous racetrack. Stop in at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory – you won't be able to miss it, as there's a giant baseball bat right at the entrance. Here you can watch the creation of these famous bats and learn a little about the baseball stars that have used them. It's also the factory, so you can of course buy one for yourself!
Also in Louisville is the Louisville Zoo. There are numerous habitats here with different species of animals, from predators to primates. There are camel rides, giraffe feedings, and all the normal zoo activities here. It's plenty of fun for the whole family.
Kentucky is full of important cultural heritage locations, stunning wilderness, and wonderful attractions. Next time you're in the neighborhood, check out some of these places and discover Kentucky for yourself.