It may still only be January, but we’ve already had some unseasonably warm weather, and spring will be here before we know it. Now is your opportunity to get back outside and cure your winter blues by spending some time in the sunshine. There are so many great natural places in Kentucky to explore, like all of our 49 state parks, but here are 13 places where you will be sure to reconnect with nature.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
1. Daniel Boone National Forest
Daniel Boone National Forest is huge. It spans across 21 counties in eastern Kentucky, and is made up of 708,000 acres of national forest land. It encompasses popular areas like the Red River Gorge, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, and the Big South Fork River, and since it is nearly as long as the entire state, many people are able to easily visit it.
2. Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area
Land Between the Lakes is nestled in between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. It boasts 170,000 acres for hiking, camping, wildlife watching, boating, and exploring. They have designated nature watch areas where you can keep an eye out for animals such as wild turkey, beavers, bison, deer, elk, coyotes, a variety of birds, and more.
3. Berea Pinnacles
A 6.6-mile loop will lead you to some of the most stunning views in central Kentucky. The view pictured above is from the East Pinnacle, which many say is the best view on the whole hike.
4. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
In the southern region of Daniel Boone National Forest is the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River carves through a deep gorge. You'll find many beautiful waterfalls and geological formations in this area.
5. Breaks Interstate Park
This park is located in far eastern Kentucky, and extends over the Virginia border. Known as "the Grand Canyon of the South," Breaks is located in the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi River.
6. Red River Gorge
Red River Gorge is located in Daniel Boone National Forest, and is adjacent to Natural Bridge State Resort Park. It is a world-renowned rock climbing destination, but it also offers great hiking, camping, and paddling. It has more than 100 natural sandstone arches, incredible waterfalls, and breathtaking overlooks.
7. Carter Caves State Resort Park
This park is located in Olive Hill, and is a hidden gem in eastern Kentucky. It has 26 miles of hiking trails, caves to explore, rocks to climb, and natural arches to find.
8. Bernheim Forest
About 25 miles south of Louisville, in Clermont, is Bernheim Forest. Bernheim is an arboretum and research forest, and makes a great place for Louisvillians to unwind out in nature. There are more than 35 miles of trails, including the Canopy Tree Walk, which is a boardwalk that juts through the trees 75 feet above the forest floor.
9. Raven Run Nature Sanctuary
Raven Run Nature Sanctuary is just outside of Lexington, so like Bernheim Forest, it's a favorite place to relax and retreat away from the city. It is 734 acres and borders the Kentucky River. There are 10 miles of hiking trails and a Nature Center, which you must sign into before hiking.
10. Cumberland Falls
Cumberland Falls is a very popular destination in Kentucky. This huge waterfall is known as the "Niagara of the South" and is the only waterfall in the western hemisphere to regularly have an appearance of a moonbow. If you want to avoid crowds of tourists on the main trail to see Cumberland Falls, try hiking the Eagle Falls Trail instead. This 2.5 mile loop features the incredible view of Cumberland Falls pictured above, and leads to another beautiful waterfall, Eagle Falls.
11. Jefferson Memorial Forest
This natural space in southern Louisville is the largest municipal urban forest in the United States. Some of the hiking trails offer some pretty cool views of Louisville's skyline. Even though it is so close to a city, Jefferson Memorial Forest has 35 miles of hiking trails, some of which are strenuous.
12. Nolin River Lake
As a boating, fishing, and water sports destination, Nolin River Lake is most popular during the summer, but it is gorgeous year round. It is right on the border of Mammoth Cave National Park, so there is great hiking, biking, and camping in the area as well.
13. Mammoth Cave National Park
Even though Mammoth Cave National Park is famous for its gigantic caves, there is also a lot to explore above ground as well. They have 84 miles of trails to explore, ranging from easy to strenuous.
Does anyone regularly retreat to these places? What other places in Kentucky are great to visit to reconnect with nature?