While Kentucky has certainly made a name for itself in bourbon, baseball, and horseracing, it’s also home to some of the most naturally beautiful parks, trails, and historic markers our nation has to offer. To help plan your tour of the American Southeast, here’s a comprehensive list of Kentucky National Parks you shouldn’t miss.
Kentucky National Parks
Mammoth Cave National Park
Located in the heart of Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park is home to deep rivers, rolling hills, and the world’s longest-known cave system — spanning over 400 miles. Visitors can take guided tours beneath the surface to explore the depths of the cavern, as well as traverse well over 70 miles of hiking trails, campgrounds, and stunning ecology.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
Located near Hodgenville, Kentucky, the Abraham Lincoln National Historic Park is dedicated to preserving the child home and legacy of our 16th president.
The Birthplace unit where Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, includes a memorial building resembling that of a log cabin and features a museum showcasing artifacts, furniture, clothing, and artwork from the President’s life.
The Boyhood Home unit includes the Sinking Spring Farm where Lincoln lived with his family until he was seven, as well as a replica cabin, picnic area, and visitor center with exhibits also commemorating his childhood.
Additionally, the park offers special events throughout the year, including, historical demonstrations, ranger-led programs, and a wreath-laying ceremony on Lincoln’s birthday.
Cumberland Gap Historic Trail
A 300-mile trail system spanning Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, the Cumberland Gap follows the historic routes of early settlers who crossed the Appalachian Mountains and settled in the western frontier.
In addition to tracing the historic territory of Native Americans and pioneers, modern nomads can experience some of the most scenic hiking, biking, and driving east of the Mississippi.
Lewis and Clark Historic Trail
Following the famous route taken by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail spans over 3,700 miles and passes through Kentucky on its way to the Pacific Ocean. In addition to a rich history, the trail system includes a variety of attractions including museums, interpretive centers, and certainly plenty of historical sites.
The Historic Trail of Tears
A somber yet powerful reminder of our nation’s history, the Trail of Tears is a 5,000-mile trail commemorating the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole people who were forced to relocate from their homelands. With part of the trail spanning Kentucky, it serves as an opportunity for biking, hiking, and reflection, while taking in the beauty of the American Southeast.
Camp Nelson National Monument
Located in Jessamine County, Kentucky, Camp Nelson National Monument is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Civil War-era Union Army recruitment and training center. Today, Camp Nelson features a visitor center, historic buildings, barracks, and a cemetery, complete with guided tours and historical reenactments.
Mill Springs Battlefield
Located in south-central Kentucky, Mills Springs is one of the state’s most significant Civil War battlefields, representing a significant Union victory on January 19, 1862. Today the battlefield is managed by the National Park Service and serves as a historic landmark with living demonstrations offering visitors a chance to experience a pivotal piece of our nation’s history.
Fort Donelson Battlefield
Bleeding into both Tennessee and Kentucky, Fort Donelson National Battlefield commemorates an important victory for the Union forces as well as the first time the Confederate army surrendered a large portion of their army, in February of 1862. Today visitors can take in the significance of the battlefield through self-guided tours and interpretive signage detailing the events of the battle.
Big South Fork River and Recreational Area
Located on the southern border of Kentucky, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area boasts 125,000 acres of rugged canyons, sandstone cliffs, and the southern fork of the Cumberland River. Offering plenty of great spots for hiking, fishing, camping, and kayaking, as well as a couple of historic mining towns (Blue Heron and John Muir Trail), visitors of Big South Fork will find plenty to do.
Planning your Kentucky adventure
Ready to experience the beauty and history of Kentucky? Good Sam can help you plan out your next trip, with dozens of great campgrounds, RV rentals, and complete roadside coverage in a pinch. There really isn’t a better way to take in the American Southeast!
Kentucky is a beautiful state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is home to several national parks that offer visitors opportunities to explore nature, history, and culture. Here is a list of national parks in Kentucky: Mammoth Cave National Park: This park is located in central Kentucky and is home to the longest known cave system in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Visitors can take guided tours of the cave system, go hiking, camping, and fishing in the park. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area: This park is located in southeastern Kentucky and northern Tennessee. It features beautiful river gorges, sandstone bluffs, and historic sites. Visitors can go hiking, fishing, kayaking, and horseback riding in the park. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park: This park is located in central Kentucky and commemorates the birthplace of the 16th President of the United States. Visitors can explore a replica of the log cabin where Lincoln was born and learn about his early life. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park: This park is located in southeastern Kentucky and is home to the Cumberland Gap, a passage through the Appalachian Mountains that was used by early pioneers and settlers. Visitors can explore historic sites, hike on scenic trails, and go camping in the park. Fort Donelson National Battlefield: This park is located in western Kentucky and commemorates the Battle of Fort Donelson, which was fought during the Civil War. Visitors can explore the battlefield, see historic cannons and markers, and learn about the history of the conflict. Trail of Tears National Historic Trail: This park is a trail that commemorates the forced relocation of Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations from their ancestral homelands to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in the mid-1800s. The trail passes through several states, including Kentucky. Russell Cave National Monument: This park is located in northeastern Alabama, but its influence extends into Kentucky. It features a limestone cave that was used by Native Americans for thousands of years. Visitors can explore the cave and learn about the history and culture of the people who used it. These are the national parks in Kentucky. Each of them offers visitors a unique experience and a chance to connect with nature, history, and culture.