This has been a tougher list to put together than I originally thought, simply because there are SO many things to see in Kentucky! I actually began this article as “Top 3 Things to Do in Kentucky Before the End of Summer,” then I realized I was completely nuts if I thought I could get it down to just 3. Then I bumped it up to a “Top 10” list and realized I still needed more. I decided to stick with 16 because, as a UK Basketball fan, it makes me think of March Madness (since we’re regulars in the Sweet 16).
Even with this generous number, I still had a lot of places I wanted to include – but I had to draw the line somewhere, right?
Aside from number one, these aren’t in any particular order. You’ll soon see why number 1 is extra special.
Here’s my current list of things to do and see in Kentucky before the end of summer.
- The Nature Station (Land Between the Lakes). The Red Wolves at the Nature Station recently had a baby and she’s BEYOND adorable. Funny thing about babies, they don’t stay babies for long, and if you want to see her, you really need to get on the ball! Red wolf pups are incredibly rare and this could, literally, be your one chance to see one. She won’t call the Nature Station home forever. In an effort to protect the species, she’ll be moved to a different home when she’s old enough. Don’t let this opportunity get away from you. See Nature Station for more information. While I’m anxious for you to see the beautiful red wolves, The Nature Station also has a lot of other wonderful animals and birds. Just look at the beautiful bobcat above! Animal lovers and bird lovers will never want to leave – trust me, I speak from experience.
- Downtown Paducah. If a city’s downtown strikes you as a peculiar item on a top ten things to do in Kentucky list, that just tells me you haven’t spent much time in downtown Paducah. This city’s downtown is artsy, eclectic, vibrant, and alive. There’s a wonderful vibe to downtown Paducah and you can feel it in the air. There are endless shops to visit, a wonderful coffee shop, and some amazing restaurants. The best way (I’d go so far as to say the only real way) to enjoy downtown Paducah is on foot – so park your car, put on your comfortable shoes, and enjoy every single square foot. Be sure to check out the riverfront area – it’s, literally, a work of art.
- Pine Mountain State Resort Park. There isn’t a State Park you shouldn’t see before the end of summer, because they’re each amazing in their own special way. Pine Mountain, with its setting in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, is what you could call MUST SEE. The beautiful views can’t possibly be described or even truly appreciated in pictures. It’s something you have to experience for yourself.
- Louisville Zoo. We have it good in Kentucky for many reasons but one that always comes to mind almost immediately when I think of the riches of the Bluegrass is the Louisville Zoo. It isn’t just special, it’s extra special and every Kentuckian should be downright proud of it. This zoo has a lot of exhibits and animals you won’t find at other zoos. See Louisville Zoo for hours, directions, and tons of information about their beautiful animals.
- Visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll kick yourself for not visiting the Louisville Slugger Museum sooner. Before you even step outside, the trip’s already worth it when you see the biggest bat in the world. Out front is a 6-story high replica of Babe Ruth’s bat! See Louisville Slugger Museum for hours, tour information, and to find out how you can get a free mini bat. Plan your trip just right and you can enjoy Numbers 4, 5, and 6 (below) all in one epic day or weekend.
- See a Louisville Bats Game! The Bats are the triple-A minor league baseball affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The stadium in downtown Louisville is worth seeing, itself, but add in a great baseball game with future MLB stars and it’s a night (or afternoon) you’ll never forget. We were season ticket holders for years when we lived in the Louisville area – before they became Cincy affiliates and even before they moved to the new gorgeous stadium downtown. We’ve always been extra proud of the fact that we were there when the new stadium opened. Heck, we pretty much lived there every summer for years. And loved every minute of it.
- Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. I’ve grouped these two together because they’re so close to one another, making a special trip to see one without seeing the other would be nuts. Be sure you visit both Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park and Lake Barkley State Resort Park – maybe you could enjoy lunch at one and supper at the other, with hours of sight-seeing and picture-taking in between.
- Grand Rivers, Kentucky. Grand Rivers is the beautiful village located right between the two lakes named above. Grand Rivers has something for everyone and I mean everyone. Kids, adults, and seniors will fall in love with everything about this little town. From the Fudge Factory (can you say delicious homemade candy?!) to Grand Rivers Variety and from Green Turtle Bay to Patti’s 1880 Settlement (one of the most famous restaurants in Kentucky), Grand Rivers fits more fun into their small area than a lot of big cities do that are 10 times the size. Located right between the lakes and just minutes from the Land Between the Lakes, it’s a wonder “Grand Rivers” isn’t at the very top of everyone’s summer vacation list.
- The Elk and Bison Prairie (Land Between the Lakes) – There just isn’t anyplace else that’s quite like this 700 acre, enclosed prairie. It’s phenomenal! You can drive through this beautiful prairie as many times as you want, looking for elk, bison, turkeys, eagles, and countless other animals and birds that call this beautiful place home. See Elk and Bison Prairie for more information.
- Take a Boat Tour on Rough River Lake – Beautiful Rough River Lake is a gorgeous place to spend the afternoon. We love to spend hours at Rough River Dam State Resort Park – especially when it includes one of their fun, relaxing, and thoroughly enjoyable boat tours. Call (270) 257-2311 for information and/or visit Rough River Dam State Resort Park.
- Take Tours of an Entirely Different Nature with Cave Tours – Visit Carter Caves for fascinating tours the whole family will be talking about for years. This is a gorgeous part of Kentucky with scenery that’s synonymous with Kentucky Beauty.
- Visit the BBQ Capital of the World – Owensboro, Kentucky. We have more than just delicious barbecue here in Owensboro, we have a renovated Riverfront that we’re awfully proud of. There are still some renovations being done downtown (two more hotels are being built on the riverfront) but Smother’s Park on the River is really something to see. Kids will enjoy a playground that pretty much trumps all other playgrounds and adults won’t be able to get enough of the relaxing beauty of the river. It’s a great place to spend time before AND after enjoying a great meal at Old Hickory, Ole South, or Moonlite. When you visit Old Hickory, be sure to try their “Sweet Heat” sauce. It’ll blow your mind.
- See The Stephen Foster Story in Bardstown. If you’ve never seen this wonderful musical, you have to make sure you do so this summer. If you HAVE seen it…. go again! Visit The Stephen Foster Story online for shows and ticket information.
- Two words: Mammoth Cave. I think it’d be pretty interesting to know the number of Kentuckians who’ve never been to world famous National Park in our own backyard. Make this the year you see what all the fuss is about. See Mammoth Cave for more information.
- Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park. President Lincoln isn’t just the best known and most loved Kentuckian of all time, he’s arguably one of the best known and most loved people of all time. There’s something positively magical about walking where he once walked and the feeling isn’t just limited to history buffs like myself. This is an extra special – remarkable, even – place and if you haven’t been in a while, isn’t it time you went back? If you’ve NEVER been… then it’s way past time for you to do so!
- Your Hometown. One of the most memorable places you can visit is your childhood. If you grew up in a Kentucky town different from the one you currently live it, do yourself a favor and go “home” this summer. Write down places you want to see (elementary school, city park, library, middle school, high school, old neighborhoods, grocery stores, favorite restaurants…) the night before, then make a day of it. There’s really no place quite like a trip down memory lane.
Honorable Mentions: As I said above, ALL Kentucky State Parks are worth visiting and visiting often. They’re part of our history and we should all take great pride and interest in them. Visit the Kentucky State Parks official website and find parks that offer exactly what your family is looking for – golf, tennis, swimming, Frisbee golf (Lake Cumberland), boating, fishing, special events… the Kentucky State Parks have everything your family could possibly want or need. And your visits keep your money in Kentucky.
How sweet’s that?
Also See: Check out pictures of the Elk & Bison Prairie in our photo albums.