Even when not in “derby mode,” Louisville is a lively city. There’s a lot to see and do, from exploring Whiskey Row and Historic West Main Street—with museums and cultural institutions along the riverfront—to visiting Churchill Downs.
For a taste of the Derby City drink and food scene, the Urban Bourbon Tour is a fun way to start, and with so many intriguing and distinctive neighborhoods, there’s no end to the possibilities in Louisville for excellent eating and drinking experiences.
Once you’ve gotten to know Louisville and are ready to see the beauty of the Kentucky countryside, there are plenty of outdoor options close by to explore. A visit to one of the 45 state parks is a great way to get out and about in the great outdoors in Kentucky; let’s have a peek at a few of the exciting parks nearby.
Map of State Parks Near Louisville KY
Here is a map of the Kentucky state parks covered in this post:
List of State Parks Near Louisville
Here is the list of those state parks including their distance from Louisville and notable features about each one.
1. Big Bone Lick State Historic Park
Location: 3380 Beaver Rd, Union, KY 41091
For a truly unique and educational experience, head an hour and a half southwest to Big Bone Lick State Historic Park. The park, recognized as the “Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology,” is a step back in time and a look at what life was like eons ago.
What was life like here 18,000 years ago? Most of North America was covered by ice, and here at Bone Lick, warm salt springs rose from the earth. Prehistoric animals were drawn to the springs here for various reasons, including the salt that formed at the surface. Many became trapped in the marsh, perished, and left behind clues about life here. Bone Lick was discovered in 1739, and the fossilized remains found here are displayed throughout the world.
There is a museum with brand new displays on paleontology, geology, Ice Age mammals, Native American history, and the ongoing research underway at the park. You can visit a resident bison herd, walk the Discovery Trail, take an Orienteering challenge, and camp here, too.
Interesting fact: Many prehistoric animals that frequented Big Bone Lick were plant-eaters and needed to get their salt supply from sources like the springs and are called “licks.”
2. Lincoln Homestead State Park
Location: 5079 Lincoln Park Rd, Springfield, KY 40069
Lincoln Homestead State Park is just one hour and ten minutes southeast of Louisville. It is the site of the original home of Abe Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, and has replicas of his father’s family home and a blacksmith shop where Abe’s father learned to forge metal. Another family member, Mordecai Lincoln, built his home here in 1797.
There is an 18 hole golf course, disc golf, a playground, and a picnic area within the park. There’s also a fishing hole, Lincoln Homestead Lake, a great place to cast a line and catch largemouth bass and catfish.
Interesting fact: The Mordecai Lincoln house is the only structure in existence in Kentucky owned and occupied by a member of the Lincoln Family on its original site.
3. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
Location: 7351 Hwy 90, Corbin, KY 40701
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is a bit of a haul from Louisville, two hours and 45 minutes southeast—but those falls, though—spectacular and worth the trip.
Measuring 68 feet tall and 125 feet wide, Cumberland Falls are known as “the Niagara of the South,” and the falls are simply stunning whether you see them in the day or the night. For an unforgettable experience, visit the falls around a full moon and catch a glimpse of a moonbow. This rare occurrence, also known as a Lunar rainbow, happens when the moonlight is refracted off the water droplets from the falls’ mist.
There’s no end to the activities here, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, and a Gem Mine for discovering geological treasures. For lodging, there’s the historic DuPont Lodge, one of the most gorgeous state park lodges in Kentucky, and cabins, cottages, and campsites for rental.
Interesting fact: There are only two waterfalls on earth that consistently have moonbows, Cumberland Falls and Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border.
4. Fort Boonesborough State Park
Location: 4375 Boonesboro Rd, Richmond, KY 40475
If you are a history buff, you’ll enjoy Fort Boonesborough State Park, located an hour and 40 minutes west of Derby City. This is where in 1775, Daniel Boone and his men established the second settlement in Kentucky as they were bushwacking what eventually would be the Wilderness Trail.
The park was constructed to replicate a working fort complete with 18th-century skills and craft demonstrations. The Kentucky River Museum features a living history of the families who lived and worked here. Fort Boonesborough also offers tours with artisans that illustrate a sense of pioneer life. For more information on the tours, email Jack.Winburn@ky.gov.
The park has camping along the Kentucky River and picnicking, boating, and fishing opportunities. There is also an Olympic-size swimming pool, a gift shop, and miniature golf.
Interesting fact: Daniel Boone and his men were blazing a new Wilderness Trail out of a patchwork of smaller trails. The completion of the WIlderness Trail essentially opened up a route to the west for further colonization.
5. Natural Bridge State Resort Park
Location: 2135 Natural Bridge Rd, Slade, KY 40376
Head two hours east of Louisville, and you’ll arrive at the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge State Park. The “crown jewel” of the park is the Natural Bridge; at 78 feet long and 65 feet high, it is a very impressive sandstone arch millions of years in the making. Seeing this massive structure from the ground is exciting, but even more thrilling is being able to walk across it.
The park has ten hiking trails, a Skylift to the sandstone bridge, kayak and canoe rental, fishing, and picnicking. Natural Bridge offers two campgrounds (seasonal) and is the mountainside home of Hemlock Lodge, one of Kentucky’s 17 state lodges. The lodge has a swimming pool and a mini-golf near picnic area #2.
Helpful tip: Many people take the Skylift to the Natural Bridge and hike back, as some of the trails to the bridge can be difficult.