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Kentucky

7 of the Most Beautiful Places to See in Kentucky

Jamie Delos Reyes

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Kentucky is famous for its bourbon distilleries, horse farms, and one of the best college basketball programs in the US. If you haven’t visited the state yet, however, you’re missing out on some of the most beautiful places to see in Kentucky. This Southern state stretches from Mississippi River all the way to the Appalachian Mountains. Somewhere in all of that vast wilderness are pockets of beauty you shouldn’t miss.

1. Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge, Kentucky
Photo Credits: John Snell

In the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest is an outdoorsman’s wonderland. It’s called the Red River Gorge, near Slade, which is 29, 000-acre’s worth of rock shelters, cliffs, waterfalls, and mountain pools. Aside from these, you’ll also find the largest concentration of natural arches east of the Rocky Mountains, at 100 arches strong. The most popular of these is the Sky Bridge, from which you can get a breath-taking view of the Clifty Wilderness.

2. Natural Bridge State Resort Park

Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Kentucky
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Another Kentucky natural treasure is the Natural Bridge State Resort Park, located just 10 miles off the Red River Gorge entrance. The highlight of the park is a sandstone formation that gave it its name. The Natural Bridge is 78 feet long and 65 feet high. It’s the most massive arch in the park. It took Mother Nature 65 million years to carve it using the raging waters of the Red River. Now you can its majesty for yourself when you visit Kentucky!

Tip:

  • You can reach both the Red Gorge and the Natural Bridge by hiking from the park’s lodge or riding a sky lift.

3. Breaks Interstate Park

Breaks Interstate Park, Kentucky
Photo Credits: Breaks Park

There are only two interstate parks in the entire US. One of them, the Breaks Interstate Park, is in Kentucky, right between the Virginia-Kentucky state line. Its centerpiece is one of the most beautiful places to see in Kentucky. Breaks Interstate Park cradles a 1600-foot deep canyon, which extends a whopping 5 miles!

The fierce waters of the Russell Fork carved this deep canyon more than 250 million years ago, as the waters dashed headlong into the Ohio River. It’s the deepest and largest sandstone gorge east of the Mississippi River, earning it the nickname “the Grand Canyon on the South.”

Kentucky trivia:

Local legends claim that John Swift, an Englishman, buried a fortune in silver somewhere at the Breaks Interstate Park.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park

4. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky
Photo Credits: Flickr | JR P

Want to see a rare phenomenon that only happens in two places on earth? It’s called the moonbow, a spectacle that happens during full moon cycles. One of the only two places you can see it from is in southern Africa, in Victoria Falls. Too far? You’re in luck. The other is right here in Kentucky, at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.

Cumberland Falls is 125 feet and spills 68 feet down to the boulder-studded river below. The falls are surrounded by a perpetual mist, which is partly responsible for producing the moonbow. During a full moon, the moonlight is refracted in the mist and creates a bow. Unlike a multi-colored rainbow, the moon is white as a ghost.

Tip:

  • If you want to visit Cumberland Falls just in time for a moonbow, stay tuned to Parks.ky.gov. The website keeps a moonbow calendar, predicting the possible times to witness this poetic phenomenon.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

5. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Don’t miss one of Kentucky’s most amazing scenic wonders when you travel to the state,  the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area that spans an unbelievable 125, 000 acres. It’s so huge, part of it even crosses over to northeastern Tennessee!

Big South Fork is a place of beautiful contrasts: you will see deep, lush expanses of verdant forests surrounding jagged fissures and gorges. It’s an otherworldly sight.

How to explore Big South Fork:

  • Hike the trails that extend over 150 miles, offering everything from multi-day hikes to short loops
  • Ride the Big South Fork Scenic Railway. on a 100-year-old open-air train. The round-trip journey covers 16 miles of vertigo-inducing vistas and mountain scenes, before descending into a 600-foot gorge.

6. Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Photo Credits: Mammoth Cave Parks

Travel into a world filled with crystal columns hanging from towering cave ceilings, and be surrounded by fairy dust and murky shadows. You can find this ethereal site at the most extensive cave system in the world, the Mammoth Cave National Park. To date, only 350 miles of the cave is mapped, which much more remaining uncharted in the dark. Making this one of the most mysterious places in Kentucky.

Some of the famous stalagmite and stalactite formations include the:

  • Star Chamber
  • Bridal Altar
  • Giant’s Coffin

Water naturally carved these from stone over millions of years, and now you can witness their timeless beauty when you visit Kentucky.

Travel tip:

  • If you’re a beginner, there’s a 30-minute tour that’s fairly easy. If you’re up for a challenge, the Wild Cave Tour is a 6 1/2 hour challenge that involves serious chutzpah and the use of headlamps. Prepare to shimmy through minuscule openings in the dark!

7. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Kentucky
Photo Credits: Further In & Higher Up Blog

The Cumberland Gap served as a passageway through the Allegheny Mountains, which used to be an impenetrable wall between the east and west. Now, visitors to Kentucky pour through the Cumberland Gap to see the stunning 20, 000-acre park.

Reserve some time for climbing the Pinnacle Overlook. You can see three states at once from this 2, 400-foot peak: Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Climb White Rock on a clear day and see the Great Smoky Mountains all the way at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.

Interesting fact:

  • Running the length of the entire park, the Ridge Trail links White Rock and the Pinnacle Overlook.

Aside from exploring the most beautiful places to see in Kentucky, there’s also plenty of educational things to do for kids and kids at heart.

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