Six National Parks in Kentucky

March 10, 2023

national parks in Kentucky

Whether you want to hike, raft or canoe the Big South Fork River, explore caves, walk in the footsteps of the pioneers and more, Kentucky has six National Parks that will deliver adventure for every taste.

One of the most popular is Mammoth Cave, home to the world’s largest known cave system and a host of guided tours that will take you deep underground. Other parks feature historic sites that are steeped in history.

Mammoth Cave National Park

The state of Kentucky may be known for bourbon and fried chicken, but beneath its rolling hills and peaceful forests is a hidden gem. Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the longest known cave system in the world.

Mammoth Cave has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. Evidence of Native American and European exploration of this 5,000-year-old cave has been preserved in archeological sites.

Visitors can explore the subterranean passages of Mammoth Cave on ranger-led tours or by self-guided means. The park is also home to a variety of animals that are specially adapted to living in cave environments.

A guided cave tour is the best way to see Mammoth Cave. The park offers a variety of options including short and long walking tours, cave crawling tours and lantern lit adventures.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is a 24,000-acre national park that spans a prominent V-shaped notch in the Appalachian Mountains. It commemorates the pioneering spirit of American settlers who streamed westward to colonize western Kentucky and Virginia through this pass.

It was a vital stage in the westward movement and a symbol of the break from European civilization. The gap was a favored hunting ground for bison and Native Americans for centuries before pioneers came to exploit it.

The Wilderness Road, blazed by Daniel Boone in 1775, passed through the gap. It was one of the primary arteries for the 300,000 pioneers who crossed into Kentucky and beyond.

Today, the park is home to many scenic overlooks, unique rock formations, cascading waterfalls and caves. It also offers 70 miles of hiking trails, tours of the historic Hensley Settlement and a variety of other recreational activities.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park

A visit to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park near Hodgenville, Kentucky provides a unique glimpse into the early life of one of America's most influential leaders. Here, visitors can see a replica of the cabin where Honest Abe was born, as well as various farm sites and a memorial building.

The park's main attraction is the Memorial Building, which is a neoclassical granite and marble structure, designed by prominent architect John Russell Pope. It was dedicated on November 9, 1911 and includes symbolisms relating to Lincoln, such as 56 steps leading up to the building -- one for each year of his life and 16 rosettes on the ceiling.

The park also preserves two farm sites where President Lincoln grew up in Central Kentucky. These are the Sinking Spring Farm south of Hodgenville and Knob Creek Farm northeast of Hodgenville.

Big Bone Lick State Park

Big Bone Lick State Park is home to a variety of nature trails, a visitor center and natural history museum with a 1,000-pound mastodon skull and a live bison herd. In addition, the park features a salt-sulphur spring and a 7.5-acre lake for bank fishing.

The name of the park comes from Pleistocene megafauna fossils found in the area. It's thought that mammoths were drawn to the area by a salt lick around sulfur springs.

Mammoths, along with a number of other animals, grazed the salty marsh and vegetation that covered the land. These included forms of bison, caribou, deer, elk, horse, mastodon, moose, musk ox, peccary, ground sloth and possibly tapir.

The scientific community recognizes Big Bone Lick as the “Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology.” In 1807 President Thomas Jefferson sent a paleontological expedition to the site. They unearthed thousands of bones that were subsequently sent to museums worldwide.


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