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- More Insider Tips for Visiting Kentucky
Kentucky’s got pricey bourbon and expensive race horses. But there’s a ton of fun things too. Great state parks with drop dead views. Civil Wars sites. And Insta-worthy covered bridges. Here’s a list of the fun free things to do in Kentucky.
Kentucky is renowned for its bourbon trail and the Kentucky Derby. Major attractions like Mammoth Cave National Park, the National Corvette Museum and the Newport Aquarium charge admission. But there are also plenty of free things to do in Kentucky. Take a road trip through the Bluegrass State and explore the free activities and Kentucky’s small towns.
TravelingMom Tip: Attraction opening times and days and admission prices can change without warning – and Covid-19 shut downs may be in place. Always check the website for the attraction before planning a visit.
Free Things to Do in Kentucky: Louisville
On a budget and visiting Louisville? Skip the Muhammad Ali Center and pricey Louisville Mega Cavern zip line and try these fun, free things:
1. Visit Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace.
Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace is operated by the National Park Service. You and your family can walk through the cabin where Abraham Lincoln lived for the early part of his childhood. The National Historic Site includes exhibits on Lincoln and pioneer life.
TravelingMom Tip: The Mary Todd Lincoln House, in Lexington, charges admission.
2. Take a Deep Breath at the Patriot Peace Memorial
The Patriot Peace Memorial is very near to downtown Louisville, Kentucky. It was built in 2000 to honor fallen patriots. It sits in a park-like setting, and at night the glow of the building is a sight to see on its own.
3. Tour the 21C Museum Hotel Art Gallery
The 21C is a boutique dog friendly hotel in downtown Louisville, but the art gallery inside the hotel is open to all. Don’t expect traditional art in this gallery. The more unusual the better!
4. Take a Selfie with the World’s Largest Bat
You can find the world’s largest baseball bat in front of the Louisville Slugger Museum! While a visit to the museum isn’t free, this Instagram-worthy photo is.
5. Play at The Parklands
The Parklands are one of the best places to explore nature. The urban trail system connects downtown Louisville to the east end, through four large parks, with playgrounds and 100 miles of hiking and biking trails.
6. Walk Across the Big Four Bridge
The Big Four bridge is a converted railroad bridge that connects downtown Louisville and New Albany, Indiana, across the Ohio River. At night there is even a light show on the bridge!
7. For the Birds
Go birdwatching at Nettleroth Bird Sanctuary in Cherokee Park. This is one of 17 parks in the city designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in NYC.
Free Things to Do in Kentucky: Lexington
You won’t be able to visit the Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs for free, but there are many other places to explore in Lexington:
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8. Hike through the Arboretum
On the campus of the University of Kentucky is a fantastic arboretum open to the public. The 2-mile Walk Across Kentucky features wild-collected native plants from the different regions of Kentucky.
TravelingMom Tip: The Arboretum State Botanical Garden of Kentucky includes the Kentucky Children’s Garden, which charges admission. But it has a big draw for kids: model trains. They run at certain times throughout the day.
9. Attend the Kite Festival in April
During the free annual Kite Fest, the skies in Lexington are filled with beautiful kites. In 2021, the Kite Fest is canceled. Next year, expect children’s games, kite decorating and free sunscreen. Bring a picnic or buy food on site.
10. See Folk Art in Kentucky’s Folk Art Center
Located on the campus of Morehead State University, the Kentucky Folk Art Center is housed in an old grocery store. The best part of this free attraction is that it really supports local artists. The permanent collection includes nearly 1,400 pieces of self-taught art. Don’t miss the annual Appalachian Holiday Arts & Crafts Fair, held on the first Saturday of December. The museum is temporarily closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.
11. Ride the Valley View Ferry
Most ferry rides aren’t free; take advantage of this state-funded trip. Your kids will think it is super cool!
12. Take the Big Blue Traditions Tour
This is a University of Kentucky basketball fan’s dream! The free guided tours are on pause due to Covid-19, but check back before your visit.
13. Is it a Hotel or a Museum?
Like the one in Louisville, Lexington’s 21C Museum Hotel opens its art gallery to all. And it is open every day, all day. Perfect for early risers or night owls.
Free Things to Do in Kentucky: Frankfort, the State Capital
14. Tour the State Capitol Building
The marble Beaux-Arts building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, opened in 1910. There are a series of underground tunnels leading to different areas of the capitol. There are murals of frontier scenes with Daniel Boone.
TravelingMom Tip: The Greek Revival Old State Capitol, part of the Kentucky Historical Society, charges admission.
15. Pay Your Respects to Daniel Boone
While you are visiting the Capitol, head over to the Frankfort Cemetery where Daniel Boone is buried. He and his wife were the first ‘residents’ of the cemetery. The view of Frankfort alone is worth the trip. Bonus points if you wear your coonskin cap!
Free Things to do in Kentucky: Visit a Park
16. Aviation Heritage Park
At Aviation Heritage Park in Bowling Green, check out the military planes on display. You can even touch the aircraft.
17. Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve
The Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve is the largest old growth forest in Kentucky. It has a 4.5 mile hiking trail.
18. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
The mist of the falls create a ‘moonbow’ or lunar rainbow, at just the right time in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. You can see it for about two days before and two days after each full moon, as long as the sky is clear. The park also offers swimming, 17 miles of hiking trails and fantastic birding. Note that some activities, like horseback riding, rafting and gem mining at Cumberland Falls Mining Company charge fees.
19. Kingdom Come State Park
This state park is named after the “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come,” by Kentucky author John Fox Jr. There are some fantastic rock formations to see during your visit. There are 38 miles of mountain bike trails, 14 hiking trails of varying difficulty and some breathtaking views.
20. Natural Bridge State Resort Park
The Natural Bridge State Resort Park is located very close to the Red River Gorge which is a mecca for hikers and climbers alike. The natural bridge is a sight to behold and requires a relatively easy one mile hike. Natural Bridge is a nature preserve, so dogs are not allowed.
21. Nolin Lake State Park
Nolin Lake State Park is near Mammoth Cave, so if you time your visit right you can tour the cave (which isn’t free) and then have lunch overlooking the lake. The park has hiking and biking trails and a beach.
22. Old Fort Harrod State Park
The Mansion Museum charges admission, but Old Fort Harrod State Park and the playground in Harrodsburg are free to the public.
23. Panther Creek Park
This Owensboro, Kentucky, park is the home of a beautiful butterfly garden. Panther Creek Park also has hiking trails.
24. Pioneer Park
The 43-acre park in Kenton County, Kentucky, has hiking trails and sports fields.
25. Smothers Park
Owensboro has quite possibly the coolest (free!) playground in all of Kentucky. The water fountains include a show every 15 minutes. Bring towels for the spray park.
More Fun Free Kentucky Attractions
26. Flood Wall Murals
Head to Paducah to see the works of world-renowned mural artist Robert Dafford, on the flood walls of the Ohio River. You have to see them to believe them!
27. Kentucky Dam
There is a beautiful beach area and bike path. Not to mention the river traffic providing a scenic backdrop.
28. Perryville Battlefield
The battlefield at Perryville was the deadliest in the state during the Civil War. Now the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site is one of the busiest tourist attractions in the state of Kentucky. Take a self-guided walking tour on the battlefield, part of Kentucky’s Lincoln Heritage Trail. The park is also a wildlife refuge, with a “Bird Trail” and more than 15 miles of hiking trails.
TravelingMom Tip: The Museum at The Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site charges admission.
29. Purple People Bridge
This pedestrian-only bridge connects Kentucky and Ohio crossing the Ohio River. Gather up the kids to walk (or run) across to Cincinnati.
30. Bernheim Forest and Arboretum
The privately-owned Bernheim is an amazing forest. There are numerous trails and playgrounds all over the forest. A 10-acre natural playground opens in the fall. There is a $10 per-car “recommended donation.”
31. Covered Bridges of Fleming County
There is something simply magical about coming across a covered bridge on an old country road. Each has a historical marker.
32. Tioga Falls
These falls are half an hour from Louisville and it takes a bit of a hike to get to the falls. Plan to visit in the spring.
33. Dr. Thomas Walker Historic Site
Dr. Walker led the first expedition through Cumberland Gap in 1750. He built a cabin, a replica of which stands on the site today.The mini golf course is free for kids under age 6.
34. Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum
If you have train lovers in your life, then this is a must-visit stop. Just keep in mind that train rides require paid tickets.
Unique Free Things to Do in Kentucky
35. Ale 8 One Plant
On Kentucky, Ale 8 One is the unofficial state drink. It is kind of the unicorn of drinks because it isn’t easily found outside of Kentucky. Touring the plant is one of the free things to do in Kentucky that no native Kentuckian would want to miss.
36. Bourbon Tour
Some distilleries charge for tours but Buffalo Trace offers free tours AND tastings. Tours and family and dog friendly. Reservations are required.
37. Weisenberger Mill
The old waterwheel is an Instagram-worthy backdrop for a family picture. Make sure to pick up some of the grits while you are there!
38. Scott County Jail
Now used as the Scott County Arts and Cultural center, this former jail is a fun visit if you are in the area.
39. Toyota Manufacturing Plant
Ever wanted to see the production process at Toyota? This tour, in Georgetown, takes you through the manufacturing facility and visitors are able to see car magic happen! This was the first Toyota plant in the United States and it is the largest in the world. Tours are currently suspended due to Covid-19.
TravelingMom Tip: Make your reservation in advance. Kids have to be at least 6 years old to take the tour.
40. Write on the Before I Die…Wall in NuLu
The NuLu wall is so inspiring! There are spaces to write down the things you hope to do before you die and the chance to look at what others would like to do.
41. Historic Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Playland
If quirky is your thing, then you need to visit this roadside attraction. Words don’t do the place justice; there is something new to look at around every corner.