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A Kentucky Adventure

The Bluegrass State is packed with outdoor activities ideal for all ages and skills levels

By Corinne Minard

Kayaking is becoming increasingly popular at Lake Cumberland.

Outdoor adventures, from hiking and camping to rock climbing and kayaking, are a great way to celebrate spring. Luckily, you can find these types of activities and more throughout the state of Kentucky.

“We’ve got 50 tremendous state parks with some of the neatest natural features of anywhere in the country,” says Seth Wheat, director of tourism development for the Kentucky Department of Tourism.

For those looking for time on the water Lake Cumberland, a 100-square-mile reservoir, is open all year.

“It is a year-round playground,” says Carolyn Mounce, executive director of Lake Cumberland Tourism. In the summer she says many people visit the lake for house and speed boating. In the fall she says more pontoon boats and kayaks can be found on the lake because people are taking in the fall colors. And no matter what the season people can be found fishing on the lake.

“It would be easy to say that at any given time there’s probably a fishing tournament out on our lake,” says Mounce. “Our lake is a deep, beautiful, clear lake that has all kinds of fish for people to fish for.”

Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system.

Lake Cumberland also has the only state park that is a true island. General Burnside Island State Park features a Brian Ault-designed golf course and a campground with 94 campsites.

Spots like Red River Gorge continue to be great places for rock climbers. “Anybody that climbs in this part of the world has more than likely been to the Red at some point,” says Wheat. However, Red River Gorge has been developing more activities to make the park even more of a must-visit destination. “There’s an effort there under way to build a new mountain bike trail, which will complement the climbing routes,” he says.

Zip lines have been added to the area and one of the newest attractions involves kayaking and paddle boarding in an old rock quarry. “You go underground to these caverns while you’re floating on the water. It’s a really unique experience,” says Wheat.

The natural sandstone arch known as Sky Bridge is located in the Red River Gorge.

For those who love both horses and nature horseback riding is available throughout Kentucky. Whispering Woods Riding Stables in Georgetown offers rides through the woods with several different trails that range from 50 minutes to 2 hours. “You’re getting to see Kentucky in its most natural form when you go and do that,” says Bailey Gilkerson, marketing director for Georgtown/Scott County Tourism.

Georgetown is also great when you’re looking for a different type of ride. The Horsey Hundred, set for May 25-27 this year, invites cyclists from all over the country to explore Kentucky. The 100-mile Saturday route will showcase historic sites, beautiful scenery and even bourbon distilleries. There are also shorter routes for those looking for a less intense experience. “Right now we have about 2,500 cyclists that come in and they ride the country scenic roads,” says Gilkerson.

Lovers of caves can also find plenty to do in Kentucky. Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles of it explored. Visitors can take several different tours of the cave system, covering different regions of the cave; take guided hikes of the land above the caves; canoe or kayak on nearby rivers; and more.

“The paddling around Mammoth Cave is neat because you can kind of sneak back into some of the caves at certain times of the year if the water is right,” says Wheat.

If you’re looking for a location more off the beaten path Wheat suggests visiting the far east or far west corners of the state.

Cumberland Falls offers visitors beautiful views from land and from the water.

“In western Kentucky it’s a completely different landscape,” says Wheat. “We have these Mississippi River swamps and oxbows and this world that looks like you’re down in the middle of Louisiana or Mississippi or somewhere that’s totally foreign to the rest of the country, but it’s here.” He says the area is ideal for water adventures or explorations.

Wheat says that two of the best fishing lakes in the country, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, are in the area. “And right in between those two is 170,000 acres of recreation in Land Between the Lakes,” he says. “You can hunt there, you can camp, and there’s a 60-some odd mile backpacking trail that cuts through the middle of it. ATVs, horseback riding, you can see bison and elk and there’s literally something for everyone there.”

On the eastern side of the state Wheat suggests making a visit to Breaks Interstate Park, one of two shared state parks in the country. “It’s earned the nickname of the Grand Canyon of the South because the river cuts this very deep winding gorge through the state line there. It’s got some of the best white water anywhere in the Southeast,” he says.

Depending on the season, visitors can find white water runs that range from Class 2 to Class 5. Rock climbing has recently been added to the park. There are also about 20 miles of hiking trails and 10 miles of mountain biking trails.

“It’s just such a scenic place that I think the views there rival any anywhere in the country,” says Wheat.