Kentucky is a wonder! A relatively small state (geographically-speaking), Kentucky is blessed with infinite variety – boundless nature everywhere one looks, history and architecture as old as the nation, and world famous sporting events and venues that spotlight the state in the center of the world.
The Bluegrass State is home to forty-five unique State Parks, ensuring enjoyment for every member of the family. The time to visit these three, all within a short driving distance of each other, is now. Although close, getting between them will require getting off the interstates and into the country. The roads of central Kentucky are nicely paved, seldom with rude potholes or torn-up sections. Central Kentucky is rolling hills, but the roads are generally gently curved; there are frequent passing lanes or four-lane stretches. Be especially vigilant for deer, particularly in the early evening.
For those in RV’s or tents, I have included camping information. Get out and enjoy Kentucky!
My Old Kentucky Home State Park,
Federal Hill, a gracious Federal-style home built in 1818, sits on 290 acres adorned with old oak trees, walled gardens and spacious grassy areas. Home to Judge John Rowan, who served with distinction in both the Kentucky State Court of Appeals and the U.S. Senate, and his family, the house is most closely linked to his cousin, the great composer, Stephen Foster.
Foster (1826-1864), considered the ‘father of American music’ was a frequent visitor and guest at Federal Hill. Foster has more than 200 songs to his credit; many of his most famous, including the Kentucky state song My Old Kentucky Home were written in this house. Foster’s writing desk is one of the highlights of the tour.
The house is a solid foursquare noted for its large windows, elaborate wood carvings, and graceful central staircase. On the main floor are a dining room, parlor and the Judge’s library. The upper floors are bedrooms.
Outside the home one finds the kitchen, smokehouse and storage buildings. All tour guides are thoroughly knowledgeable of the house, family and Foster’s music; they conduct the tours in authentic period clothing.
The grounds at My Old Kentucky Home State Park somehow invite a visitor to slow down and enjoy the immersion into a bygone era. Shady oak trees cover the grounds and line the walkways, expansive gardens overflow with a multitude of colors and scents, while the sunny spots beckon as the perfect place for a quick game of Frisbee or a short nap. Throughout, bells toll Foster’s songs. It is a lovely place to spend a day.
The park has a visitor’s center and large gift shop. At the far end of the park, near the campground, is an 18-hole golf course, kept in immaculate condition.
Tucked into a corner of My Old Kentucky Home State Park is the amphitheater that has housed The Stephen Foster Story for the last fifty-eight years! With beautiful costumes and settings, high energy dance and dozens of Foster’s songs, this is the perfect finale for your time in Bardstown. The Stephan Foster Story runs June through August; book your tickets early.
My Old Kentucky Home is a unique state park, an enduring place honoring a home, a man, music and the times they took place in. Enjoy Federal Hill with your family.
The campground is at the back of the State Park grounds adjoining the golf course. There are 39 sites scattered along a big looped road under large, shady trees. The campground has utility hookups, community showers and rest rooms and a dump station. A dog park is located directly across the road. The Kentucky Bourbon Center is about a mile further. The campground is closed from Nov. 1st to March 31st. For more information call 502-348-3502 or visit www.parks-ky.gov.
Green River Lake State Park
Green River Lake State Park has been called a ‘recreational paradise’ with good reason. The 8,200-acre manmade lake, which opened in 1969, provides the outdoor enthusiast ample opportunities to pursue their passion.
The water is remarkably clear and warm, the beaches wide and sandy, the shore tree lined and shady. Swimming is a must here; the gentle downslope into the lake will calm even the most timid. As one would expect, boating reigns here; pleasure craft, speed boats, and water skiers are all welcome and have space to play.
Fishing is, naturally, rigorously pursued at Green River Lake. The lake is generously stocked with bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish and muskie. If you do not own a boat, no problem; they can be rented at the marina, along with pontoons, jet skis and ski boats. Cabins are also available there; sitting over the water along a pier, they look inviting and relaxing. The marina offers a restaurant, an ice cream bar and a gift shop.
Off the water, the state park offers fun, as well. Twenty-eight miles of multiple use trails can be enjoyed by hikers, bikers or horse riders. Swings, slides and other playground activities are available for the younger ones. The miniature 18-hole golf course can be enjoyed by all ages.
An information/administrative center is just down the road from boat dock 1. Pamphlets, photos, and updated information on trails and water conditions can be obtained. On the expansive grounds is a covered picnic area and a playground for the active toddlers.
In the near vicinity of Green River Lake, but not included in the state park, is the Civil War battle site of Tebbs Bend/Green River. This drive along Tebbs Bend Road features informative plaques at battle sites, a former hospital (near the information/administrative center) and a small, but well-organized and -maintained Confederate cemetery.
Green River Lake State Park is a special place for the outdoor recreationalist; come for a good vigorous workout on the trails or relax on the pristine waters. Nature at its best.
Green River Lakes State Park has a 157-site back-in campground right at the water’s edge that is complete with a grocery store, dump station, laundry room and three buildings housing showers and rest rooms. This shady campground is open year-round, accepting reservations April through October. However, this recreational paradise is surrounded by at least ten other campgrounds which can be as close at a block from the lake to nine miles away in Campbellsville. Several are close to the area’s Civil War battle site; one welcomes horses, as well. All are listed, with amenities, on www.greenriverlake.com.
Kentucky Horse Park
No one can separate the horse from Kentucky. With the famed racetracks of Churchill Downs and Keeneland, and hundreds of white-fenced horse farms throughout the area that are homes of famous, beloved champion equines, it is no wonder Kentuckians worship the horse.
The Kentucky State Horse Park is a must for anyone, horse lover or not. Not only is this place rich in Kentucky horse history, it simply celebrates and works tirelessly to preserve the majestic equine.
Entering the park is like stepping onto sacred grounds. There to greet the visitor are life-sized statues of both Man O’ War, America’s first superstar race horse, winning 20 of his 21 races (one by the still-held record of 100 lengths) and Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner this nation still has not stopped talking about. Both racehorses, born and reared in Kentucky, were nicknamed ‘Big Red’, and their beautiful bronzes are continually encircled by fans; taking photos, wiping tears. Thirteen other bronzes, honoring equine legends, are found throughout the grounds.
But the park is more than bronzes and tributes to long-gone heroes. For the price of admission, the visitor has access to the world-renowned International Museum of the Horse, a Smithsonian Institute affiliate, the American Saddlebred Museum, and its wonderful gift shop, a horse-drawn carriage tour and several equine presentations throughout the day.
One of the most popular presentations takes place twice daily at the Breeds Barn, where nearly forty different breeds, representing many countries, live and preform. The show selects different horses daily and highlights that specific breed’s historic function, parading around a music-filled ring in colorful costumes appropriate to his native land. It is always a popular and well-attended show.
At the Hall of Champions, visitors can come eye-to-eye with current American legends and winners of different racing venues, including Thoroughbreds, American Quarter Horses, Standardbred Pacers and Standardbred Trotters. Come to learn their stories; their backgrounds, difficulties and ultimate victories. Giving them a good-bye pat on the neck will make your child’s day.
Then head to the Kid’s Barn where it is hands-on horse grooming, including brushing, general care lectures and horse bathing, for kids of all ages (but mainly the under 13 crowd). The Kid’s Barn features horse stories, scavenger hunts and a show jumping course designed to let child work off some energy (no horse required here). It is a lot of good, healthy fun.
Not everything at the Kentucky Horse Park is light-hearted fun, though. This place, with its first rate facilities is often the host of world class competitions. An all-day dressage competition was underway when this author visited the park. Hundreds of well-groomed horses and humans were in attendance and preforming. It was beautiful but the tension was definitely in the air.
Several restaurants, coffee shops and gift shops are found on the horse park grounds. Leashed dogs are permitted to walk the grounds with you.
The Kentucky Horse Park is a wonderful tribute to all horses and is a one-of-a-kind park. Visitors come from all corners of the world, soaking in the history, knowledge and love of this majestic animal. You will quickly learn, one visit is not enough.
The Kentucky Horse Park has 260 campsites on the park property. All sites are spacious with 55’ paved back-ins; all feature fire rings and picnic tables. The sites have electricity and water, although the water is turned off during the winter months. Two dump sites are located near the exits. This pet friendly motor coach park also features a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts and a twelve mile hiking and biking trail that ends in downtown Lexington.
The on-site Campground Store carries both grocery items and Kentucky Horse Park souvenirs. Those buying tickets for the park at the store will receive a discount on the park admission.
Golf cart permits can be purchased here, as well.
For more information on any of these parks visit www.parks-ky.gov