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Kentucky in Pictures: 15 Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Written by Brad Lane
Jul 3, 2019

Horse racing, bluegrass swaying, and stunning features including waterfalls, caves, and natural bridges define the portrait of Kentucky, adding to a unique Southern charm that warrants many visits. Just a few of the most scenic spots to see in Kentucky include Red River Gorge, Cumberland Gap, and Lake Barkley, with picturesque cityscapes found in Covington, Lexington, and the state capital of Frankfort. For authentic and timeless tradition in Kentucky, the historic Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby give good reason to dress up and smile for the camera.

1. Kentucky's Bluegrass Region

Horses in Kentucky's Bluegrass Region

Surrounding the Horse Capital of the World, Lexington, in the northern part of the state, Kentucky's Bluegrass Region encompasses an environment that speaks directly to heart. Rolling farmlands where horses run free, historic homes that really glow in the sunset, and fine-dining right on the farm are some of this scenic region's features, and visitors can point their camera in any direction for an excellent snapshot.

2. Red River Gorge

Courthouse Rock at the Red River Gorge

An hour east of Lexington in the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Red River Gorge is an inspiring landscape of stunning rock features and an abundance of forest. Rock climbing, hiking, and wilderness trips draw explorers to the Red River Gorge, as well as a vibrant outdoor community and great local pizza shops. Summer is always fun at the gorge, and the fall weather brings outstanding autumn color.

3. Churchill Downs

Horse racing

Home of the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports, the world-renowned Kentucky Derby is just the tip of the appeal at this historic racetrack and grounds. Hosting thoroughbred races since 1875, Churchill Downs gives visitors a reason to dress up nearly every week of the year with races, live music, and community events, all encompassed by the meticulously landscaped grounds and aura of authentic Kentucky horse racing.

4. Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area

Big South Fork, Kentucky

Stretching into Tennessee, the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is one of Kentucky's biggest outdoor playgrounds. Rock climbing, horseback riding, and white water rafting are just a few of the outstanding adventures available on the Big South Fork River, as well as backcountry camping, fishing, and marveling at magnificent sunsets each night.

5. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Old homestead in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Encompassing Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, Cumberland Gap is a significant break in the Appalachian Mountain Chain and an important landscape throughout history. With significant importance to indigenous cultures, Cumberland Gap also played a role in the Civil War after pioneers made their way into the area, and still today this lush landscape draws interested visitors to explore the forest, caves, and waterways found within.

6. Frankfort

The Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort

On the banks of the Kentucky River, the state capital of Kentucky offers true Southern charm alongside historic structures and walkable city streets. The Kentucky State Capitol building is of eye-catching interest, as is the historic neighborhood surrounding it. The region's lush and elevated scenery blends well with Frankfort's history to create postcard images throughout the city.

7. Mammoth Cave

Frozen Niagara in Mammoth Cave

The world's longest mapped cave system, the massive name of Mammoth Cave barely encompasses the intricate underground labyrinth found at this national park. A series of daily tours enables visitors to explore a fraction of the cave's 400 known miles, ranging from family-friendly Frozen Niagara cave tours to multi-hour expeditions utilizing hands, feet, and helmets.

8. Covington

John A. Roebling Bridge, Covington

On the northern tip of Kentucky bordering Ohio, Covington was founded in the early 19th century and still exudes that history on the streets today. Neighborhoods like the Licking Riverside Historic District exemplify the city's legacy, with some of the most picturesque city attractions found near the Ohio River across from Cincinnati, including the John A. Roebling Bridge.

9. Lake Barkley

Lake Barkley at sunset

Comprising one of two large bodies of water surrounding Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Lake Barkley is filled with over 130 miles of scenic appeal. Numerous opportunities to enjoy the water are presented by Lake Barkley, including boating, fishing, camping, and enjoying the amenities at Lake Barkley State Resort Park.

10. Natural Bridge State Park

Natural Bridge stone arch in Natural Bridge State Park

Named after the fascinating rock formation found within its boundaries, this state park an hour east of Lexington is one of the most visited in the state. Spanning 78 feet and over 65 feet off the ground, the Natural Bride is a must-see sight of this state park, including the forested trail that leads to it.

11. Barren River Lake

Barren River Lake

Thirty miles east of Bowling Green in the southern part of the state, this man-made lake is a popular spot for recreation and relaxation. With over 10,000 acres of water, activities like boating, waterskiing, and particularly fishing are always a fun way to enjoy the scenic environment, with land-based activities like horseback riding, hiking, and camping also popular throughout the summer and shoulder seasons.

12. Dog Slaughter Falls

Dog Slaughter Falls

In the Daniel Boone National Forest near the southern border of the state, this less-than-idyllic sounding waterfall puts on quite the display of moving water. The confluence of Dog Slaughter Creek and the Cumberland River, this 15-foot waterfall is accessed via a scenic woodland trail that exposes many shades of nature before revealing the plunging natural attraction.

13. Berea

East Pinnacle Lookout

Near Lexington, Berea is a city that celebrates the arts on any given weekend of the year. Visitors can expect festival events, dining opportunities, and plentiful boutique shops. This scenic city is particularly eye-catching thanks to its attractive surrounding scenery, including the popular Berea Pinnacles, which provide quite the view.

14. Breaks Interstate Park

Russell Fork River

Jointly managed by Kentucky and Virginia, this state park features adventure and accommodations the whole family can enjoy. Over 25 miles of trails span the 4,500-acre park, including many that overlook the scenic gorge created by the Russell Fork River. Campsites and cabins are available on the Kentucky side of Breaks Interstate Park, which provide a great way to catch the sunset at this scenic state line.

15. Louisville

Louisville skyline and Big Four Bridge

Home of the Louisville Slugger and Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Louisville is the biggest city in Kentucky and a central hub of culture and entertainment. The Louisville downtown district is worthy of more than one picture, with historic aesthetics and modern appeal, and the iconic Big Four Bridge spanning the Ohio River is an architecturally pleasing symbol of the city.

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