What better way to experience Kentucky than by driving its many scenic
tours and byways? Some of the most beautiful drives in the country pass
through areas that reveal insights into the culture, music, history and
characters that have shaped the Bluegrass State.
Kentucky's Scenic Byway System features more than 20 remarkable roads,
including six national designations. All were chosen for their unique
appeal and ability to showcase Kentucky's historic, geographic and
cultural wonders. The six National Scenic Byways range from Woodlands
Trace in Kentucky’s western waterlands to Red River Gorge Scenic Byway
in mountainous eastern Kentucky.
is a corridor through Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
in western Kentucky and northwestern Tennessee.
Kentucky’s 30-mile stretch runs along Ky. 453, from the northern edge of
LBL, southward to the Tennessee line. Running along a ridge of land
between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, Woodlands Trace is a beautiful,
easy drive in rolling terrain with opportunities to pull off and explore
on your own or at developed interpretive facilities. This outdoor
setting includes the seasonal splendors of nature, with blossoming trees
and flowers, a green canopy, brilliant fall foliage, and the open view
in the forest in the winter.
An aerial view of a vast green landscape highlights the Woodlands Trace byway as it winds its way through the forested peninsula called Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. Photo courtesy of www.byways.org - public domain
The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway
snakes 46 miles between Stanton and
Zachariah on Ky. 11, 77 and other state roads. One of the nation's
special natural areas, Red River Gorge
offers stone arches, caves,
cliffs, ravines, and water flows. Designated as a National Natural
Landmark, a National Wild and Scenic River, and a National Geological
Area, the landscape of this part of Kentucky offers scenic, natural and
Natural Bridge rock arch - photo Kentucky Dept of Tourism
Also in Eastern Kentucky, the hills and hollows surrounding the Country Music Highway
have produced more hit country stars than any other region
per capita. Home to stars such as Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle, the
Judds, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Dwight
Yoakam, and Patty Loveless, this highway overflows with melody. Travel
144 miles over the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway through seven counties
of Kentucky's Appalachian region, and its music will sing through your
memories long after your journey is over.
The bright red roofs and crisp white walls of the buildings on this farm make it stand out against the deep greens of a summer's day in eastern Kentucky. Photo by Dennis Adams, courtesy of www.byways.org. Public domain.
The Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway
travels 71 miles through six
communities as it winds its way through the knobs of central Kentucky.
This corridor exhibits significant historic and cultural resources
around every turn and embraces four strong aspects: Abraham Lincoln,
U.S. history and the Civil War, bourbon heritage, and religious
heritage. A great portrayal of American history and culture can be
experienced along the Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway. Abraham Lincoln
was born and raised near Hodgenville. When Lincoln was elected president
and the Civil War began, Kentucky was one of the essential border
states, and the Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway played a significant
role in the outcome of the Civil War. Landmarks of Kentucky’s bourbon
distilling industry and religious history also are found along the
One of our nation's most beloved presidents, cast in bronze, sits before a historic church in Hodgenville. Photo by Andy Nicol, TranSystem, courtesy of www.byways.org. Public domain.
The Wilderness Road Heritage Scenic Byway
is an important historic route
and was crucial in the West's settlement and during the Civil War.
Today places like Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
history. The 93 mile route also leads to Renfro Valley
, the famous
country music venue, as well as Berea
, Kentucky's crafts capital.
Visitors come to the Wilderness Road for a variety of reasons, but
perhaps the byway's most compelling feature is the bounty of historical
sites along the way. From Native Americans to European pioneers to Civil
War soldiers, many cultures have left their mark in the area. You'll
have plenty of opportunity to explore the nation's past along this
A foamy stream rushes past the McHarques Mill at Levi Jackson State Park. Photo by Dennis Adams, courtesy of www.byways.org. Public domain.
Along the Great River Road
in far western Kentucky, you can follow the
path of Union and Confederate forces that converged on the Mississippi
River in 1861. Stretches of U.S. 51 and Ky. 123 provide spectacular
views of the Mississippi, particularly from the vantage of the bluffs in
Columbus-Belmont State Park
. Considered the most heavily fortified
place in North America -- the "Gibraltar of the West" -- when the Union
army attacked this stronghold in 1861, it marked the beginning of the
Union’s Western Campaign and General Ulysses S. Grant’s first battle of
the Civil War (known today as "The Battle of Belmont").
Columbus Belmont State Park, KY Great River Road
Old Frankfort Pike is designated a state scenic byway and encompasses 16 miles of gorgeous thoroughbred horse country just outside of Lexington. This route passes through 6 National Register Historic districts, multiple thoroughbred horse farms, dry laid stone fences and a wide variety of native trees that cover the road in a beautiful canopy in the summer.
Find more information about Kentucky’s six National Scenic Byways at www.byways.org
Other Kentucky Scenic Byways include:
- Big Bone Lick Scenic Byway
- Boone Creek Scenic Byway
- Cordell Hull Highway
- Cumberland Cultural Heritage Highway
- Duncan Hines Scenic Road
- Midway-Versailles Road - US Highway 62
- Old Frankfort Pike
- Old Kentucky Turnpike
- Pine Mountain Road
- Pisgah Pike Scenic Byway
- Riverboat Row Scenic Byway
- Shakertown Road
- US Highway 42
- US Highway 68 Scenic Byway
- Zilpo Road