14 Reasons to Visit Berea, Kentucky

Nestled up against the rugged Cumberland Plateau, Berea is a town with a deep soul and the artwork to prove it. Undoubtedly the beating heart of the folk arts and crafts scene in Kentucky, it’s also home to more than 8,400 acres of closed canopy forest and a well-maintained trail system. Designated as one of Kentucky’s Trail Towns, which are billed as a "home base for outdoor expeditions," Berea is full of festivals, trails, parks, and performances.

Here are 14 of the best reasons to visit this historic Kentucky town.

1. BEREA WELCOME CENTER IN THE HISTORIC L&N TRAIN DEPOT

Berea Old Town Visitors Welcome CenterSet the scene for a perfect visit to Berea by starting in the charming welcome center located at 3 Artist Circle. Staffed by, arguably, the most well-informed people in the county, they can tell you everything you need to know from what events are happening to who has the best BBQ in town. Make sure you give yourself time to look around the restored brick railroad station that the center is housed in.

2. THE INDIAN FORT MOUNTAIN TRAIL SYSTEM

Owned by Berea College, the Indian Fort Mountain Trail System is located within one of the oldest managed private forests in the country. There are many trail options for hikers, ranging from a short 2-3 mile outing to a longer 6-7 mile trek with plenty of vantage points highlighting the famous pinnacles. Open all year and in all seasons, the trails are particularly lovely in the spring when everything is blooming and when the fall colors are at their peak.

3. FAMILY-FRIENDLY BIKING

There are several well-established cycling trails that the whole family can enjoy including bike paths in Berea City Park, the 3-mile Mayde Beebe White Trail, and the 1-mile John B. Stephenson Memorial Trail. In addition, Berea is a stop on the TransAmerica Trail, spanning more than 4,225 miles from coast to coast, 600 miles of which roll across some of the most beautiful parts of the Bluegrass State.

4. EXTRAORDINARY SHOPPING

Kentucky Artisan CenterKnown as an artistic epicenter, shopping for unique handmade goods doesn’t get any better than in this artsy town. Start at the Kentucky Artisan Center and watch a weekly demonstration or performance before walking through the gallery featuring the work of numerous Kentucky artists, craftsmen, and authors. Next, browse the Appalachian crafts at the Log House Craft Gallery and stop in the Sunshine Ballard Cottage to see student weavers at work. Finally, check out the Artisan Village, where there are enough interesting shops to keep an art lover busy all day.

5. MADISON COUNTY WATERWAYS

Kentucky has more miles of navigable water than anywhere else in the Lower 48 and the areas surrounding Berea in Madison County have plenty of it. The local outfitters can help you find the right fit no matter what your experience in the water might be, and many offer paddling trips for all levels.

6. HISTORIC BOONE TAVERN HOTEL & RESTAURANT

A visit to Berea is simply not complete without visiting the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant. Originally opened in 1909, it’s easy to see why it’s still going strong today. Fresh, flavorful homemade dishes that are as locally sourced as possible and classically decorated antebellum rooms make for a romantic weekend or much-deserved getaway.

7. PUBLIC ART

Look for mythical beasts, fountains, and historic architecture on the Berea Public Art Tour. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land while experiencing the artistic process firsthand. The Student Craft Program at Berea College keeps Appalachian craftsmanship alive, while you can see students weaving on traditional looms at the Sunshine Ballard Cottage. They are more than happy to show off their work to anyone who stops in!

8. FESTIVALS, FESTIVALS, AND MORE FESTIVALS

It’s actually hard to plan a visit here without being in town for one of the many festivals this vibrant community plans each year. The festival offerings range from arts and music to a Spoonbread Festival to the annual Geocaching Weekend. Check out their events calendar for a full list of what will be going on when you visit.

9. JAMMIN’ ON THE PORCH

On Thursdays in Berea any and all are welcome to join the father and daughter duo Donna and Lewis Lamb for an evening of music making and storytelling. Specializing in "old time" mountain music it’s an authentic evening of entertainment and fellowship. Anyone of any age or skill level is welcome and encouraged to participate. The jam happens all year round, but the location does vary based on the weather. Call the Welcome Center at 800-598-5263 to find out where they will be during your visit.

10. BEREA FARMERS MARKET

With a growing community of small farmers aimed at providing fresh, local products it should come as no surprise that this growers-only market continues to, well, grow. Open on Saturdays year round, expect to find prepared foods, canned goods, homemade jams, fresh-baked breads and cakes, and handmade artwork and crafts (not to mention seasonal fruits and veggies!).

11. GET HANDS-ON WITH ART

Artisans here love to share their skills and offer different ways to learn about their respective crafts. Through a program called Hands On Workshops (or HOW), students can take a range of classes from culinary to arts and crafts workshops. If you're looking for some great holiday gift ideas what better way to show someone the love than with a handmade gift? In the months leading up to the Christmas season, take a class from the expert artisans and master craftspeople in the “Make It, Take It, Give It!” workshop series.

12. THE 10TH LARGEST YARD SALE IN THE COUNTRY

As the saying goes, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. The "US 25 Yard Sale" runs across more than 500 miles of US 25 and US 25W through Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. It’s usually held in the summer and this is one unique event worth checking out.

13. A HOST OF NEW EATERIES

From newly renovated historic buildings to classic roadside dining there is a brand new crop of fine eatin’ coming to town. A few of the new eateries include Smokin' Jax BBQ Shack, Native Bagel Company, Roadside Diner, and Clementine’s Bake Shop (that locals will know from their farmers market beginnings).

14. LIVE PERFORMANCES FOR EVERY SEASON

This community's love of culture extends beyond the visual arts into the performing arts, with three main venues for live theater: Berea Arena Theater, The Spotlight Playhouse, and the Berea College Theater Laboratory. There is also the annual Celebration of Traditional Music hosted by the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College and the Mountain Folk Festival, a weekend of folk dance and music that has been getting folks moving for over 60 years.

For more information to plan your trip to Berea, head on over to VisitBerea.com.

Originally written by RootsRated for Kentucky Tourism.