7 Awesome Things to Do with Kids in the Kentucky Outdoors

With everything from leisurely bike rides through the woods to crawling around in bat caves, Kentucky is filled with outdoor adventure for the whole family, no matter what you want to do. Every corner of the state has something to see, and there are plenty of options, whether you have young children or are traveling with a couple of teenagers. To help you narrow it down, we put together this list of seven ideas to get you started exploring all the natural wonders that the Bluegrass State has to offer.

1. TAKE A HIKE OR RIDE BIKES TOGETHER IN GOLDEN POND

The Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail at the Land Between the Lakes was designed with families in mind. The wide, groomed doubletrack provides an easy, stress-free hike or even family bike ride. Go for all 11 miles of trail from end to end (or 22 round trip!), or just jump on a section at one of the seven trailheads for a quick trip.

Home to one of the most diverse natural habitats in North America, keep your eyes peeled for turkeys, eagles, deer, blooming wildflowers, and more. Spring and summer provide a colorful array of wildflowers and a cooling shade thanks to the lush canopy of the hardwood trees. Fall is the best time to see leaves bursting into color. For added fun, print out a copy of the State of Kentucky’s pocket guide to animal tracks and see how many your kids can find.

Post-hike or bike grab some of the area’s finest fried catfish at The Fishing Hole Restaurant in Cadiz.

2. WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF DINOSAURS IN UNION

Explore the fossil remains of the giants of the past at Big Bone Lick State Historic Site in Union. Take a hike on the 4.5-mile Discovery Trail, complete with models of some of the massive creatures that once roamed the land including giant mammoths and mastodons, and the enormous stag-moose. The museum has recently upgraded displays on fossils, geology, ice age mammals, Native American history in the area, and the chronology of scientific study at Big Bone. There are also a host of other family-friendly experiences such as camping, hiking, fishing, mini golf, and a resident herd of bison to see.

To keep the adventure rolling, mosey up the road to Jane’s Saddlebag. Grab a burger at the restaurant and then check out the petting zoo, Kids Village and Playland, hayrides, and more.

3. CHECK OUT ART IN THE WOODS AND MOVIES UNDER THE STARS IN CALVERT CITY

Toyland
Spend an afternoon wandering around the Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland. 
Ayleen Dority

Calvert City has a pair of unusual attractions that your kids will be sure to remember. Start by spending an afternoon wandering around the Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland, billed as a "wacky folk art roadside attraction." It features an offbeat collection of art and installations scattered about the wooded grounds, and a collection of toys as extensive as it is eccentric.

Follow up with a family night movie at the iconic Calvert Drive-In Theater. One of only a handful of true drive-in theaters left in the country, your kids will be delighted to have a cheeseburger or pizza and watch a movie under the stars.

4. RIDE THE RAILS IN A REAL LOCOMOTIVE IN STEARNS

Big South Fork Scenic Railway near Sterns
Your kids will love a ride on the Big South Fork Scenic Railway near Stearns. Anthony

Give your kids the chance to experience nature from a different perspective with a train ride on the Big South Fork Scenic Railway near Stearns. Chug through the dramatic landscape of Southern Kentucky while descending 600 feet into the gorge before stopping at the Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp, a National Park Service outdoor interpretive site. The trip runs 14 miles into the Daniel Boone National Forest and Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area and includes plenty of majestic vistas, streams, and wildlife.

You can book a seat in the vintage open-air cars or one of the two enclosed, heated cars. Rides are available from April through November and there is a special "Polar Express" tour on weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Stick with the theme and enjoy lunch before or after the ride at the Whistle Stop Restaurant at Big South Fork Depot, or let them pack a picnic lunch to take with on the train. Just up the road in Whitley City, get a post-adventure treat at the Dairy Bar, known for their huge menu and 50s diner charm, or a meal at Kristina's Kitchen, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant with impeccable service.

5. CLIMB ON IN SLADE

Natural Bridge
Let your kids explore the Natural Bridge at Natural Bridge State Resort Park. 
 John S. Perkins

Get two kinds of climbing adventure for the price of one at the Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge State Resort Park. Climb up the spectacular formation of Natural Bridge, a 65-foot high sandstone arch in the park that bears its name. Or, if your kids are too young for the moderately steep—but short—hike to the top, the sky lift is an excellent, easier option (with a great view!). Experience authentic Southern hospitality by grabbing lunch at the Sandstone Arches Restaurant in the park.

Then you’re off to the Red River Gorge, known around the world for its epic rock climbing. A perfect spot for little monkeys of all ages, the Red has routes easy enough for everyone. Plenty of outfitters in the area offer half- or full-day classes and guided climbs that include all necessary equipment and gear. The recommended age to start is around six, but younger children are welcomed by most places as long as the harness can be safely fastened. Parents can participate or just hang around and document the fun with the camera. Finally, a trip to the Red is not complete without a stop at Miguel's Pizza, the heart of the climbing scene in the area.

6. GO FOR A PADDLE IN WILLIAMSTOWN

With more miles of navigable water than anywhere else in the contiguous United States, Kentucky is a water lover’s dream. A fantastic place to start is Williamstown Lake in Northern Kentucky. Covering 333 acres, these flat, calm waters are the perfect place for active families to venture out for a day of canoeing, picnicking, and swimming. Kids can learn their paddling skills on flat water, and then practice turning in a scenic, wooded cove.

The state has also put together a list of Blue Water Trails, making it easy to find access points to streams and rivers across the state.

For a light meal after, or to fuel up prior to, a paddling trip in Williamstown stop by Beans Cafe and Bakery for a freshly made breakfast or sandwich, or just a couple scoops of hand-dipped ice cream.

7. CRAWL AROUND IN THE DARK IN OLIVE HILL

Carter Caves State Park
Explore the caves at Carter Caves State Park. John Worst

For that kid who loves to get dirty (and we mean really dirty) an adventurous caving tour at Carter Caves State Resort Park in in Olive Hill is the perfect adventure. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is for the family that always wants to get off the beaten path. On the Saltpeter Kid’s Crawl, tour guides lead children on their hands and knees through dark passages lit by only the provided flashlights. To participate in the tour, children need to be between 6 and 12 years old and wear long pants and closed-toe shoes. There is a similar tour for kids over 12 and a wide variety of other cave tours are available.

For memorable cooking made fresh and served fast, check out Johnny's Pizza in Grayson.

For resources and information about planning your next Kentucky family adventure visit the Planning section.

Originally written by RootsRated for Kentucky Tourism.