An Insider's Guide to Livingston, KY: The Gateway to Daniel Boone National Forest
Livingston, Kentucky might only be an hour from Lexington, but you’d never suspect it’s that close to the city. The small country town is loaded with adventure, with easy access to the Daniel Boone National Forest, clear Laurel River Lake, scenic Rockcastle River, and more. Kentucky’s longest trail, the 319-mile Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, runs right through town, and Livingston has embraced its role as an official Sheltowee Trace Trail Town. With so much nature to explore and see, Livingston is the perfect town for a family vacation (or any vacation really).
Here’s the complete guide to what you need to know to experience the best of Livingston, Kentucky.
WHAT TO DO
On the Water
Head to the Rockcastle River for one of the most scenic river floats in Kentucky. You’ll snake through the pristine wilderness of the Daniel Boone National Forest on wide, mostly flatwater sections, taking in green hillsides and abundant wildlife. Launch just outside of Livingston at the Old Wilderness Road Ford and float six miles to the 1-75 bridge or keep going for 10 miles to the KY-1956 bridge. Expect a few small drops that may be a little challenging for newer kayakers and canoers, and if you go farther past the bridge the river becomes increasingly rougher with class II-III rapids.
Families should try the 7-mile float from Bee Rock Boat Ramp to Rockcastle Campgrounds. Lake Cumberland starts to inundate the river around here, so just sit back and enjoy the scenery on this flatwater paddle. Pick up a permit from Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, and fish for smallmouth bass, rock bass, and walleye.
Explore Wood Creek Lake, home to the Kentucky state record of largemouth bass. Bring your fishing rod and cast a line for catfish, rainbow trout, crappie, and of course, largemouth bass. The lake is long and narrow, and feels like a flatwater paddle with forested hillsides all around you—the perfect peaceful fishing and canoeing spot.
Take a paddle around the forested shorelines of Laurel River Lake, one of the deepest and clearest lakes in Kentucky, where hidden coves and sandstone bluffs are waiting to be explored. Grab your rod and cast a line for rainbow trout, walleye, catfish, bluegill, and bass. Camp out under the stars at Grove or White Oak Campgrounds, which are only accessible by boat, and hike the miles of trails around the campsites for views of the lake and surrounding forest.
Rent a kayak or canoe and arrange a shuttle with Just Kik-N-It Ranch Outfitters or the Leaky Canoe, and head outdoors to discover the rivers and backwoods of Kentucky.
Considering that Kentucky’s longest trail, the 319-mile Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail goes right through town, Livingston is prime hiking territory. Some of the nearby segments include Section 22, where you’ll hike along peaceful Horse Lick Creek to the roaring confluence of the Rockcastle River and Section 23 across the Rockcastle River to the Camp Wildcat Battlefield Monument. For a longer trek, try the 12-mile Section 26 from Cane Creek to the mouth of the Laurel River Lake. Meander through the forest alongside the bubbling Cane Creek, and spend time relaxing and eating lunch on the boulders beside the water.
Take a hike to see the impressive Rockcastle River Narrows, where class III whitewater rapids run through a boulder-strewn creek bed, luring paddlers from all over the state. The best way to see the rapids is to hike the Rockcastle Narrows East Trail #401 to Van Hook Falls, and then to take the Sheltowee Trace Trail north back to the Rockcastle Narrows East Trail. Along the way you’ll see the mighty Van Hook Falls, spend time beside peaceful Cane Creek, and hike through the beautiful woodlands of the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Kentucky is known for its intricate and vast cave systems with unique underground rock formations. While many visitors come to the state for Mammoth Cave National Park, discover some lesser-known cave entrances (that are just as spectacular) on a cave tour with Just Kik-N-It Ranch Outfitters. They’ll take you through a small opening in the middle of the woods down to a whole new world of underground caverns with huge stalagmites, bats hanging from cave ceilings, and rivers pouring out of the rock from deep below.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Livingston, Kentucky offers just the thing to satisfy hungry explorers—country cuisine in a welcoming and relaxing environment. Visit the Main Street Diner in downtown Livingston for a charming meal of simple sandwiches and burgers. They have great breakfast and coffee, too, so treat yourself to a full Southern breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and biscuits. Relax in the sunshine at the family-owned Bingham’s Country Kitchen, and refuel with daily specials like tacos or meatloaf, or try the Blue Devil BBQ Burger: a mouth-watering combination of cheese, onions, barbeque sauce on top of a juicy burger cooked to perfection. For dessert, feast on a slice of homemade chocolate cake or blueberry cobbler.
WHERE TO STAY
Stay on the edge of the forest and fall asleep to the sound of the outdoors from inside a cozy log cabin with Rockcastle River Cabin Rentals. Laurel River Lake has campgrounds right on the lakeshore, which is the perfect place to stay if you’re planning on exploring the lake.
Holly Bay and Grove Campgrounds have hiking trails leading directly from the grounds, as well as spectacular views of the lakeshore and surrounding hills.
If you’re planning to go horseback riding stay at the Red Hill Horse Camp, where there’s a full campground with amenities for tents and RVs.
There are also several chain hotels in the area if you want to stick to what you’re familiar with! No matter where you choose to stay in or near Livingston, you’ll be close to adventure.
Originally written by RootsRated for Kentucky Tourism.