By Kathy Witt
Hopkins County in western Kentucky has had a rough-and-tumble streak since its founding more than 200 years ago in 1806. Its early settlers were Revolutionary War veterans and the county was named after Gen. Samuel Hopkins, an officer in the American Revolutionary War and War of 1812 who would later become a Kentucky legislator and U.S. Congressman. The area was also divided during the Civil War, its courthouse in Madisonville burned by Kentucky Confederates.
But today, Hopkins County and its county seat, Madisonville, have a friendly small-town feel in a great outdoors setting – and all the recreational opportunities that go along with it. You’ll find a proliferation of lakes and parks, multiple wildlife management areas, a heavily forested 863-acre state park and Kentucky’s first Trail Town – Dawson Springs – with more than 100 miles of trails to explore.
Hike or bike, ride an ATV or horse on these trails and others that crisscross the county’s grasslands and forests, river valleys and rolling countryside. If you’ve neglected Mother Nature, Hopkins County offers a chance to get reacquainted.
Fish for bass, bluegill, catfish and more at 784-acre Lake Beshear. Kayak or canoe Grapevine Lake or Lake PeeWee. Set up camp in Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park – and bring your horse. There are hitching posts and pull-through campsites designed for horse owners, plus lots of other amenities and the chance to ride more than 40 miles of horse trails within adjacent Pennyrile Forest.
Enjoy bird watching? Take your gear to the Tradewater River Wildlife Management Area and follow the birding trail, where you’ll also see bluffs, rock overhangs and small caves. Pack your clubs and drive to one of the county’s three golf courses or its world-class 18-hole disc golf course at Madisonville City Park. The park itself is a natural playground with fishing lakes, a walking trail, shaded picnic areas, swimming pool, volleyball and tennis courts, an amphitheater and more.
The new Mahr Park at Hidden Hills Farm preserves a natural environment for native birds, fish, wildlife, plants and wildflowers on 265 acres of rolling hills, mature trees and fishing ponds. And geocachers can hunt for some 300-plus caches located within 30 miles of Madisonville.
Shopping & Strolling
Hopkins County has enough outdoor activities to challenge even the most committed outdoor lover, but there is plenty to discover indoors, too. Stroll through downtown Madisonville and pop in shops like Amanda’s, perfect for boutiquers seeking new, renewed and vintage home decor and gifts, and Mark of Distinction, with its charming floral arrangements and thoughtful home decor and gift items like beautiful pillows, wine accessories and University of Kentucky logoed items.
Pop into Flax & Wool, The Pink Door or Hattie James for fine women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories. For outdoor equipment and supplies, head to outdoor outfitters 45-70.
Visit the museum at the Historical Society of Hopkins County for one of the most surprising discoveries you’ll make here: an original 1910 Buick Buggybout – one of only three left in the world. This well-made two-speed manual with side-mounted lanterns, affordable at $550 more than a century ago, was the last of the two-cylinder, chain-drive designs for Buick.
Arts & Eats
If your time in the area is limited, plan it around the show schedule at Glema Mahr Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Madisonville Community College. Enjoy a variety of arts programming and arts education opportunities, including Broadway favorites, headlining musicians, classical music and dance productions, family-oriented programming, popular and culturally diverse events, and exhibitions of local, regional and national artists at the Anne P. Baker Gallery (free admission) and other locations.
Charming, friendly and family-oriented, Hopkins County has lots of restaurants where you’ll feel at home and be able to enjoy dishes the locals love. There’s Brother’s Bar-B-Que, voted Kentucky’s best barbecue; Country Cupboard, with its overflowing buffets; DiFabio’s Casapela, whose specialties include Chicken Savory and Lobster Ravioli; Ferrell’s Snappy Service for old-school burgers; The Crowded House, for gourmet gastropub fare; and Big City Market & Coffee Shop with specialty coffee drinks, fresh-baked goods and gourmet lunch.
Remember how good the great outdoors feel? Come to Madisonville and Hopkins County and get that feeling back! You’ll soon realize it’s a place you want to return to again and again.
For more information about things to see and do in the area, visit www.VisitMadisonvilleKy.com.
If You Go
- 45-70, 270-821-4570, website
- Amanda’s, 270-619-1231, website
- Big City Market & Coffee Shop, 270-825-0077, website
- Brother’s Bar-B-Que, 270-821-1222, website
- Country Cupboard, 270-821-6652, website
- Dawson Springs, 270-797-2781, website
- DiFabio’s Casapela, 270-825-1900, website
- Ferrell’s Snappy Service, 270-821-7515, website
- Flax & Wool, 270-245-2242, website
- Glema Mahr Center for the Arts, 270-824-8650, website
- Grapevine Lake, 270-824-2156, website
- Historical Society of Hopkins County, 270-821-3986, website
- Lake Beshear, 270-797-2781, website
- Lake PeeWee, 270-824-2100, website
- Madisonville City Park, 270-824-2156, website
- Mahr Park at Hidden Hills Farm, 270-584-9017, website
- Mark of Distinction, 270-821-6670, website
- Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, 800-325-1711, website
- The Crowded House, 270-825-1178, website
- Tradewater River Wildlife Management Area, 800-858-1549, website