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Scenic Byways Reveal Kentucky Insights



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.

Woodlands Trace 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 - 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 recreation experiences.

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 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 route.

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 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 preserve that 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 byway.

A foamy stream rushes past the McHarques Mill at Levi Jackson State Park. Photo by Dennis Adams, courtesy of 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

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