Top 5 Kentucky Outdoor Activities & Destinations for Families

By Nneya Richards


Famed frontiersman and Kentucky explorer Daniel Boone said, “Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.” 


The Bluegrass state’s rolling hills, lakes and Appalachian mountains offer outdoor lovers a beautiful variety of adventure during all four seasons! Accessible trails provide options for outdoor family trips. Here are five outdoor Kentucky wonders that will leave you feeling like you’ve gone to heaven.


Cumberland Gap National Historical Park


Start your family adventure in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone Country for a taste of heaven on earth at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. 


It could be argued that America wouldn’t have been settled without Kentucky. It definitely wouldn’t be settled without the foresight and natural expertise of Kentucky’s Native Americans. Following the path forged by American bison and Native Americans, American explorer and founding father of Kentucky, Daniel Boone, first laid out Kentucky Trails in the 1770s, with the path now known as Boone’s Trace cutting through to natural marvels like Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Explore what life was like for 20th-century mountain communities through almost seventy miles of hiking trails. From Pinnacle Overlook, check out a majestic view of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. The colors during the fall are unparalleled. Adventure lovers? Sign up for white water rafting below Cumberland Falls, “the Niagara of the South” and largest waterfall in Kentucky. Ever heard of a moonbow? This extremely rare occurrence is a rainbow formed by the moonlight. The mist of Cumberland Falls makes this spot one of the few places in the Western Hemisphere where it happens on a full moon night! All of this adventure, you’ll be sure to work up an appetite. It’s hard to think of Kentucky without Kentucky Fried Chicken. Visit the Harland Sanders Cafe & Museum, the original home of Kentucky Fried Chicken. After a mouthwatering chicken lunch, tour the museum to learn about Colonel Sanders. 


Red River Gorge


Check out “The Red.” Kentucky is home to one of the top climbing and rappelling destinations in the world, the Red River Gorge.


On a family road trip? Take the beautiful scenic drive – there are more than 600 miles of road –  through verdant Daniel Boone National Forest, 706,000 acres stretching from Morehead to the Tennessee border. Cruise along the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway for a peak into the beautiful rock formations, natural bridges and the beautiful canyon systems along the Red River. The gorge is known for its incredible hiking trails with waterfalls, caverns and a forest scape reminiscent of a fantasy film. With beginner hiking trails, canyon rappelling, river kayaking and even zip lining, there is something for every level of adventurer in a Daniel Boone National Forest and Red River Gorge vacation. There are hundreds of campsites, cabins and lodging options, but waking up to these beautiful vistas has gotten a little more glamorous of late. Try a new experience, glamping with new Dappled Light Adventures. Spread over fifty acres in Daniel Boone National Forest near Red River Gorge, Dappled Light offers luxurious cabin suites, beautifully appointed tents for glamping and a home away from home nestled in the woods.


Lake Malone State Park


Experience fantasy with the larger-than-life Big Twigs family at Lake Malone State Park.


Speaking of a fantasy film, Kentucky’s Lake Malone State Park is home to the magical Big Twigs: six 14-foot-tall whimsical wood-carved sculptures, Annette, Watson, Paige, Bobber, Oakley and Happy Malone. An easygoing hike around the park puts you on a quest to find each of these guys as they take on the leisurely pursuits of the park with you: hiking, camping and fishing. Encouraging visitors to play and take in the fresh air, Lake Malone State Park is equipped with easy, flora-rich hiking trails, picnic shelters, basic camping facilities and, of course, beachside fun on the lake. 


Lake Cumberland


Did you know that Kentucky is home to the “Houseboat Capital of the World?”  Yes, Lake Cumberland is home to the largest fleet of rental houseboats in the U.S., perfect for a family adventure!


With thousands of miles of shoreline, Kentucky is the ultimate destination to experience lake life. Whether your forte is paddleboarding, kayaking, relaxing fishing at dawn or high-octane wakeboarding and jet skis, Kentucky has a lake region for you. Kentucky’s major lake ways with marinas make it a great destination for boating vacations. Not only is Lake Cumberland home to a large fleet of rental houseboats, but it’s also known to be an excellent fishery for striped bass, catfish, bluegill and more. Lake Cumberland also boasts over 1,200 federally protected shorelines perfect for hiking and camping. More of a sailboat family? The canal between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake in western Kentucky is a picturesque waterway for a sunset sail. Lodges, restaurants, campgrounds and marinas operate around these lakes, so there are plenty of amenities for a comfortable family vacation.


The Louisville Zoo


Take a world tour on conservation and education with the Louisville Zoo’s 1,100 animals.


The 134-acre Louisville Zoo is the only zoo in Kentucky.With over 1,100 animals and interactive exhibits, it’s perfect for a family day trip. Home to habitats like the Tiger Tundra, Gorilla Forest and the Islands exhibit with Pacific Rim orangutans, tapirs, siamangs and babirusa, the Louisville Zoo is an area leader in conservation education. Within The Zoo’s commitment to working with endangered species, it’s just one of a handful of institutions to house a captive breeding population of black-footed ferrets, North America’s most endangered animal. Fun activities for kids of all ages include things like the Sippy Cup Stroll, an early morning learning walk through the zoo focused on a different animal each week. Plan to spend a full day here. There are restaurants, an antique carousel and even tram stops to get you around!


Kentucky is the perfect outdoor family vacation destination bringing appreciation for nature to the next generation.