An Insider's Guide to Munfordville, KY: A Must-Visit Trail Town on the Banks of the Green River
With first-class paddling and fishing, scenic hiking and natural wonders, challenging road and mountain biking, and world-famous rock climbing—the amount and variety of outdoor recreation in Kentucky is simply mind-blowing. Located in the heart of the state's best outdoor destinations are what they call "Trail Towns," which serve as the perfect base camps from which to launch all manners of nature-driven adventures and cultural activities with a concentration of services like dining, lodging, outfitters, and even rest day fun.
Munfordville is nestled in the south-central portion of the state and is poised right along the banks of one of the most popular paddling rivers in Kentucky, the Green River. The town serves as the gateway to the emerald water that bisects through the heart of Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s longest known cave system. Munfordville’s close proximity to these two very special places is how it earned Trail Town status, a designation it takes quite seriously.
WHAT TO DO
Above ground, Mammoth Cave National Park offers 52,800 acres of rolling old-growth forests that are crisscrossed with hiking and horseback riding trails accessible from six trailheads. Of course, the real draw is the caves themselves. Five levels covering more than 365 miles have been documented, with untold miles of labyrinthine tunnels still to be mapped out. Ranger-led tours that last from 1-6 hours with varying degrees of difficulty can be had here, from casual walks in large caverns, to getting dirty while squeezing, crawling, and scrambling deep into the heart of the cave.
Normally, mountain biking isn’t allowed in national parks, but the local mountain bike association teamed up with the park service to build and maintain a trail system here. Currently, there is a selection of Gateway Trails, the best of which is the 9-mile Big Hollow trail. Aimed mostly at beginners and intermediate riders, alternative lines with features for more advanced riders give a little something for everyone. Cyclists and hikers can also check out the Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike Trail, a rolling crushed-gravel path that follows part of the historic railway through the park.
Kentucky is a paradise for water lovers, and the other big reason people come to Munfordville is to paddle the crown jewel in Kentucky’s river system, the Green River. It’s one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the country, with more than 150 species of fish and 71 species of mussels calling its clean, green waters home. It gently flows through some of the most pastoral, lush, and picturesque landscape on Earth.
Many sections of the river that are postcard-worthy, but one particular highlight is the 300 Springs Waterfall. The land around the falls is privately owned, so the only way to see the falls is by water. From seemingly out of nowhere, multiple streams burst dramatically from the craggy limestone and elegantly cascade down the moss-covered cliffs.
What the class I/II river lacks in rapids, it makes up with jaw-dropping, majestic scenery. Expect to canoe past tall karst formations, towering cliffs, cold springs, fascinating caves, and deep gorges, all under the shady canopy of old-growth hardwood forests.
Anglers have plenty to do to stay busy as well, whether just for the day or on overnight trips. Fishermen come from far and wide hoping to reel in catfish, bluegill, perch, and muskie, and the Green is absolutely epic when it comes to largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass.
Multiple put-in and takeout points make this a very user-friendly body of water. Whether you’re looking to go for just a few hours or a few days, there is a stretch of river tailored to the task, since it’s so easy to customize the adventure to the time allotted. Munfordville to the take out at Dennison Ferry is 22 miles and runs at class I/II.
Road cyclists have miles and miles of quiet, low-traffic roads to explore. And, the Mammoth Cave Loop of the TransAmerica Route (US Cycling Route 76) travels right through downtown Munfordville.
When you’re not hiking, caving, biking, or paddling, there’s still plenty to do here. In the charming historic downtown, you can tour over a dozen buildings dating back to the 1800s, which are especially interesting to Civil War buffs.
In 1862, the Battle of Munfordville was fought right there in town, and you can learn about the Battle of Rowlett's Station and the skirmish of Woodsonville at the Battle for The Bridge Preserve, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a stop on the Civil War Discovery Trail.
A fun and kind of quirky attraction that has become a bit of a must-see is what’s known as "Kentucky’s Stonehenge." Chester Fryer, a former mayor of Munfordville, scavenged huge rocks over 1,000 acres of land and moved them to his yard. The result is a masterpiece resembling the world famous Stonehenge. It’s even aligned with the points of the compass and on the summer solstice, long shadows cast through the monument's center, making for epic Instagram photos. His grounds also feature decorative shrubs, gardens, and several other rock displays with names like Earth Mysteries, The Garden of Gethsemane, Rock Gardens, and Rock Park.
WHERE TO EAT
After all the activity, it’s time to eat. Locals pretty much agree that the best breakfast in town is at Murray’s Restaurant. Their portions are legendary, come hungry or be prepared to share. For a good, old-fashioned hamburger, it has to be the RK Grill. Deservedly well-known for its incredibly friendly service, if you happen to be there on a Wednesday, try the catfish. Of course, being in the South, it would be criminal to not sample some barbeque. Bucky Bee’s BBQ is a family-owned place that people drive from far and wide to visit. BBQ tacos? Yes, please.
Speaking of BBQ, Munfordville takes it seriously. So seriously in fact, that they host the Kentucky State Championship cook-off in October, sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. At the annual Big Buffalo Crossing BBQ Cook-Off, teams from all over the U.S. compete for $15,000 in prize money.
WHERE TO STAY
The fun and adventure that is waiting in this little hamlet in south-central Kentucky turn passers-by into visitors. The friendly people, warm greeting, good weather, and quality of life turns visitors into residents. Head over to VisitMunfordville.com to learn more about this quaint town.
Originally written by RootsRated for Kentucky Tourism.