Black Travel Outdoors: Explore Kentucky’s Nature Spaces

Black people travel. And Black people revel in the outdoors, too, even if a lot of outdoor spaces aren’t marketed as such or don’t seem particularly welcoming. In Kentucky, there are plenty of outdoor adventures to be explored and experienced. Whether it’s a hot air balloon ride, spending relaxing time on a lake or rock climbing, outdoor travel throughout Kentucky awaits your family and your next travel adventure. 


Rent a houseboat on Lake Cumberland 


Want an idyllic trip centered around the water? Look no further than spending some time on Lake Cumberland in a rented houseboat. Yes, a boat that is a house. Expect more than you could’ve imagined—these houseboats typically come complete with a full kitchen, several bedrooms, and a living room-like area for lounging and spending time together. Because reservations can book up fast especially in the spring and summer months, you’ll have to plan ahead to ensure you get the houseboat desired. Two popular options for renting houseboats on Lake Cumberland: State Dock and Jamestown Resort and Marina


Summit Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park 


A 24,000 acre national park, Cumberland Gap is truly a sight to see. Shrouded in trees and the quiet of nature, there’s also an attraction that brings families there year after year: Tri-State Peak Trail. The peak and hiking trail is what it implies, the three states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia meet. At its peak, the summit is 1,900 feet and placards mark where the states converge. 


The length of the trail is 2.5 miles and takes those moderately in-shape anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours to hike. As always, your family can go at your own pace, stopping for breaks, to take photos, to hydrate and to snack. The terrain is mostly gravel and dirt. Keep that in mind for what shoes you choose to wear if it has recently rained. 


Ride a hot air balloon above Louisville 


A little-known secret is that the city of Louisville is a haven for scenic hot air balloon rides. For a memorable activity for your family, consider taking one during your visit to Kentucky. Rides go up to 1,000 feet in the air and may feature a champagne toast or other snacks or drink. Most rides have start times as early as 6 a.m., so be prepared for an early rise. Something else to keep in mind is that balloon rides are weather specific: if it is rainy or overcast your ride could be canceled. Be flexible with your schedule and possibly have a backup plan in case the weather doesn’t permit for this family bonding activity. 


Here’s a rundown of a few well-respected hot air balloon companies in Kentucky: SkyCab, Louisville Balloon Rides


Experience Land Between the Lakes


For more natural beauty near water, there’s Land Between the Lakes, a treasure literally nestled between two lakes: Kentucky Lake and Lake Barley. A special fun fact is that in 1963, President John F. Kennedy designated the area a national recreation center. The Tennessee Valley Authority originally managed the area—as it is land between the two states of Tennessee and Kentucky. Today it falls under the leadership of the United States Forest Service, all 171,280 acres of it. 


For Black families looking for outdoor activities, there are attractions, camping, self-guided tours, walking trails and hikes as well as wildlife viewing. Interested in peering at animals in their natural habitat while you take a reprieve outdoors? Head to the elk and bison prairie or the homestead farm. For those who take their wildlife viewing more seriously, there’s birdwatching. Hunting, fishing, kayaking and canoeing are options as well. Have a budding photographer in the family? Take them on one of the 17 scenic drive and walking areas for views that will be inspiring and leave the entire family awestruck. In general, visiting the park is free, but depending on attractions of interest, there might be an entrance fee. Check before your visit to plan accordingly. 


Climb rocks at Torrent Falls 


For those who would like to ascend to new heights, head to Torrent Falls for some of the best rock climbing that Kentucky has to offer. Dubbed the first climbing adventure park in the United States, the park is located roughly an hour south of Lexington in the city of Campton. A visit to Torrent Falls is appropriate for every rock climber: beginner (suitable for families doing this activity together), moderate, advanced and expert. To encourage anyone from the novice to the expert to feel comfortable, there are footsteps, iron hand grips and a cable for extra security and stability. 


If this is an activity that your family wants to participate in, it’s important to note that it requires a bit of pre-planning. Rock climbing at Torrent Falls is not walk-up only. You’ll have to register on their website for slots. Registration is open daily from 6 a.m. until noon. Only one member of each family needs to register; registration also includes a parking space once you’ve arrived on site. Once registered, you’ll be able to spend time on the property from 10 a.m. until closing at 6 p.m. 


Written by Nneka Okona

January 17, 2022

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