The untouched natural environment in the commonwealth provides ample opportunity for wildlife spotting. Bald eagles, black bears, elk and bison have re-established themselves in several areas of the state. In fact, Kentucky is home to the largest herd of elk east of the Mississippi River. Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Prestonsburg offers guided elk tours in February and March. Visitors can also drive through a reserve at the popular Elk and Bison Prairie at Land Between the Lakes and photograph the herds. During the winter months, eagles fly south toward milder climates and find Kentucky to be an ideal stop over. Many of the parks, including Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park, plan special field outings to witness these majestic animals in their natural environment.
One of the most popular state park programs is "Trekking Kentucky State Parks." Kentucky’s state parks have extensive trail systems that create a hikers paradise. Many of the trails loop through national forest and geologic areas with amazing scenery and natural wonders. Varied topography allows hikers to choose between leisurely strolls and intensive uphill climbs. This program offers guided treks both in and out of the park system, as well as activities such as canoeing and spelunking.
Kentucky’s terrain gives bikers plenty to choose from as well, from the rugged Appalachians to trails at Mammoth Cave National Park and Land Between the Lakes.
The state is a nature lover’s paradise, offering visitors some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable and attracting millions of visitors to Kentucky every year.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Did you know that Kentucky is home to the longest cave system in the world? Mammoth Cave National Park located in south central Kentucky has more than 365 miles of explored and mapped areas. With its biologically diverse set of ecosystems inextricably interlinked with the ecosystems underground, it was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990. The cave has a long history of explorers beginning with Native Americans, and including African American guides during the 18th and 19th centuries. Open year round, you can take one of the many cave tours, surface hike, canoe on the Green River or cruise on the Miss Green River II, camp, picnic, bike and horseback ride.
Big South Fork Natural River and Recreation Area
The southeastern section of Kentucky offers this magnificent recreation area. With 125,000 acres, this pristine natural setting offers panoramic views, hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting. Northeast of this area near Corbin is Cumberland Falls—the largest waterfall in the United States south of Niagara Falls and the only falls in the hemisphere to have a regularly occurring moonbow. This phenomenon occurs only when the atmospheric conditions are right during a full moon.
Red River Gorge National Geological Area
Also located in eastern Kentucky in the Daniel Boone National Forest is this wonder. Known for its back-country camping and hiking, there are more than 80 natural arches and the Red River (Kentucky’s only National Wild and Scenic River) that makes the area unique.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
This is one of the nation’s largest historical parks. Nestled in the southeast corner of Kentucky, it preserves the stories of the first western expansion as settlers came through the majestic gap in the Alleghany Mountains. Today, visitors can see three states from Pinnacle overlook (Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia) and hike more than 55 miles of challenging trails.