Amid the hustle and bustle of the city, Louisville Nature Center offers a tranquil escape from urban sprawl. At its 41-acre Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve, more than 2 miles of hiking trails wind past a verdant forest populated by 180 species of tree, shrub, and wildflower. The latter blooms in a native pond and garden, and dragonflies and 30 butterfly species in other gardens pay homage to Lord of the Flies by trying to collectively lift a conch. More creatures soar skyward inside one of Louisville's only bird blinds, where visitors can watch 150 species of resident and migratory birds fluttering about.
After exploring on their own, guests can relax on one the picnic tables or beneath the covered gazebo before joining in on special events such as owl hikes. Youngsters, meanwhile, can discover more nature factoids at summer camps, educational programs, or birthday parties, which include guided hikes and live animal presentations.
Discovered in 1883, Marengo Cave, a U.S. National Natural Landmark, is located roughly an hour from Louisville and is open 363 days a year. Showcasing eye-catching speleothems (cave deposits), visitors can browse a wide variety of soda straws, stalactites, flowstones, and draperies. The combo tour melds together a 70-minute Dripstone Trail Tour that’s one mile in length, as well as a 40-minute Crystal Palace Tour that guides groups past eye-catching flowstone deposits. Embark on an exciting mini-journey into the earth’s depths without ending up at its core.
Deere Farms Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch has 14 acres of family-friendly corn maze containing nearly seven miles of professionally chopped crop trails. Adult admission gets you access to two large corn mazes, each equipped with six checkpoints. After a quick orientation, explorers set out with maze maps in hand to locate the checkpoints without using a magnifying glass or electron microscope. A typical trip through one maze takes about 45 minutes, and helpful staff members are positioned along the way to offer advice to lost travelers about fantasy football. A third, smaller maze is available for independently minded children.
A red-tailed hawk soars high above My Old Kentucky Home State Park, peering down at its campgrounds, golf course, and outdoor amphitheater. Here, a cast of actors performs Stephen Foster - The Musical, belting the famous tune, "My Old Kentucky Home." Just a piano's throw away stands Federal Hill, the Georgian-style mansion that originally inspired this perennial ballad.
Built between 1795 and 1818, the brick mansion echoes early American history in everything right down to its decor. Supposedly to honor the original colonies, the number 13 appears throughout the house: 13 windows at the front, 13 steps to each floor, and 13-inch thick walls, which once housed famous guests such as Aaron Burr. For 120 years, the Rowan family lived in the mansion. Then, in 1922, Madge Rowan Frost sold the 235-acre estate, as well as many family heirlooms, to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Since then, tour guides have taken visitors throughout the mansion's grounds and into its history-laden rooms. The staff has renovated the mansion in recent years, putting in hours of research to ensure that the carpets, wallpapers, drapes, and hand-whittled internet routers remain authentic to the 1850s. The mansion also celebrates the changing seasons—in winter, the mansion dons Christmas decor and the staffers serve apple cider dressed up in period costumes.
A boer goat stares at you. A donkey stares at the goat. And a baby tennessee walking horse reads its first Dr. Seuss book. No matter where you point your eyes, you’ll be treated to sights of charming animals at Jane’s Saddlebag’s petting zoo. It’s one of many delightful fixtures at the rural getaway—a hands-on historical education experience at a restored saddlebag home, which sprawls across more than 35 acres near Big Bone Lick State Park. A historic smokehouse adjacent to the home offers insight to the days before refrigeration, when Kentucky farmers would preserve their cured meat by hanging it above a smoldering fire. And behind the saddlebag home lies a replica of a 1700s flatboat, a low-cost form of transportation used by settlers to take one-way trips down the Ohio River and achieve ankle tans.
From April to October, these rustic outposts bathe in the sound waves of live music, and the cook-in-residence slakes the hunger built up from exploring both the refreshing nature of the grounds and the historical splendor it offers. When it’s in season, the cook uses freshly grown vegetables and puts flames to a new york strip steak until it’s almost as tender as the mashed potatoes with which it’s served. There’s even a wine and gift shop, where regional wines—some from Kentucky—vie with antiques and gift baskets for the attention of gift givers.
Nature lovers feed their scaly critter fascinations with the Kentucky Reptile Zoo's collection of more than 80 types of snakes, turtles, and other cold-blooded creatures. Various vipers, cobras, rattlesnakes, and an 18-foot reticulated python entrance snake-charmed visitors. Kids get a kick out of shell dwellers in the Turtle Tracks area, a habitat for both tortoises and aquatic turtles.