Got a Kentucky vacation in your future? Take your itinerary up a notch by adding some of the best day trips from Louisville into the mix. From luscious state parks to pioneer villages, these nearby travel destinations are a surefire way to elevate your experience.
Home of Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Louisville is a lively city full of all the entertainment (and food!) you could ever need. But if you’re willing to travel just a little further afield, you can take your Louisville holiday from excellent to extraordinary.
Within a two-hour radius of the city are several top destinations in Kentucky—and even in the neighboring states of Indiana and Ohio—each with its own prevailing niche. Whether you’re a horse lover making the trek to Lexington or a Bourbon connoisseur tasting your way through Bardstown, there’s sure to be a road trip that motivates you to leave Louisville for an afternoon.
Need some inspiration to make your upcoming holiday unforgettable? Use this list of exciting Louisville side trips to add some pizazz to your Kentucky itinerary!
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Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
Looking to get out of the city and envelop yourself in a forest for the day? Mammoth Cave National Park is a popular destination for local nature lovers. It lies just an hour and a half outside the Louisville city limits, making it an easy one-day road trip.
Two of the most popular activities at Mammoth Cave National Park are horseback riding and cave tours. Whether you chose to head underground with a ranger and a lantern or guide a trusty steed through the forests and creeks, you’ll quickly fall in love with the local flora and fauna at this popular national park.
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to experience Mammoth Cave National Park is to visit after dark. As a designated Dark Sky area, the park is a prime spot for a primo night of stargazing.
On any given night, many planets, shooting stars, and constellations are visible to the naked eye. it’s an especially great trip if there are any special “cosmic” events coming up, such as a meteor shower, comet, or even a special moon cycle.
Want to learn more? Ranger-led stargazing is also an option, with park-provided telescopes on hand.
Bowling Green, KY
Bowling Green is the ideal road trip destination for tourists who love locomotion. Just shy of two hours from Louisville, this town is brimming with attractions that center around planes, trains, and automobiles.
Aviation Heritage Park is a brilliant way to experience the world of planes hands-on. Even though the museum is home to a T-38 trainer flown by every Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronaut, and several other important war and commercial aircraft, everything here is designed to be interacted with. Touch the wings, hop up into the cockpit and imagine yourself inside the stories the interpreters regale you with.
Fans of trains can’t do better than visiting the Historic RailPark & Train Museum. In addition to several galleries and exhibits, you and your crew will climb aboard five historic rail cars, including a dining car and a classic little red caboose.
Finally, a visit to the National Corvette Museum is a must for any car lover visiting Bowling Green. This interactive museum has a ‘50s theme with a mid-century barber shop and a vintage diner, plus over 70 ‘Vettes from several points throughout history and the modern day.
Looking to inspire the next generation of racecar drivers? Be sure to make a pitstop at the Hands-on KidZone.
Did you know that Ohio’s biggest metropolitan area is just an hour and a half away? If you’re looking to add another big city to your itinerary, Cincinnati should be at the top of your list. Ohio’s third-biggest city, Cincinnati was once known as the beer capital of the world. And while that might not be the case anymore, it’s still home to over 50 legendary breweries.
When you’re not sipping a brewski, what’s there to do here? Well, to start with, Cincinnati has plenty of great attractions for art lovers. Experience a traditional gallery at the Cincinnati Art Museum, embrace the neon retro vibes of the American Sign Museum, or peruse an eclectic mix of art mediums and botanicals at the Krohn Conservatory; the choice is all yours.
Sports fans should also consider making time to head to the Great American Ball Park to watch a Cincinnati Reds game, live and in person. While you’re there, you’ll want to try some ballpark eats, such as the infamous helmet full of nachos or a classic stadium hot dog with the works.
Though Frankfort is only 55 minutes away from the heart of Louisville, this destination will leave you feeling like you’ve taken a huge step back in time. This historic village, also known as Oldtown, boasts a quiet community and an old-timey feel.
Without a doubt, Frankfort is home to some of the coolest distilleries you’ve ever seen. Take Castle & Key, for example. Part of the bourbon trail, this bourbon and rye distiller is located in an actual castle.
This relic from 1887 is beloved for its expansive estate gardens and striking limestone open-air Springhouse with mirrored turquoise water below and iron chandeliers above. In addition to being a hot locale for tastings, the Castle & Key distillery is a sight for sore eyes. Better yet, the castle tours are conducted with a cocktail in hand!
PRO TIP: If you’d like to extend your jaunt to Frankfort, you can actually stay at Castle & Key in their modern Stonehouse Airbnb vacation rental.
Need something to satisfy your sweet tooth for the trip home? The Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours & Museum knows exactly what to do about that. The family-run confectionary opened in 1919, became most famous for its Bourbon Balls, and continues its legacy in the modern era.
You can pop into the Rebecca Ruth Candy retail location at any time, but a guided tour comes highly recommended, where you’ll discover the antique art of candy-making and indulge in some complimentary sweets.
Traveling with horse lovers? Lexington, Kentucky, is the horse capital of the world, and it’s only an hour and a half outside of Louisville. As the city is the epicenter of thoroughbred breeding, you’ll pass by over 400 horse farms during your travels and find plenty of themed attractions once you arrive.
It may not be Kentucky Derby time all year, but if you want to take in a race during your road trip, head to the Keeneland Thoroughbred Race Tracks. The venue is widely considered to be the most beautiful track in the United States; don’t forget your camera at home!
Want a more immersive horse-themed experience? Visit the Kentucky Horse Park, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lexington, KY. This working farm and theme park offers live equine demonstrations and horse shows, and racing history museums. You’ll even get the opportunity to saddle up yourself and see what all that fuss is about!
Brown County, IN
You already know you can border-hop into the state of Ohio, but why not drive in the opposite direction and head for Indiana? A small region with historic neighborhoods and a vast natural landscape, Brown County is a great choice for those who want a relaxing road trip they can take as it comes. About an hour and a half from Louisville, a visit to this destination does not require tons of planning ahead—just an adventurous spirit and an open mind.
For a lovely day spent in the great outdoors, choose to set your road-trip destination to Brown County State Park. With a sturdy pair of shoes, you can explore the miles of hiking trails, or you could hunt down a rod and spend the afternoon fishing. Looking for something more unique? Try your luck at panning for gold in the creeks of Yellowwood State Forest.
If you’d prefer to take it a little easier, you can plan a stroll across the two famous covered Brown County bridges, which makes for a wonderful photo op, or book seats at a matinee performance at the Brown County Playhouse.
Red River Gorge, KY
Home to the Daniel Boone National Forest, Red River Gorge is the ideal destination for those who want to explore Kentucky’s landscapes. Clocking in at one hour and 55 minutes, this is the longest road trip on the list, but the scenery is well worth the time investment.
The Red River Gorge Geological Area can be explored in several ways. You can hit the trails by foot or mountain bike to feel the wind in your hair or wind through the sandstone cliffs by car on the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway.
RELATED: Top-Rated Things to Do in Louisville
This national landmark offers multiple once-in-a-lifetime experiences that are sure to tickle any naturalist’s fancy. The Red River Gorge is the only place where wild white-haired goldenrod grows (an ultra-rare species of solidago), so keep your eyes peeled for its pretty yellow blooms. It’s also the only place that red-breasted nuthatches are known to breed in the state of Kentucky.
Spring Mill State Park, IN
Spring Mill State Park is another prime destination that suits both amateur naturalists and history lovers alike. Located an hour and 13 minutes away from Louisville, just south of Bloomington, IN, this state park is a road trip that can easily be taken in a single day. If you leave first thing in the morning, you should be able to see and do it all, but you could also choose a single activity or two if you’re working with a tighter timeline.
The state park is home to a Pioneer Village comprised of 20 different historic buildings and a 3-story gristmill from the early 1800s. During your visit, you’ll wander through an entire preserved community, including the local schoolroom, tavern, carriage house, and distillery. Set against a backdrop of sprawling green lawns and lush forests, a trip back in time at Spring Mill State Park is as beautiful as it is educational.
Another top attraction at Spring Mill State Park is a series of natural caves and connected waterways. Depending on the vibe you’re going for, there are several ways to explore.
You can walk through Donaldson Cave at your leisure, go spelunking in Bronson Cave if you’re feeling adventurous, or even take a boat ride into Twin Caves. The best part? It’s only $3 per person!
With a world-class city like Indianapolis so close by, why not plan a little day trip to check it out? Around one hour and 45 minutes from Louisville, this top urban travel destination is a great choice for the bucket-list tourist that wants to experience a little bit of everything. Indianapolis is also known as the racing capital of the world if there are any car lovers in your travel crew.
One of the most iconic things to do in Indianapolis is to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Whether you score tickets to an auto race or meander the museum with a trophy hall and retired race car collection, this attraction is sure to be a hit. If your timing is right, you may even be able to watch the world-famous Indy 500!
Looking for an Indianapolis attraction that’s a bit slower-paced? Make your way over to the Central Canal, where you hire a gondola, splash around in a paddle boat, or feed the ducks from the sidelines.
You could also make your way over to the Indianapolis Zoo and get face-to-face with the resident elephant colony, Bengal tigers—and even bottlenose dolphins!
Traveling with a crew of adults, 21 and up? Tourism in Bardstown is almost entirely centered around world-famous Kentucky bourbon—and it’s only a 50-minute drive from Louisville. Even if you can’t find a designated driver, this relatively short distance makes taking a cab ride a financial possibility.
One of the most popular things to do in Bardstown is to hop between the tasting rooms of local distillers. For behind-the-scenes tours where you’ll learn the process of barrel aging liquid gold, head to Preservation Distillery—the first Kentucky Bourbon distillery and tobacco barn owned and operated by a woman—or the Willett Distilling Company.
Afterward, head to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History for a “spirited” trip back in time. From the pre-colonial era through prohibition and into modern distilling, this Bardstown attraction is chalked full of history lessons, memorabilia, and even some Americana artifacts from the Civil War and past presidents.