Back to TopCivil War Battlefields & Coal
1. Middle Creek National Battlefield
On this site in early 1862, volunteer Union soldiers led by future president Col. James Garfield forced Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall's 2,500 Confederates from the forks of Middle Creek and back to Virginia. The 450-acre park hosts battle reenactments during September. Two half-mile trail loops of the original armies' positions provide views of Kentucky valleys.
2. Kentucky Coal Mining Museum
This three-floor museum dedicated to the history of the early coal mining industry is located on a former coal miners' campsite in Benham. One mile east in Lynch is an exhibit space designed to resemble an underground coal mine with eight exhibit areas featuring early 20th-century artifacts, including flame safety lamps. Thousands of artifacts include fossils, mining tools, machinery, and the personal belongings of county star Loretta Lynn, who hailed from Kentucky's coal country.
3. Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park
This 892-acre park, crossed by 8.5 miles of walking paths, contains a memorial to the October 3, 1786, massacre of 24 west-going pioneers by Shawnee Indians. Two historic trails, the Wilderness Road and Boone's Trace, began here and were traveled by more than 200,000 settlers between 1775 and 1818. In nearby London, the Mountain Life Museum features a recreated 19th-century village with seven buildings, such as the loom house and barn, which feature 18th-century pioneer tools, rifles, and farm equipment. McHargue's Mill, a half-mile south, first began operating in 1817. Visitors can watch cornmeal being ground and see more than 50 millstones.
4. William Whitley House State Historic Site
Kentucky pioneers William and Esther Whitley settled on this site in 1794 and built Kentucky's first brick home as a bulwark against Indian raids. Known as the "Guardian of Wilderness Road," the house hosted famous explorers Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark. Twenty-five minute guided tours of the family home lead through the bedrooms, dining room, and the secret staircase that served as a hiding spot. Artifacts on display include William's long rifle and Esther's textiles.
5. Battle of Richmond Visitors Center
In late August 1862, Confederates under Maj. Gen. E. Kirby Smith defeated a Union army commanded by Maj. Gen. Bull Nelson on the site of this 62-acre park. The grounds contain the 1825 Pleasant View house, which became a Confederate hospital after the battle, slave quarters, and walking trails. One mile north is the visitors center in the 1811 Rogers House, with displays that include a laser-operated aerial map of the battle and a collection of 19th-century guns.
Back to TopLexington Plantations & Bluegrass
6. Mary Todd Lincoln House
This 1806 Georgian mansion, which belonged to Lexington businessman Robert Smith Todd, was the childhood home of Mary Todd, the future wife of Pres. Lincoln. Guided hour-long tours explore the home's 14 rooms. On display are Mary Todd Lincoln's Tiffany silver chocolate pot and Meissen and Old Paris china.
7. Ashland Henry Clay Estate
Sen. Henry Clay, known as "The Great Compromiser" for his negotiating skills, moved into this 18-room Federal-style mansion in 1804. Forty-five-minute guided tours lead through ornate rooms, which contain original furniture and Clay family artifacts, such as their china, law books, and racing purses. The 17-acre grounds feature English-style formal gardens and outbuildings, such as the dairy cellar and smokehouse.
8. Bluegrass Heritage Museum
This three-floor museum in the 1894 Guerrant Clinic building focuses on the history of the Bluegrass region, so named from the blue-blossomed grass species that grow here in profusion, featuring displays on the Eskippakithiki Indians, the founding of the Western frontier and Wilderness Road, the Civil War, and the tobacco industry. The Bell South Central gallery contains a 1910 "Bull's Eye" switchboard and phone booth, while the military gallery has World War II uniforms from the Army and Navy.
9. Fort Boonesborough State Park
In April 1775, Daniel Boone and fellow explorers crossed the Kentucky River and founded Fort Boonesborough on this site. The 153-acre park contains a reconstructed working fort with cabins and blockhouses. Costumed interpreters demonstrate 18th-century weaving, blacksmithing, and candle-making techniques.
10. White Hall State Historic Site
This 1799 Italianate mansion south of the Kentucky River was home to Cassius Marcellus Clay, an abolitionist newspaper publisher, and his daughter, Laura Clay, a women's suffragist. Costumed interpreters lead 60-minute guided tours through the 44-room house, which contains Victorian-era furnishings and 12 bedrooms.
11. Aviation Museum of Kentucky
This 12,000-square-foot museum, located in a hangar on Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, has displays on six military and 14 civilian aircraft from every era of America's aviation history. Highlights include a Navy F-14 Tomcat, Marine Corps F-4 Phantom fighter, and an Air Force T-83 supersonic trainer. Visitors can also view the engine collection, which features a General Electric CF6 turbofan, and ride in an original Army helicopter flight simulator.
Back to TopEarly Politics & the Bourbon Trail
12. Liberty Hall Historic Site
This four-acre complex, situated on the banks of the Kentucky River in downtown Frankfort, contains two restored Federal-style political estates: the 1796 Liberty Hall, built by Sen. John Brown; and the 1835 Orlando Brown House, which belonged to his son. A 75-minute tour explores both homes, and showcases such artifacts as a 19th-century Stoddard piano. Visitors can learn about Margaret Wise Brown, Sen. Brown's great-great-granddaughter and a renowned author of children's fiction. Trails lead through the boxwood and perennial gardens to the riverfront.
13. Kentucky Historical Society History Campus
Located in downtown Frankfort, the campus includes the Kentucky Military Museum, housed within the 1850 Old State Arsenal, which contains artifacts from two centuries of war. Five blocks northwest lies the two-story Greek-Revival Old State Capitol building that features hour-long tours through the recreated 1850s House and Senate chambers and law library. Also on the campus is the 167,000-square-foot Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, which explores Kentucky's past from Paleoindian times to the present.
14. Woodford Reserve
Kentucky's oldest bourbon distillery has occupied this site since 1812. A two-hour guided historic tour begins in the visitors center and leads through the distillery and the 1890 limestone warehouse, where wooden casks of bourbon are aged. The docents reveal details about copper-pot distillation methods and the sour-mash fermentation process.
15. Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park
From 1863 to 1866, this 525-acre site on the Kentucky River served as a 4,000-acre Union supply depot and parade ground where 10,000 former slaves trained to become soldiers. Visitors can take 30-minute guided tours of the restored 1855 Perry House. The 6,000-square-foot interpretive center, located at the entrance to the park, contains a recreated refugee shanty, hospital ward, and quartermaster depot. The park is crisscrossed by six miles of interpretive trails.
16. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
This 3,000-acre park contains 34 original buildings from the Shaker village founded here in 1805. Visitors can tour a typical family home, farmhouse, craft shop, and meetinghouse. Costumed interpreters play period musical instruments and demonstrate 19th-century weaving and woodworking techniques.
17. Old Fort Harrod State Park
Frontiersman James Harrod founded Kentucky's first permanent settlement in 1774 on this site. Visitors to this 15-acre park today can tour 15 reconstructed fort buildings, including cabins, schoolhouse, and militia blockhouse. The onsite Mansion Museum contains Civil War guns and artifacts of the Adena people, who lived here in 200 B.C. The Lincoln Marriage Temple, houses the log cabin where Pres. Lincoln's parents were married in 1806. Costumed interpreters demonstrate blacksmithing, woodworking, and weaving techniques inside the palisaded fort.
18. Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site
On October 2, 1862, Union Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell's 16,000 men defeated Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg's 22,000-man force at the battle of Perryville on this site. Today visitors can take a seven-mile, self-guided walking tour of the battlefield and see the Crawford House, which served as Bragg's headquarters and now houses a museum containing Confederate uniforms, firearms, and cavalry artifacts.
Back to TopHorse Racing, Lincoln, & Baseball
19. Kentucky Derby Museum
This two-floor, 56,000-square-foot museum celebrates the 135-year history of the Kentucky Derby, the thoroughbred horse race that occurs every May. Twelve exhibits explore horse breeding, racing, and Derby fashion. Interactive exhibits include a racetrack caller booth and a dressing room where visitors can don 21st-century jockey silks. A 30-minute guided tour of the Churchill Downs racetrack begins in the museum lobby.
20. Muhammad Ali Center
This 96,000-square-foot museum and learning facility contains artifacts such as the boxer's Rolls Royce, a robe given to him by Elvis Presley, and the torch he carried in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Visitors can participate in an interactive boxing arena, view a 13-minute film on Ali's career, which is shown in a theater shaped like a boxing ring, and learn about his impact on the civil rights movement.
21. Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
The Hillerich and Bradsby Company has manufactured the famous "Louisville Slugger" bats since 1884. Forty-minute guided tours lead through the main factory, as docents explain how exploring how billets of wood from Pennsylvania forests are sorted, bats are shaped, and the wood stained. Visitors can try out replica bats used by the Yankees' Mickey Mantle and other legendary players. An adjoining 15,000-square-foot museum includes an exhibit on the Negro League and contains the gloves of Satchel Paige of the Cleveland Indians and Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants.
22. Historic Locust Grove
Presidents James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and Zachary Taylor visited this 1790 Georgian estate, home to explorer William Clark's sister Lucy Croghan. Sixty-minute guided tours lead through the home's period-furnished rooms, which contain Clark family portraits, furniture, and silver tea service, as well as outbuildings that include the kitchen, smokehouse, springhouse, and barn. The 55-acre grounds feature an 18th-century, Federal-style garden and visitors center with an exhibit on Clark's military career and a recreated surveyor's office.
23. My Old Kentucky Home State Park
Pennsylvanian songwriter Stephen Foster wrote his 1852 ballad, "My Old Kentucky Home," while visiting this 1818 Georgian mansion, which was named Federal Hill and was the home of his cousin Sen. John Rowan. Costumed interpreters lead 30-minute guided tours through six rooms, including the parlor and library. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the 295-acre grounds, which contain the family cemetery, smokehouse, kitchen, carriage house, and gardens.
24. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site
America's 16th president was born in a log cabin in 1809 on this site, then Sinking Spring farm, and now a 345-acre park. A full-scale replica of the cabin stands inside the Memorial Building at the entrance of the park. The visitors center displays exhibits on pioneer life and Lincoln family artifacts, such as their bible. Located nine miles northeast in Athertonville is the 228-acre Knob Creek Lincoln family farm, which includes the 1800 Gollaher Cabin, the residence of Lincoln's friend Austin Gollaher, and a tavern from the early 20th century.
Back to TopCaves & Railroads
25. Mammoth Cave National Park
In the late 18th century, European settlers discovered an abudance of saltpeter, an ingredient of gunpowder in this cave system, which scientists have learned contains the most extensive series of natural passageways in the world. The cave became an important source of saltpeter during the War of 1812. Later it drew tourists and tuberculosis patients, the latter hoping for a cure in the cave's allegedly regenerative air. Two-hour historic cave tours travel 300 feet underground through the narrow passageway Fat Man's Misery, up Mammoth Dome, and across a bridge spanning the 105-foot-deep Bottomless Pit.
26. Historic Railpark and Train Museum
This three-acre Bowling Green depot, which was restored in 1925, served as a train station on the L&N rail line, which ran between Birmingham and Louisville from 1858 to 1979. The 4,000-square-foot exhibit space showcases L&N passenger, sleeper, and dining cars, as well as the city's first locomotive diesel engine. One display features a recreated segregated waiting room and interpretive panels that explore the role of minorities in North American railroad history. Visitors can see five restored railcars, including a post office car and caboose.
27. Kentucky Museum
Located on the Western Kentucky University campus, this two-floor museum features exhibits on early Kentucky immigrants, the Shakers' influence on local culture, and the role of the Civil War in local history. Displays include a recreated slave cabin, general store, and Union bivouac. An original 1830s log cabin, which contains reproduction furnishings, tools, and clothes, is located on the two-acre grounds.
28. Adsmore House and Gardens
This 1854 colonial-Greek-Revival brick mansion and surrounding four-acre estate was owned by four generations of the Smith-Garrett family, who founded and ran the St. Louis-based International Shoe Company. Costumed interpreters lead visitors on 45-minute tours through nine rooms with original furnishings. Tours of the outbuildings, such as the 1844 Ratiff log gunsmith shop and the carriage house, are self-guided.
Back to TopFamous Kentuckians
29. John James Audubon State Park
Painter and naturalist John James Audubon moved to Henderson in 1810, attracted to the area's rich biological diversity of trees and wildflowers. Today this 692-acre park features 6.5 miles of walking trails and a museum, which contains the largest collection of Audubon's work in the world, including original watercolors, oils, and copper plate prints from his four-book Elephant folio, The Birds of America.
30. Historic Henderson
With the help of explorer Daniel Boone, North Carolina judge Col. Richard Henderson and the Transylvania Company bought the land on this site from the Southern Cherokee tribe in 1797. The town that grew up here became prosperous from the tobacco industry. A self-guided tour leads through the 33-block historic district filled with restored 19th and early 20th-century buildings, that include the oldest public building in town, a library which features a 30-foot-tall rotunda ceiling decorated with classical murals and a restored stained glass skylight. Visitors can also see the 1904 Ohio Valley National Bank, site of the city's first telephone company, as well as the Henderson County Courthouse, which houses the Heritage Museum of local history.
31. Fordsville L&N Depot Community Museum
This restored 1916 train depot, which served the Louisville & Nashville and Illinois Central lines, contains a 2,200-square-foot museum of local history. Visitors can walk through a recreated early 20th-century loading dock, baggage room, station room, and waiting rooms.
32. Bill Monroe Home Place
Bluegrass artist Bill Monroe, whose hits include "Kentucky Waltz" and "Scotland," grew up in this 1917 wooden frame home on the 930-acre Jerusalem Ridge homestead farm. Visitors can take a 30-minute guided tour of the living room, kitchen, and three bedrooms, which include original furniture, family photographs, and Monroe's personal possessions, such as his cowboy boots. The five-acre grounds contain a smokehouse and well.
Back to TopSteamboats & Western Campaigns
33. River Discovery Center
This former 1843 bank houses a 10,000-square-foot museum devoted to the history of the steamboat industry on the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. The museum features 14 exhibits with interactive displays, including a pilothouse simulator with a wheel and model of a dredge used to open up sections of the river to steamboat travel.
34. William Clark Market House Museum
The Dubois-Robertson drugstore opened at this site in 1876. The current building, which dates from 1905, houses a 4,800-square-foot museum of Paducah history, which is named for town-founder and Louisiana Purchase explorer William Clark. Exhibits include the 1877 List drugstore with original gingerbread woodwork, a 1913 motorized LaFrance fire truck, a life-size wooden statue of Sen. Henry Clay, 19th-century city maps, and Clark family artifacts, such as an Old Paris porcelain vase, which was a wedding present from the Marquis de Lafayette.
35. Columbus-Belmont State Park
In late 1861 and early 1862, 15,000 Confederate troops at Fort DeRussy under Gen. Gideon J. Pillow endured a four-month siege by a Union force commanded by Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant before surrendering. On this 156-acre site an 1850s wooden farmhouse contains a museum with battle artifacts. Outside the house stands a six-ton anchor that the Confederates used to secure a mile-long, ship-fouling great chain across the Mississippi.
36. Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site
This 26-acre site contains one rounded and two platform-shaped mounds left by the Mississippian peoples who built a civilization in the central southeast part of Kentucky between 1100 and 1350 C.E. An onsite museum explores Mississippian culture through exhibits on burial practices and architectural techniques and displays of artifacts including stone tools, pottery, and shell implements.