6 Best National Parks in Kentucky

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6 best national parks in Kentucky
Image by Stan Petersen from Pixabay copyright 2017

In Kentucky, national parks offer historic-scale adventures. There are six national parks in Kentucky with the following names:

  • Mammoth Cave National Park
  • Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
  • Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area
  • Camp Nelson National Monument
  • Fort Donelson National Battlefield
  • Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument

Let’s delve deeper into these national parks:

1. Mammoth Cave National Park:

Located in west-central Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park is a national park in the United States that includes a portion of Mammoth Cave, the world’s longest known cave system. Mammoth Cave National Park is the most well-known national park in Kentucky. The world’s longest known cave system may be found in this national park, along with rolling hills and deep river basins. Mammoth Cave National Park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is home to tens of thousands of years of human history and a wide variety of plant and animal species.

Mammoth Cave National Park spans 52,830 acres and is the biggest national park out of all the National Parks in  Kentucky (213.8 km2).

The longest known cave system in the world is protected by Mammoth Cave National Park, one of the National Parks in Kentucky. More than 400 miles of the limestone labyrinth known as Mammoth Cave have been explored, and the park anticipates another 600 miles within its system.

The greatest way to see Mammoth Cave National Park is on a cave tour. More than 500,000 of the park’s annual visitors enjoy a tour of the caves. Visitors on wild cave tours are challenged by scrambles along drop-offs and crawls through confined passageways. Other excursions tell the tales of early cave explorers as you navigate by lantern light, revealing the cultural heritage of the caves.

6 best national parks in Kentucky
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The Southern Appalachian National Park Commission was established in 1925 by Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work to investigate potential park sites, such as Mammoth Cave. Mammoth Cave National Park was founded on July 1, 1941, following years of work acquiring the land for the park and constructing roads, trails, and restrooms.

The Mammoth Cave system is home to more than 130 different types of fauna. The 14 kinds of troglobites and troglophiles are unique to the cave, making it home to some of the most abundant cavernicolous organisms. The Eyeless Cave Fish is one of the park’s most well-known and unique species; it no longer develops eyes due to its adaptation to the environment’s lack of light.

More than 1,300 floral species and bird species like bald eagles, wood warblers, and thrushes may be found in the area’s woodland, which is one of the country’s most diversified habitats. On the 60 kilometres of horseback riding routes, you can see flowers while hiking. Over 30 miles of the Green and Nolin Rivers, with fantastic fishing holes and picturesque kayak and canoe pathways, are included in this park out of all the National Parks in Kentucky.

Mammoth Cave is one of just 13 natural U.S. sites given the distinction because of its enormous size and scientific significance.

Karst topography, a form of natural limestone erosion, gave rise to Mammoth Cave. This process results in the formation of a huge network of caverns as rivers and rain gently dissolve and mould soft limestone.

One of the cave’s most well-known attractions, the Echo River Tour, takes guests on a boat journey down an unsurfaced river. In the early 1990s, the trip was cancelled for logistical and environmental grounds.

Additionally, there are several bat species, including the Indiana Bat and the Eastern Pipistrelle Bat. Limited populations of the endangered Kentucky Cave Shrimp, Indiana Bat, and Gray Bat exist in the caves.

2. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park:

The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, one of the historical National Parks in Kentucky, preserves the two different farm sites where Abraham Lincoln was born and spent his formative years. He was conceived at the Sinking Spring location, south of Hodgenville, and lived there until he was two years old. The family then moved to the Knob Creek Farm, northeast of Hodgenville, where he stayed until he was seven years old. The Sinking Spring location is home to the park’s visitor center.

6 best national parks in Kentucky
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copyright 2019

To remember the modest origins of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, people from all over the world have travelled to rural Central Kentucky for more than a century.  His upbringing in the frontier region of Kentucky moulded his personality and equipped him to guide the country through the Civil War.

About 100 acres of the original farm are preserved in the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. US Highway 31 E currently divides the land. A formal landscape honouring Abraham Lincoln as President is located on the park’s west side.

The Track Trail, which goes through the woods on the lower eastern part of the Lincoln estate, is reminiscent of Lincoln’s residence. It links and proceeds along an ancient wagon road that passed through the Lincoln farm. The Lincoln family had access to resources in this woodland area, a functioning ecosystem.

The Track Trail also provides an opportunity for viewing wildlife, birds, and seasonal changes in nature. Wildflowers, including Mayapple and Jack in the Pulpit, can be observed along the trail in the spring in this park out of all the National Parks in Kentucky.

In the Eastern time zone, the park is situated. The park is open to everyone. The entrance gate closes at 5:00 pm Eastern time, while the park’s section on the west side of US Highway 31 E, which includes the visitor centre, memorial, and Sinking Spring, is open every day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern time. The Track Trail and picnic spot are accessible every day until the night. The picnic pavilion and tables are first come, first served. Toilets are accessible until 4:45 p.m. Eastern time.

The birthplace and boyhood home sites, two farms in Kentucky where Lincoln spent his formative years, are protected by the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, the first monument established in his honour. A Kentucky cabin from the early 19th century that serves as a model of the house where Lincoln was born is available for viewing by visitors to the birthplace site. The hut is still standing inside the memorial building where he was born.

The boyhood home at Knob Creek Farm, where Lincoln lived with his family from the age of two to eight, is open for tours by visitors. An old tavern and log cabin can be found here. Both locations include hiking trails and areas for picnics.

After being acquired by the Larue County Fiscal Court from private owners via the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves’ Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, the Knob Creek property was included in the National park in November 2001.

3. Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area:

The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries are preserved in northeastern Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky by the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, one of the famous National Parks in Kentucky known as Big South Fork. There are remnants of the forestry and mining expansion took place there at one time.

The Big South Fork area, which spans portions of Tennessee’s Scott, Fentress, Pickett, and Morgan counties and Kentucky’s McCreary County, is home to one of the eastern United States’ highest concentrations of natural bridges. The wilderness resort Charit Creek Lodge within the park is reached through a walk.

The Kentucky General Assembly also officially declared the Big South Fork a Kentucky Wild River under the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves’ Wild Rivers Program.

The Big South Fork’s most notable feature is the river valley cutting through the softer Mississippian age rock beneath the hard Pennsylvanian capstone of the Cumberland Plateau. The Big South Fork region’s geologic evolution is primarily influenced by water. A variety of extraordinary geologic features, including the river gorge with its majestic bluffs, natural arches, and odd hoodoos, have been left by water activity over time.

6 best national parks in Kentukcy
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copyright 2020

The region has been created to provide tourists various outdoor recreational opportunities, is rich in natural and historic characteristics and has miles of picturesque gorges and sandstone bluffs.

With 138 miles of fishing streams, the Big South Fork is home to 92 species of fish, 15 considered game fish. There are 12 different fish families in all, including lampreys, darters, shiners, minnows, suckers, and bass.

The Big South Fork frequently referred to as the “peaceful alternative to the Great Smoky Mountains,” provides scenery that is just as magnificent as the larger national park two hours farther east but with less crowded conditions. Perhaps the park’s most distinctive geological features and scenery are found in this park of all the National Parks in Kentucky.

4. Camp Nelson National Monument:

A 525-acre national monument, historical museum, and park, Camp Nelson National Monument, one of the National Parks in Kentucky, was formerly known as the Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park. It is situated in southern Jessamine County, Kentucky, 20 miles south of Lexington, Kentucky.

Camp Nelson swiftly grew to be the third-biggest USCT (U.S. Colored Troops) recruiting facility in the country, the largest of Kentucky’s eight African American recruitment sites. By June 1864, all enlistment restrictions had been lifted, and the number of African Americans enlisting skyrocketed.

6 best national parks in Kentucky
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copyright 2020

In honor of Union General William “Bull” Nelson, who was assassinated by another Union general in 1862, Camp Nelson was founded close to Nicholasville in 1863. Camp Nelson, which included 4,000 acres, fortifications, and 300 buildings, was originally a sizable supply depot. The camp provided supplies for numerous Union military operations.

During the Civil War, the US Army built Camp Nelson as a fortified camp and supply depot. It evolved into a sizable hub for recruiting and training African American soldiers (USCTs), as well as a camp for civilians escaping conflict and the wives and children of USCTs. Enslaved individuals fled to this area in the hopes of obtaining freedom and taking charge of their lives by contributing to the abolition of slavery.

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The Camp Nelson National Monument honours their extraordinary bravery and tenacity while reflecting on the challenges the US faced in defining freedom at the time. There have been recorded sightings of over 352 plant species, 9 mammals, 15 amphibians, 16 reptiles, and 91 bird species.

A short movie and museum exhibits are included. The Visitors Centre provides an introduction to the historical events that took place at Camp Nelson. The displayed items provide visitors with a glimpse into Camp Nelson’s past as a military installation, hospital, recruitment hub, and refugee camp. While there, guests can view the “Oliver Perry White House.“. It is an original house from the middle of the nineteenth century that was used office space while the land was a part of Camp Nelson.

There is also a recreated barracks that shows how thousands of men lived in the camp. Limited public guided tours are available, and it features a meeting room and a small library during the tour to this park, out of all the National Parks in Kentucky.

Five miles of hiking paths at Camp Nelson let guests get up close and personal with the breathtaking scenery.

At camp nelson, the federal government built what it referred to as “a Home for Colored Refugees.” Initially, it had a school, a community meal hall, wards for sick people and lone women, and duplex family cottages.

Additionally, a “Hall Community” represents the efforts made to support African American refugees as they strive to start a new life. There is a tiny church nearby that was constructed in 1912.

5. Fort Donelson National Battlefield:

The 600-acre Fort Donelson National Battlefield, one of the National Parks in Kentucky, is located in northwest Middle Tennessee, close to Dover, the county seat of Stewart County. It was constructed during the Civil War. It has a 1,319-acre surface area (5.34 km2).

In the American Civil Wars’ Forts Henry and Donelson Campaign, Union Army Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote captured three Confederate forts. They made two rivers, the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River, under the control of the Union Navy. Fort Donelson National Battlefield preserves Fort Donelson and Fort Heiman, two of the campaign’s key locations.

Fort Donelson National Battlefield, one of the best National Parks in Kentucky, which spans Kentucky and Tennessee, commemorates the location where Grant and his soldiers paved the way for Union triumph.

Fort Donelson’s unconditional surrender resulted in celebration across the North and stillness in Dixie. It was the North’s first significant victory of the Civil War, breaking through to the Confederacy’s core.

The Confederacy ceded Southern Kentucky and a large portion of Middle and West Tennessee due to the Union’s victory at Fort Donelson. Nashville developed into a sizable supply depot for the Union army in the west. The Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, as well as local railroads, played a crucial role in the Federal supply chain.

Pets are permitted in Fort Donelson, but they must always be kept on leashes no longer than 6 feet in length to protect both them and the park’s wildlife.

White-tail deer, raccoons, grey and fox squirrels, and other small mammals may be seen in the park by tourists. Numerous amphibians and reptiles can be found in the upland deciduous woodland, wetlands, and small intermittent streams. If you look up, you could catch a glimpse of a Bald Eagle or a Red-tailed Hawk swooping above the treetops. The Fort Donelson National Battlefield is home to various songbirds and waterfowl, some of which can be seen or heard.

6 best national parks in Kentucky
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copyright 2020

6. Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument:

The Battle of Mill Springs, one of the famous National Parks in Kentucky, also known as the Battle of Fishing Creek and the Battle of Logan’s Crossroads, took place in January 1862 at the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument. It was designated a 2019 national monument and a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1993. On September 22, 2020, the National Park Service established it as a unit after purchasing the site.

The Confederate Mass Grave Monument in Somerset, the Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer Monument, and the Mill Springs National Cemetery are just a few of the various locations connected to the conflict that has been included on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is a fantastic Mill Springs Visitor Centre with a 20-minute movie depicting the Mill Springs battle. Visitors will discover a museum with various fascinating displays that offer a thorough understanding of the participants in the battle and its significance for the war.

Much of the battlefield may be observed from public roads in terms of the actual battlefield. The 10-stop driving tour was created by the Mill Springs Battlefield Association and started at the visitor centre.

The half-mile Ravina Trail crosses both sides’ combat lines as it leads hikers into a ravine. Additionally, you can visit Brown-Lanier House. Before the Civil War, an antebellum house was constructed here.

Additionally, the nearby grist mill, which the US Army Corps of Engineers still run, is visible. It is near Lake Cumberland’s shoreline and receives its water from springs. The wheel is operational, and the mill has been fully repaired.

Also read: Best Places to Live in Tennessee


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