Summer is an ideal time to take a family vacation and build a lifetime of memories into a few days. Fortunately, there are so many places to see and things to do right in our own state. If you start in Northern Kentucky and make your way clockwise, you can visit parks, lakes, museums, amusement parks and historical sites to make any weekend a wonder. Follow us on this Kentucky grand tour to discover interesting activities that are full of fun for adults and kids of all ages.
1. Newport Aquarium
Many aquariums nationwide emphasize ocean animals, but the Newport Aquarium, which sits along the Ohio River, showcases the best aquatic animals you can see from all bodies of water. Walk along the Amazon Tunnel, see otters in Canyon Falls, or explore the Coral Reef exhibit. You might even be able to touch a shark. The Seahorses: Unbridled Fun exhibit features a Seahorse Creation Station for the kids, and the chance to touch and interact with giant seahorses. With a million gallons of water, you and your family will find hours of fun and learn a few new things about life under the water’s surface.
2. National Underground Railroad Museum
In Maysville, your family can get a taste of a vital piece of Civil War history at the National Underground Railroad Museum. The Underground Railroad consisted of pathways taken by many people seeking freedom in the north. The routes and safe houses were secret, used by slaves and those who wanted to help them get to freedom. Maysville played an important role in the abolitionist movement, and the Bierbower House, part of the museum, served as a safe house for people traveling along the Underground Railroad. The museum features artifacts and memorabilia, with several preserved rooms to give you a sense of what life was like in this turbulent era.
3. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
During what is now called the “Second Great Awakening” in the early years of the United States, many people were driven to pursue new religious approaches. Out of this period came the Shakers, a number of religious communities in the 19th Century that emphasized communal living. The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill was one such community, which has been preserved today to show you a real experience of communal life. Walk 3,000 acres of gardens and preserved buildings, with the ability to try your hand at many of the chores and tasks around the house at various workshops. Plus there is dining, shopping and rooms for an overnight stay and an unforgettable weekend.
4. Carter Caves State Resort Park
Carter County offers more caves than any other part of Kentucky, so taking the time to go through them is more than worth the effort. At Carter Caves State Resort Park, you can wind your way through one or more of 20 caverns, including a 30-foot waterfall that is completely underground. Take a guided tour through Cascade Cave and X-Cave. If you and your family are up for it, try the rappelling and rock-climbing. For dinner, check out Tierney’s Cavern restaurant, with locally-grown meats and produce. The fieldstone lodge presents ideal accommodations with Wi-Fi and space for pets in some of the rooms.
5. Hatfield and McCoy Feud Driving Tour
For decades in the second half of the 19th Century, the Hatfields and the McCoys persisted in a feud situated on the border of Kentucky and Virginia. Disagreements over political alliances, marriages and accusations of theft often erupted into violence throughout the years. The two families are memorialized in the American lexicon as synonymous with a bitter, unending struggle. You can experience some of it for yourself when you take the Hatfield-McCoy Family Feud Driving Tour. Purchase a CD made by historians of the feud, along with a map and pictures to guide your way.
6. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
With 50 campsites, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is one of the best places in Southern Kentucky to set up your tent or RV and kick back for a few days. You can enjoy fishing for bass, catfish and more. Cumberland Falls, the “Niagara of the South,” is also an ideal place for birding, with dozens of species like the Pileated Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco and American Goldfinch. Visit the Cumberland Falls Mining Company to take a chance at bringing home a real treasure in the form of rubies, sapphires and emeralds.
7. Kentucky Lake
Kentucky Lake is a reservoir along the border of Tennessee and Western Kentucky. The lake features an amazing 2,300 miles of coastline, with all of the fun you can imagine. The water is great for fishing, camping and boating. As a major tourist destination, you can also enjoy golf, dining, shopping and entertainment options. Catch a music show, go antiquing or even participate in a hunt. The area between Kentucky Lake and nearby Lake Barkley is the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, with daily and weekly events, a planetarium, and various festivals throughout the summer.
8. Webster County Civil War Driving Tour
Webster County, named for 19th Century statesman Daniel Webster, features many important sites from Civil War history. For example, the Battle of Burnt Mill was fought at Deer Creek in 1861, and is remembered as the first battle of the Civil War fought in Kentucky. The Webster County Civil War Driving Tour gives you the opportunity to visit this site and many others from the convenience of your vehicle. Imagine the burning of the Dixon Jail, the end of the Battle of Dixon. Download a brochure and wend your way through to four different sites, learning more about Kentucky’s role in the war.
9. Louisville Mega Cavern
When you go to visit the Louisville Zoo, you might be surprised to discover that there is something vast and amazing below the ground. That is the Louisville Mega Cavern. About 80 years ago, this space was a huge limestone quarry. In 1989, the space was acquired as a retail, entertainment and storage space. The Mega Cavern boasts 100 acres of entertainment at a temperate 58 degrees, year-round. Engage in a fully-underground zipline. Try an aerial ropes challenge course for hours of swinging fun for the whole family. Take the tram through 17 miles of corridors to see the caverns and study its history.
10. Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay
Once you get back above the surface, you might be tempted to go for something that takes you into the air. Kentucky Kingdom is an amusement park with dozens of rides and various attractions. Check out Angry Birds, the Ride in the 5-D Cinema. Get an excellent view of the area from the Giant Wheel. Visit Hurricane Bay and shock yourself in the Deep Water Dive, while the little ones relax in the Splash Zone. Small children will enjoy King Louie’s Playland, with rides that are designed especially for them. They will delight in the Flutterfly and the Mad Hatter.
A Summer of Opportunities Close to Home
To create the perfect summer family vacation, you don’t need to head to some beach or lake thousands of miles away. Adventure is available all around you, starting right here in Northern Kentucky. Whether you focus on history and museums or you just want to spend a weekend on the fishing boat, you can find opportunities that are perfect for you and your family. Just pick one or two, make a plan and start driving.