Spring is so close I can almost taste it, and with Kentucky springtime in the air, there’s only one thing on my mind – no, it’s not March Madness, it’s the great outdoors!
I have been patiently waiting all winter, and with a temperate weekend forecast coming up, my enthusiasm can no longer be contained.
If you catch me smiling and staring off into space this week, don’t worry. I’m probably just daydreaming about sleeping in a tent or splashing in the mud. Or maybe I’m deliberating between hitting the trail at Red River Gorge for some amazing arch views or Cloudland Canyon with its countless tempting waterfalls.
And while I’m daydreaming, nothing on the planet gets me more excited than a surprise thunderstorm in the middle of the forest or the thought of navigating a kayak down a peaceful, unfamiliar stream…. Did I mention that I’m SERIOUSLY excited about spring??
The fantastic part about living here in south-central Kentucky is that I don’t have to travel far to make those daydreams a reality. There are plenty of opportunities for gorgeous views and great times in parks, reserves, forests and waterways that are all within a reasonable drive.
Aside from the obvious – Rough River and Nolin Lake – it’s just a quick trip to Mammoth Cave National Park, where there is plenty to enjoy above or below ground.
The eclectic history and beautiful scenery at Big South Fork is just an easy drive away, but with so much to explore, you will wish you had more than a weekend to spend there.
Red River Gorge is the place to be for unforgettable rock formations and to try your hand at rock-climbing. A more popular spot, you may want to plan in advance if you intend to camp nearby.
If you’re interested in heading south, Cloudland Canyon State Park is just south of Chattanooga and makes for an incredible long-weekend trip to take in the city and the park. Feeling extra-adventurous? It’s a fantastic place for hang-gliding, too.
Land Between the Lakes is an underused destination with plenty of water and protected space. It’s a fantastic haven for anyone who likes to hunt or fish, and can also make a great getaway for families with young kids.
Harpeth River State Park, near Nashville, has some excellent canoeing and kayaking opportunities along with the added bonus of being home to an ancient Indian burial ground (but don’t get your hopes up – you can’t actually get to the preservation site).
To the west, Shawnee National Forest has some great trails and unique rock formations that you won’t regret checking out around the Garden of the Gods Recreational Area.
If you’re heading east, don’t discount the unique geological features of Appalachia and lesser-known state parks like Kingdom Come. (Try to find the hidden hiker’s cabin in Kingdom Come and write down your observations in the visitor’s log!)
And of course, The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is close enough to be a weekend destination. The Smokeys offer enough activities to keep you endlessly busy and proximity to more ‘civilized’ fun for those who don’t want to spend the entire time in nature.
I hope you’ll take the time to explore and enjoy some of these fantastic places that we are lucky enough to have close at hand - and if you need a hiking/camping/kayaking/caving/hang-gliding buddy, you know where to find me!