By Sarah Rawle
The United States is filled with endless incredible sights and things to do. I have been lucky enough to travel through twenty states over the past two years, ticking off classic tourist stops such as the Grand Canyon, Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park and the Empire State Building. Yet Kentucky, with all its more hidden wonders, is the state that has stood out for me. While this south-eastern state may be renowned for bourbon, the Kentucky Derby, Louisville Slugger, Muhammed Ali, and of course Kentucky Fried Chicken, there are several lesser known locations anyone visiting would have the pleasure to discover.
The USA’s astonishing National Parks provide the perfect escape from the city, immersing you entirely in nature. Mammoth Cave National Park in Cave City, KY is the home of the longest cave system in the world, with more than 400 miles currently explored. Visitors can explore both above and below ground, with the opportunity to take an abundance of guided tours through the caves, as well as free hiking trails through the Park, and even rent a kayak to paddle down the Green River. For one of the less challenging routes, a guide will lead you to the natural entrance of the caves to begin the Historic Tour. Your journey will take you through tight, winding paths with narrow ceilings,including one passage called ‘Fat Man’s Misery’. Other tours give you the chance to see frozen waterfalls, an underground hospital used in the 1840s, dripstone formations, historic cave writing such as candle-written signatures, impressive gypsum formations, and so much more. Your tour guide will also give you a taste of the history of the caves, as you walk in the footsteps of visitors from around 4,000 years ago.
Continuing your exploration of Kentucky in Cave City, a short journey from Mammoth Cave will take you to a park where dinosaurs continue to roam. Perfect for kids especially, Dinosaur World gives you the chance to walk amongst life-sized model dinosaurs and woolly mammoths. Each dinosaur is given its own informational panel to give you more of an idea about the creatures you see before you. Along with the Prehistoric museum, interactive exhibits, and a dinosaur-themed playground, Dinosaur World encourages both learning and fun. Kids can also dig for fossils of shark and dinosaur teeth, or head to the Bone Yard to learn how to uncover the skeleton buried under the sand. Make sure to grab a raptor claw or other souvenir from the gift shop on your way out to remember your trip to Dinosaur World!
Returning to the city yet remaining in nature, Louisville Zoo is a fantastic place to spend the day. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, new exhibits Snow Leopard Pass and Colobus Crossing, and new animals including the bongo calf and veiled chameleon give first timers as well as returners something special to see. Explore Africa, Australia, the Americas, Arctic and much more, all without leaving Louisville. You can feed giraffes, and even take a break from a hot sunny day at the zoo’s Splash Park.
Mama Loumari and her two children, Little Nis and Little Elina, are the giants that have inhabited Berheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont. Designed and built by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, each character has evolved from folklore stories from
his childhood. With the aim of encouraging younger generations to become more involved in our environmental future, the giants have been constructed entirely from recycled and reclaimed wood and will naturally decompose within three years. These giants are just part of Dambo’s global tale he aims to tell through his art, each troll representing the forces of nature. You can meet the giants along the hiking and biking trails around the forest, which are accessible to all ages and abilities. You will see Little Elina playing with boulders in the grass, Little Nis peering into the pond, and the pregnant Mama Loumari resting against a tree. You may even spot some snapping turtles swimming in the lakes.
Now that you’ve got your landmarks and museums checked off, a final stop at Flying Axes in the capital city of Louisville gives you the unique opportunity to let loose and do some axe throwing. In your two teams of ‘Yee’ and ‘Haw’, the friendly and talented employees will coach you through the techniques for throwing one-handed and two-handed. You can grab a refreshment from the bar before finishing with a competition in your teams and qualify as amateur axe-throwers!
Of all the spectacular things America has to offer, I think you can see that Kentucky has plenty to suit everyone. With so many more places to see, including Kentucky Kingdom, Tioga Falls waterfall walk, and Red River Gorge, I have no doubt you will find your next adventure in Kentucky.