Museums, parks, ferries, art and more
EVERYTHING IS MORE FUN when it’s free—and Kentucky has lots of free. Museums, state parks, plant tours, distillery tours, arboretums, outdoor art, farms, ferries and other free-admission attractions are located all over the state and open throughout the year.
Leave your wallet at home and check out these freebies.
Rainy day fun
From a snazzy, 10 horsepower 1910 Brush Roadster E26 that could fly down the open roads at up to 27 mph to a 1970 Cobra Torino SCJ—one of the most feared and revered competition cars of the Muscle Car era’s glory days—Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear in Elizabethtown is a time capsule of classic car cool. The museum has dozens of pristine vintage beauties on display and, thanks to electronic Autobiotags that tell the story of each automobile, visitors may tour the collection at their own pace.
In Georgetown, a free tram tour zips visitors around the 9-million-square-foot Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant where over 550,000 vehicles are assembled and 600,000 engines are built every year. Watch as a 20-foot interactive, 3D projected map comes to life at the Toyota Kentucky Experience Center, where eight exhibits (some interactive) take visitors behind the scenes at the world’s largest Toyota manufacturing plant.
The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, served by Blue Grass Energy, is open daily for browsing the galleries and gift shop. Although it’s free to look, you’ll probably find something you can’t live without among the handcrafted works of hundreds of Kentucky artists.
You may not be able to tour Kentucky’s caves without a fee, but you can explore the American Cave Museum in Horse Cave for free and learn about cave geology, speleothems (cave formations), the history of the Cave Wars and more.
Wander amid flowering trees like dogwoods and magnolias and admire sculptures and statuary at Baker Arboretum, a 115-acre oasis served by Warren RECC that overlooks Bowling Green and the Western Kentucky University campus. Each season brings its own beauty and surprises, from springtime blooms to conifers adding splashes of green to the winter landscape.
The Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort is Kentucky’s only sculpture park—and well worth a visit to see more than 70 large-scale works. Plus, kids big and small are allowed—actually encouraged—to climb, play, sit, even paint on some of the exhibits, including GRAPHOLOGYHENGE.
Magnificent Wall to Wall Flood Wall Murals are Paducah’s most visited 24/7 art history attractions. In northern Kentucky, the Roebling Flood Wall Murals present the region’s history in luxurious detail across a concrete canvas at river’s edge. Both attractions are free, and both are the work of renowned muralist Robert Dafford and his team. But northern Kentucky’s most visited 24/7 free attraction is the Purple People Bridge, recently enhanced with its own mural—one depicting the blending of cultures of Cincinnati, Ohio and northern Kentucky. The historic landmark and pedestrian bridge spanning the Ohio River is the site of numerous events and activities throughout the year.
Kentucky boasts nine National Park Service sites, none of which require an entrance fee. Explorers can roam the grounds where our 16th president once lived, played and fetched water for his family at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville. Within Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, which spans parts of eastern Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, traverse some of the 85 miles of trails on a ranger-led hike or on your own and see some of the same natural wonders Daniel Boone and early settlers experienced more than 250 years ago.
At Jamestown’s Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, served by South Kentucky RECC, feed the fish in the outdoor raceways. Drop by the Visitor/Environmental Education Center with interactive exhibit hall and follow the trout life cycle. Take a walk along the Nature Trail, or drop a line into Hatchery Creek and fish the day away. Browse the gift shop, filled with everything from light tackle to home decorations (proceeds from sales help support the hatchery). Also on-site: a theater, picnic area and accessible fishing ramp.
Also among Kentucky’s National Park Service sites are the Trail Of Tears National Historic Trail winding through Hopkinsville, Camp Nelson National Monument in Nicholasville, Mammoth Cave National Park in southcentral Kentucky and the Kentucky portion of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in McCreary County. There are no entrance fees, but there may be fees for some activities. To see a map and description of each, as well as trip planning guide and other resources, visit www.nps.gov/state/ky.
Board the Valley View Ferry for a float across the Kentucky River at Tates Creek Road at the Fayette, Jessamine and Madison County lines. Take a spin—at no charge—around the Kentucky Horse Park with the Run Walk Club, presented by the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, for a special way to experience park grounds in the evening, late May to early September. Also no charge: all five types of tours at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. In fact, the tasting at each tour’s conclusion is also free.
Kentucky State Parks has lots of videos on its YouTube channel, including one covering general info about what to know before you go.
To see more videos, click here.
Watch a video about Paducah’s Wall to Wall Flood Wall Murals here.
KATHY WITT is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer based in Northern Kentucky and the author of Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles.