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Zip into spring with a fun family getaway

Ark Encounter
Ark Encounter
Ark Encounter
NCM Motorsports Park
NCM Motorsports Park
NCM Motorsports Park
KY Down Under
KY Down Under
KY Down Under
KY Horse Park
KY Horse Park
KY Horse Park
Wickliffe Mounds
Wickliffe Mounds
Wickliffe Mounds

Why wait for summer to have an adventure? This year, “spring” into Kentucky for excitement. Buckle up and hit the racetrack. Tour a mind-boggling boat. Explore the past. Experience tree-mendous zip lining. Your family’s next great adventure awaits.

The need for speed

Rev up your engine for a road trip to Bowling Green’s NCM Motorsports Park. Sign up for a couple of hot laps, reaching speeds in excess of 130 mph as a professional driver takes you for a spin in a Z06 Corvette around the Grand Full Course. For a milder ride that still exceeds highway speeds, touring laps allow you to take your own car behind a pace car five times around the 3.2-mile track.

The park’s free Trek at the Track program is another opportunity for family fun. Each Tuesday, the community is invited to walk, jog, bicycle, or rollerblade around the track. Because there’s no car traffic, “It gives people a really safe place to bring their kids,” says Mitch Wright, NCM Motorsports Park general manager.

Debuting this month is the park’s new go-karting facility. These racing go-karts reach speeds up to 50 mph. “It’s basically designed to be another recreational activity that folks can have a lot of fun with,” Wright says.

The excitement continues at the nearby National Corvette Museum. Spanning the history of America’s sports car, the museum is home to more than 80 Corvette models and one-of-a-kind concept cars. Corvette-related photos, videos, and rare memorabilia spotlight this automotive icon.

The museum’s newest exhibit, Corvette Cave-In: The Skydome Sinkhole Experience, commemorates the 2014 sinkhole that opened up inside the building, swallowing some cars. It includes a sinkhole simulation, a display of all eight “sinkhole Corvettes,” plus a manhole that offers a glimpse of the sinkhole floor 30 feet below.

Float your boat

Just off Interstate 75 in Williamstown is the one-of-a-kind Ark Encounter. Towering seven stories high and stretching the length of one and a half football fields, the Ark is the world’s largest timber-frame structure.

Inside, three decks of state-of-the-art exhibits give the biblical account of Noah, the animals, and the flood. Popular displays include Pre-flood World, Flood Geology, and Noah’s Quarters, with bedrooms set up for Noah and his family. “There’s a kitchen, a dining area, a garden, and an aviary as well,” says Patrick Kanewske, director of operations.

Don’t miss Ararat Ridge Zoo, home to animals from around the world, like Tibetan yaks, kangaroos, and ostriches. Hands-on activities include feeding and patting sheep, alpacas, and llamas. For an additional fee, kids and adults can ride a donkey or a camel.

Want a bird’s-eye view of the Ark? Harness up for Ark Encounter zip lines, featuring the longest zip line in the Midwest at a whopping 2,100 feet. Put your balance to the test at Eagle’s Nest Aerial Adventure, a ropes course. Before calling it a day, check out the jump tower with two options, the Free Fall with a controlled descent of up to 50 feet, and Flight Line, an extreme leap of faith from an 80-foot tower.

“This is definitely a family-friendly place,” says Kanewske. With more than half a million visitors since the Ark’s July 2016 opening, he adds, “It’s widely popular throughout the United States and the world.”

Zip it up

Fly along steel cables connecting a series of platforms built high overhead the forests of Bell County’s Pine Mountain State Resort Park. Then, navigate sky bridges to glimpse magnificent mountain vistas and the valleys below, before rappelling back to earth on an adrenaline-rush adventure.

Last summer, Pine Mountain Zipline Canopy Tour became the first attraction of its kind in a Kentucky state park. This entirely tree-based eco-adventure highlights the history, geology, and natural resources of the Appalachian Mountain region.

The professionally guided tour features seven zip lines up to 1,400 feet long. Thrill-seekers zoom past fragrant, 300-year-old hemlocks at 40 mph while soaring to 100-foot heights for panoramic views.

Unique structures—two platform-to-platform rappels, a spiral staircase, and twin suspension bridges—slow the pace. This enables riders to soak in the tour’s spectacular star attraction, Honeymoon Falls, a twin waterfall once popular with honeymooners. “All the platforms are built so that they don’t harm the trees,” canopy tour director Burgess Carey says.

While the tour does take adventurous participants to unforgettable heights, it also tries to teach them about the area’s hardwood forests and the effects of harmful invasive species on the local ecology. No environmental footprint is left behind, since sightseers’ feet don’t touch the ground from the time they step onto the first platform until the tour ends.

To fully enjoy it, Carey says, “You just have to have a willingness, a curiosity, and a need for adventure.”

For those seeking adventure on the ground, Pine Mountain State Resort Park is a hiker’s paradise with 12 miles of self-guided trails, creeks and ponds where fishing is allowed, and ranger-led activities such as birding trips and guided hikes. Tamer attractions include a nine-hole miniature golf course and a nationally ranked 18-hole golf course.

G’day, Kentucky

Have you ever patted a kangaroo? Or met a woma python? You can do both at Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo in Horse Cave. Kentucky Down Under has offered a slice of the Outback right here in the Bluegrass State since 1990. Guests come face-to-face with the largest marsupial on earth—the kangaroo—and enter the Land of the Lories aviary where they can feed colorful rainbow lorikeets, watch herding dogs round up sheep, and enjoy interactive animal shows.

Celebrate a champion race horse

Happy birthday, Man o’ War! Join the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington as it celebrates the famed horse’s 100th birthday with an exhibit in his honor—Man o’ War at 100: The Mostest Horse that Ever Was. From his birthday, which was March 29, through Nov. 1, the anniversary of his death, artifacts highlighting Man o’ War’s life and racing legacy will be on display at the International Museum of the Horse. Numerous special Man o’ War-themed events are also planned at the park throughout the year. See www.manowarcelebration.com for further details.

Excavation excitement

“Where else are you going to see a site in Kentucky, open to the public, where Native Americans lived 900 years ago?” asks Carla Hildebrand, park manager at Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site.

Hildebrand is speaking of Ballard County’s archaeological site overlooking Mississippi River bluffs that was once home to a Mississippian village from about A.D. 1100-1350. Today, visitors can explore the earthen mounds built by these ancient people. The platform-style ceremonial mound is the largest structure on the grounds. The chief’s mound, also platform-style, was the residence of the village chief. There’s also the burial mound where the Mississippians laid their dead to rest.

A fourth excavated mound serves as Wickliffe Mounds’ museum, known as the Lifeways Building, containing a life-size Mississippian village mural and artifacts such as pottery, stone tools, and bone and shell implements. Kid-friendly activity stations include hands-on touch tables, which encourage children to investigate objects like turkey feathers, or examine rocks similar to those the native people used to make stone tools.

The park’s many special events and educational programs promote community involvement. Workshops teach participants new skills, from basket weaving to pottery making. The younger crowd will dig Archaeology for Kids day camps and the annual Archaeology Day, scheduled for September 23 this year.

“Most all of our programs are focused on families and kids, things that parents and grandparents and kids can do together,” says Hildebrand. “It’s a very peaceful, leisurely park.”

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