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Bucket List Challenge

Want to catch and hold a monarch butterfly in the midst of a 3,000-mile migration? Or test your mettle underground to witness natural wonders created 10 million years ago? You can, and you don’t even have to leave Kentucky.

Kentucky offers an amazing array of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that, being so close to home, don’t have to be once-in-a-lifetime. Here, we’ve compiled a Bucket List of off-the-beaten-path Kentucky experiences if you’re looking for a little adventure.

Monarch Watch
Have you ever held a beautiful but fragile monarch butterfly between your fingers and then had the thrill of releasing it back to the breeze, to continue on its long, long journey to Mexico?

Jennifer Parker and her daughter, Mary Kate Miller, and niece, Jada Powell, from Henderson County have. The girls were all smiles as they caught and released butterflies along with several other families who took part in the annual Monarch Butterfly Migration Mysteries program at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson last September.

Each fall, butterflies from across North America stop to rest and refuel among the wildflowers of the nearby Sloughs Wildlife Management Area before returning to central Mexico on their annual migration.

Led by park interpretive guide Julie McDonald, participants in Audubon’s yearly program help catch butterflies and tag them with tiny stickers, provided by, which help scientists better track and understand the monarchs’ complex migration pattern. “We hope that next year, when we come out, we can catch the great-grandchildren of the butterflies we’re tagging today,” McDonald says.

It’s educational and a great family time together outdoors. Plus, what can be more fun than chasing butterflies with 6-foot-long butterfly nets? (If you could have seen the looks on my 8-year-old and 6-year-old sons’ faces when we took part last fall, you’d know, not much beats this.)

Cost is $5 per person or $15 per family and this year’s dates are September 14 and 21.

Mammoth Cave Wild Cave Tour
Maybe you’ve done their Frozen Niagara Tour. Or the Discovery Tour. But you haven’t really seen Mammoth Cave until you’ve braved the 6-1/2-hour, 5-mile, crawling on your belly, and shimmying through 9-inch-wide “Bear Hole” openings that is the Wild Cave Tour.

“People come out different on the other side, from thinking they can’t do something, to trying and realizing they can,” says John Davis of Horse Cave, a part-time seasonal park guide who often leads the Wild Cave Tour.

Andrew Storey of Pleasureville and his cousin, Adam Franklin of Eminence, were looking for something adventurous to do together without having to travel too far. They settled on the Wild Cave Tour last December, and it definitely fit the bill. At one point, the pair had to “canyon walk” with their legs and arms straddled against either side of a crevice, without any ground beneath them. “That was a lot of fun,” Storey says.

You’ll see things on the Wild Cave Tour you won’t on any other Mammoth Cave tour. “It’s a way for a visitor to truly get an understanding of what cave exploration is like, and how difficult it can be,” says park guide Jackie Wheet of Bowling Green.

Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the world. With 10 miles recently added to its explored underground length, it is now past the 400-mile mark, according to the National Park Service.

Cost is adults $48; $24 with America the Beautiful Access Pass (any U.S. citizen with a permanent disability can obtain one from any national park).

Watch for Bald Eagles
View our national bird up-close and personal. Each year, from mid-January through early February, several Kentucky State Parks offer special Eagle Watch Weekends. Go on guided tours to spy the majestic birds as they return on their annual migration to Kentucky’s western lakes in search of food and unfrozen waters. Wintering birds join Kentucky’s resident eagles among some 84 active nesting sites, making for a bird-watcher’s paradise.

At Kenlake State Resort Park, for example, for $50 per person, you can take an excursion yacht tour on Kentucky Lake, led by an area naturalist. Be sure to call to reserve a spot; these tours book quickly (although a good tip is that you can book up to one year in advance).

Eagle Watch Weekends are also held annually at Kentucky Dam Village and Lake Barkley State Resort Parks. Go to each park’s Web site at, and check their events listing for more information.

Fly an Airplane
Ever wanted to get a taste of flying without signing up for a full package of expensive flying lessons? A Discovery Flight might be just the thing for you. At Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, NexGen Aviation’s Discovery Flights allow first-timers to “get up in the air with an instructor and pretty much fly the plane themselves,” says Brandon Morton, NexGen Aviation co-owner and chief flight instructor. Thirty minutes of flight time runs about $76.50, while one hour is $153.

Flying a plane was on Frankfort native Sharon Duvall’s Bucket List, so she signed up to take a Discovery Flight out of Louisville’s Bowman Field, offered by a different company, last July 4. “They take you up, and they let you use the controls,” says Duvall, a Blue Grass Energy Cooperative member. “We circled over Churchill Downs. It was amazing.”

Drive a Racecar
Want to feel the thrill of burning some rubber? At Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, you can. The track’s Richard Petty Driving Experience puts you in a real NASCAR racecar, where you can roar around the speedway at up to 160 mph. It’s an adrenaline-pumped, fast-paced, blurring view of Kentucky you can’t get anywhere else. Opt for a Ride-Along Experience (where you’re riding shotgun with a professional), or choose to take the wheel yourself in one of the track’s eight- to 50-lap Driving Experiences.

Take the Ride-Along for three laps, $109; hop in the seat yourself for eight laps on the Rookie Experience (their most popular package), $449; get the King’s Experience for $849 with 18 laps; try the Experience of a Lifetime, $1,299; or the ultimate 50-lap Racing Experience, $2,599. Add tax and $25 driver release fee for each Experience package.

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Want a bird’s-eye view of Kentucky unlike any other? Drift along with the breeze on your own hot air balloon ride and watch the sunrise or sunset over Derby City. Several companies offer balloon rides out of Louisville—perfect for celebrating special occasions or simply making a lifelong memory. Balloon Odyssey charges $225 for one person or $420 for two. Private rides are available for $525 per couple.

Go Whitewater Rafting
Ready to rage the rapids? You don’t have to travel far. There’s great whitewater rafting right here in Kentucky, including trips on the Cumberland River below Cumberland Falls. Get a unique view of the Falls from below, then navigate Class III rapids on a trip that’s suitable for beginners but still packs in a lot of challenges and thrills. You can book a trip through Sheltowee Trace Outfitters, which also offers an intermediate-level whitewater trip on the Russell Fork River near Breaks Interstate State Park and the Big South Fork River near Oneida, Tennessee.

Whitewater rafting was on Frankfort native Sharon Duvall’s personal Bucket List, and she checked it off last September. Cost range is $45-85 for all skill levels, ages 6 and up.

View Kentucky’s Elk Herd
Thanks to successful reintroduction efforts in the late 1990s, Kentucky now has the largest elk herd east of the Mississippi River, with more than 10,000 now calling Kentucky home. Sign up for a guided Elk Watch excursion at Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park, and get an up-close and personal look at the elk as they graze and communicate with their signature bugling, bleats, and barks. Elk viewing tours are also available at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, Prestonsburg.

Viewing Kentucky’s elk was another of Sharon Duvall’s Bucket List items, which she accomplished last Labor Day Weekend. “We saw 75 different elk while we were there,” says Duvall. “You wouldn’t believe how huge they were. And there were so many of them. They were all so beautiful. It was my favorite experience of all the things I did last year.”

Elk Watches available in January, February, March, September, October, and November; cost is $30 per person for the viewing excursion only; $90 per person, $120 double for lodging with viewing excursion. (Also check Jenny Wiley State Resort Park for elk viewing tours.)

Take a Zipline Tour
Want to sail through the Kentucky treetops and channel your inner child? There’s no place better to try ziplining than at Black Mountain Thunder Zipline in Evarts, Kentucky, home of the state’s newest, highest, fastest zipline. Located in the Black Mountain Offroad Adventure Area just outside of Evarts, their two-hour canopy tour offers breathtaking views of Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains as you zoom by at up to 60 mph, suspended 500 feet off the ground. Cost is $79, but check the Web site for pricing specials. Find a listing of other Kentucky zipline sites at, search “zipline.”

Go Skydiving
Ready for the ultimate challenge? How about jumping out of a plane?

“This is on my Bucket List” is something Skydive Kentucky owners Jim and Tammy Moore hear often, when people call them to book a skydiving trip. “We hear that all the time. We saw more people ages 60 and older skydiving last year than ever before,” says Tammy. “One man celebrated his 90th birthday with a jump with us last October.” Just shows, it’s never too late to have a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.

Skydive Kentucky offers accelerated freefall. So you can choose the experience that’s right for you. Cost is $170 solo first jump; $225 tandem jump; $350 accelerated freefall.

Both Skydive Kentucky, based out of Elizabethtown’s Addington Field, and Jumping for Fun Skydiving, which jumps from Arnold’s Airport (a private airport east of Springfield in Washington County), offer options for static line and tandem jumping.

Cost at Jumping for Fun Skydiving is $150 static line jump; $225 tandem jump ($10 off with military ID, student ID, or cash). To plan your Bucket List adventure, see below for contact information.


Monarch Butterfly Migration Mysteries
John James Audubon State Park
3100 U.S. Hwy. 41 North
Henderson, KY 42419
(270) 827-1893

Wild Cave Tour
Mammoth Cave National Park
1 Mammoth Cave Parkway
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259
(270) 758-2180

Eagle Watch Weekend
Kenlake State Resort Park
542 Kenlake Road
Hardin, KY 42048
(270) 474-2211

Fly an Airplane
NexGen Aviation
4144 Aviator Road, Suite 100
Lexington, KY 40510
(859) 281-1177

Richard Petty Driving Experience
Kentucky Speedway
1 Kentucky Speedway Boulevard
Sparta, KY 41086
(800) 237-3889

Hot Air Balloon Ride
Balloon Odyssey
1301 Taxus Top Lane, Unit 202
Louisville, KY 40243
(502) 245-1588

Whitewater Rafting
Sheltowee Trace Outfitters
P.O. Box 1060
Whitley City, KY 42653
(800) 541-RAFT

Elk Watch
Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park
4441 KY Hwy. 1833
Buckhorn, KY 41721
(606) 398-7510; call for reservations

Black Mountain Thunder Zipline
711 Bailey Creek Road
Evarts, KY 40828
(606) 837-3205

Skydive Kentucky
1824 Kitty Hawk Drive
Elizabethtown, KY 42701
(270) 723-3587

Jumping for Fun Skydiving
858 Simmstown Road
Springfield, KY 40069
(502) 648-3464


OK, so if jumping out of airplanes isn’t your thing, consider crafting your own Kentucky Bucket List that’s perhaps a little less extreme. Maybe create your own “Essential Kentucky” Bucket List of great tried-and-true Bluegrass State experiences. Make it a fun dinner conversation starter with family and friends and have everyone share their ideas. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

• Visit stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or Kentucky Wine Trail
• Tour the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
• Have a famous Hot Brown sandwich at Louisville’s Brown Hotel
• Attend at least one Kentucky Derby
• Cheer on teams at Kentucky high school basketball’s Sweet 16
• Enjoy a summer evening at The Stephen Foster Story (submitted by Judy Cogdill, Taylorsville, a Salt River Electric member)
• See where Harlan Sanders started it all, at the Harlan Sanders Museum and Café in Corbin (submitted by Crystal Shuler of East Beattyville, a Jackson Energy Cooperative member)


Everybody has that dream list of things they’d love to accomplish before they die. Maybe you want to run a marathon or hit a hole-in-one, write a book, or travel to Australia. Whatever your list, the most important thing about a Bucket List is that it challenges and reminds you to enjoy each day and live life to its fullest.

If you’re searching for suggestions to help fill out your Bucket List, look no further than the amazingly massive 6,000-idea list available online at It’s written by Marelisa Fábrega, self-published author of How to Live Your Best Life—The Essential Guide for Creating and Achieving Your Life List.

While the Web site can be a little cluttered and requires a lot of scrolling down, her list has some surprising and quirky suggestions that may inspire you or make you think, “Hey, yeah, I want to add that to my own list.” Some examples: ride a mechanical bull, learn to juggle, or read every fiction novel that has won a Pulitzer Prize. She also has suggestions for bigger dreams: visiting the Pyramids, seeing the Grand Canyon, even traveling to the moon on Virgin Galactic.

Many sites also offer suggestions on the nuts and bolts of putting your own Bucket List down on paper. Try sites like or to get started.


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