This budget-friendly Kentucky road trip itinerary covers all of the must-see stops, where to stay, the best time to visit and more!
Not only is Kentucky full of unique experiences and history, it is also incredibly affordable to visit. Keep these travel tips in mind when planning your visit to this state!
Kentucky Road Trip Itinerary
Looking for beautiful drives to get you from point A to point B? There are plenty of easy drives with rolling hills and peaceful terrains to factor into your trip.
Woodlands Trace is a National Scenic Byway of 43 miles through Land Between the Lakes. This passageway has plenty to stop and do along the way as well as campgrounds, trails, Civil War sites, and photo-ops — so get your camera ready!
Along Red River Gorge and the Daniel Boone National Forest is the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway. This 46-mile ride allows you to seek out the hidden wonders inside the gorge which is home to over 100 stone arches and waterfalls. Be sure to look for unique rock formations, the waterfall, and the views of the Red River.
The Lincoln Heritage Scenic Byway will take you from Hodgenville to Danville Kentucky and will explore the early years of the life of Abraham Lincoln as well as Historic Civil War sites. It is a 67-mile route that will take approximately two and a half hours to complete.
You can start this trek at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Park and explore all the exhibits, artifacts and films it has to offer. While you’re there, stop by Bardstown, which was voted “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” and known as the Bourbon Capital of the World!
The longest of the must-do drives is the 93.8-mile Wilderness Road Heritage Highway. Leading to the Cumberland Gap, the “Warriors Path” as known by Native Americans in the area, goes through the Appalachian Mountains. Consider visiting the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park to have a unique experience of American History.
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Mammoth Cave National Park
Kentucky is home to the longest cave in the world which is located in Mammoth Cave National Park. There are a variety of guided cave tours that appeal to everyone from history-buffs to adventurers!
But that is just the beginning here, you can also visit Kentucky’s First National Water Trail, camp, hike canoe, stargaze, ride horses and bike around this park full of rich history all in one convenient location. It takes about an hour and a half to drive, but why not factor a day around the route and take some stops to explore along the way?
Interested in going underground? Located just outside the Mammoth Cave National Park is Diamond Caverns, state-of-the-art lighting is used to highlight the naturally colorful calcite which you can view while standing in giant open chambers. Be sure to book a tour to see all the cavern has to offer.
Where to Stay Near Mammoth Cave National Park
A few budget options in safe locations within close proximity to the park:
Grand Victorian Inn
Sleep Inn & Suites Cave City
Hampton Inn Cave City
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Parks and Recreational Areas
Lexington, Kentucky has over 100 parks itself so there is plenty to explore! The Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Breaks Interstate Park, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site and the Natural Bridge State Resort Park offer all sorts of outdoor recreation and places to explore. Each with their own unique appeal.
Don’t forget to add in The Louisville Mega Cavern which was once a limestone mine that now can be explored. It is approximately 100 acres and is still being carved out! Aside from tours and tram rides, you can also zipline throughout the cavern, attend events, and challenge yourself to the only fully underground aerial ropes course in the world!
Budget Tip: If you’re opting for a low-spend day, pack up a lunch and have a picnic at one of these incredible parks. That will also allow you to spend the whole day exploring and not have to leave when you get hungry. Cherokee Park and Waterfront Park have some flawless backdrops for a scenic picnic lunch.
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Kentucky is full of American history, so you can’t visit without taking the time to soak some of it in.
The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park is one of the most notable historical places to visit in Kentucky. There you can see the very first Lincoln memorial, the water source for the Lincoln family and his boyhood home. You can compare that to Mary Todd Lincoln’s girlhood home which you can also tour in Kentucky!
You can actually tour some more historic mansions — and even a castle right there too. My Old Kentucky Home, Ashland Henry Clay Estate, Shaker Village and Castle Post all bring you back in time and give you a glimpse at what Kentucky once was like. All of these beautiful locations allow for tours and exploration, but they all offer their own charm and unique things to do.
Lexington itself has many incredible historic areas. Gratz Park Historic District and South Hill Historic District are must-sees! They’re full of old homes, libraries, and original architecture. Walking around these areas is perfect for a low-key but interesting day!
Budget Tip: Many historical and cultural attractions offer free tours! Be sure to check their websites for any blackout dates.
Arts & Culture
There is no shortage of amazing museums to check out while in Kentucky, you could spend your whole trip doing nothing but touring museums. Louisville actually has a “Museum Row” which is part of the West Main District of downtown.
Some of the most interesting ones to add to your itinerary are the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, which gives you a look into the Gilded age and a true Victorian House. The National Corvette Museum is a must for any sports car enthusiast. The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is not only for sports fans, but it showcases baseball in American history.
The Kentucky Derby is one of the states most famous events, so no visit here would be complete without seeing Churchill Downs, Keeneland Racetrack and the Kentucky Horse Park.
Budget Tip: Churchill Downs is a very inexpensive place to visit aside from the peak season. General admission is as low as $7.00 between April and early July as well as Mid-September through November. Keeneland Racetrack also offers free hours for visitors who want to watch the morning workouts!
Where to Stay in Downtown Louisville, Kentucky
The Grady Hotel – Boutique hotel located right on Museum Row!
21C Museum Hotel – A unique hotel AND an art museum on Museum Row!
Homewood Suites by Hilton – For a budget option in the heart of downtown!
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As Kentucky is widely known for its bourbon, there are many distilleries to sample and tour such as James B. Beam, Four Roses, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, and many others. The Buffalo Trace Distillery even has complimentary tours and tastings!
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail website has itineraries already planned for your bourbon adventure, even offering their own transportation.
Budget Tip: To make your trip more cost-effective, consider biking the bourbon trails! It is a great opportunity to have a beautiful experience.
Where to Stay Along The Kentucky Bourbon Trail
A few unique lodging options along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail include:
Bourbon Manor B&B in Bardstown
Maple Hill Manor in Springfield
Charred Oaks Inn in Versailles
Hotel Distill in Louisville
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If craft beer entices you more than the well-known Kentucky bourbon, download your Brewgrass Trail digital passport and check out the local breweries! Visit the Brewgrass Trail website and sign up to get your digital passport emailed to you, or pick up a passport at any of the breweries on the Brewgrass Trail and get started.
While visiting the participating breweries, check in using their unique pin number and collect prizes! The more you visit, the more prizes you get!
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Harland Sanders Café and Museum
Why not eat Kentucky fried chicken in Kentucky? The Harland Sanders Café and Museum is the original Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant located in Corbin, Kentucky. The secret KFC recipe was actually written there in the 1940’s.
How To Road Trip Kentucky On A Budget
When road tripping through Kentucky, you will find plenty of delicious, inexpensive street food options and great public transportation. Like traveling anywhere else, it is always more cost effective to visit in the off season.
The best room rates are typically from November through March, though March does get cold. You can also look at reserving rooms outside of the city center for a more budget-friendly option. Definitely check out Eventbrite and Groupon before traveling for any possible free events or discounted tickets and experiences before your trip.
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