Looking to squeeze a lifetime of Americana, culture, and fun into one week? South-central Kentucky boasts more enviable destinations than most comparable geographic areas in the country. From underground rivers to Civil War battlefields, waterfalls to America’s most iconic automobile, Kentucky offers enough attractions to fill months of travel (or, just relax by a sprawling lake in the rolling hills).
Anchored by the City of Bowling Green and Mammoth Cave National Park, the south-central region has long drawn vacationers who marvel at the state’s most famous natural wonder (after the horses, of course!). But many continue on their way, before getting a chance, to fully experience this rich region.
Each of the stops on this perfect Kentucky itinerary are destinations themselves — don’t hesitate to spend a few days at any one stop. Or, squeeze all of these into a week. Either way, you’ll be amazed at what the bluegrass state has to offer!
If you’re motoring in from the north, east, or south, make your first stop Cumberland Falls State Park. Just a stone’s throw off of I-75, but tucked into the vast wilderness of Daniel Boone State Forest, the falls stretch 125 feet wide and drop 68 vertical feet — they’re easily the largest in Kentucky. Cumberland Falls is most notable, however, for being one of the only places in the world to see a “moonbow,” a rainbow phenomenon that occurs at night when moonlight refracts off of the waterfall’s mist.
The cool, crisp air of late fall is the best time to witness the moonbow phenomenon. Plan your trip around a full moon and enjoy it for nights on end!
In close vicinity to the falls, Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park is both a great place to camp (full hook-ups) and worth a visit itself. Highlights of the 1300-acre park include McHargue’s Mill, a working reproduction of a settlement-era grinding mill, and the seven-building Mountain Life Museum, full of relics from the pioneering days when Kentucky was still the ‘wild west.’
Heading west, just over an hour away is the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site. The park is a place for quiet reflection — it’s the site of the bloodiest Civil War battle in the state. 7,600 men were wounded or killed in October 1862 (If you can, visit for the annual reenactments). Perryville was the Confederacy’s failed last attempt to take control of Kentucky, and is one of the least-altered battlefields in the nation, offering nearly the same view that soldiers saw when marching onto the field 150 years ago.
Just down the road is a site worthy of quick stopover — the Georgian mansion where the famous American songwriter Stephen Foster penned “My Old Kentucky Home.” Whistle the state song while touring the home and formal gardens at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, which also features a 39-site campground.
It’s time for an obvious highlight of the trip — Mammoth Cave National Park. Consider two days here; one to explore the subterranean wonderland, and one to enjoy the above-ground world away from the crowds. The 6.6-mile out-and-back Turnhole Bend Trail is a favorite of hiking buffs, passing over serene, isolated bluffs and through Kentucky’s last remaining old-growths forests.
When you’re ready to put Mammoth in your rearview, scoot on down to Bowling Green. If you’ve still got the urge to spelunk, Lost River Cave offers an experience unlike any other you’ll find; a cave tour by boat! The sensation of floating down an underground river is a family adventure not to be missed.
After your watery tour, stop into the National Corvette Museum and watch dad drool over the factory where every Corvette is made. Finish this well-rounded day at Bowling Green’s iconic Great American Donut Shop, where you’ll find locals ready to tout their hometown favorite guilty-pleasure ahead of any national chain’s offerings.
For RVers needing to restock, the country’s first Camping World is in Bowling Green. Stop by and pay homage to the best way to travel and see the country, and pick up a few supplies.
Back on the road, return east to finish your south-central Kentucky circuit at one of two gorgeous lakes in the midlands. Green River Lake’s rock shoals feature 1,331 acres of remote public land along Green River Lake State Park, and plenty of room to explore one of the state’s prettiest places, with a full-service 157-site campground. There’s a marina, mini golf, and 28 miles of hiking and biking trails.
Just to the south, the immense Lake Cumberland stretches out over 52,000 acres of water, with 1,225 miles of shoreline. Lake Cumberland State Resort Park is an RV campground on steroids, offering every amenity from rental fishing boats to disc golf to horseshoe riding. An entire week spent just at Lake Cumberland offers enough to entertain the family without end.
Across the entire state, Kentucky offers an endless bounty of history, nature, and family fun. Even in the 300-mile loop of the state’s mid-south described in this post, there are more attractions than room to write about!
Make Bowling Green the base for your next RV adventure, and see how far just a few miles can take you in Kentucky.