Category: U.S. Travel (Page 1 of 9)

A One Week Kentucky Itinerary for History and Nature Lovers

Kentucky is a land of caves, culture, spectacular river gorges, and more. While people might stop by for the Kentucky Derby, or the state’s other big events, I’d suggest at least trying to spend a week here exploring across the state. This is a good place to start, if you’d like to get a good taste of what Kentucky has to offer. I’ve designed this Kentucky itinerary to include key historic and natural sites, and while it is only scratching the surface, it includes some spectacular places and paints a nuanced picture of the story of this place. If you are wondering what to do in Kentucky for a high-energy week, this is the post for you.

I would suggest this active itinerary for spring or fall, as summers can get hot and winters can be snowy. My plans here do not account for either, although I think summer would be somewhat doable with planning for hydration and staying cool.

This is also designed as a road trip so you will need a vehicle and a safe driver(s) handy for this trip.

Day 0: Arrival

I flew into Nashville, Tennessee when I traveled to Kentucky, because it was much cheaper from my home airport. Depending on where you are coming from you might fly into Nashville, Louisville, or Lexington. You can just adjust this itinerary to fit your starting airport, and consider driving in a clockwise (or counterclockwise!), circular route. I also like building travel days into my itineraries in case of delays or long travel days. You will also want some energy for this itinerary, so it’s good to get some rest.

STAY: In the city of your arrival.

Day 1: Land Between Two Lakes and Lost Cave

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

Since I got started in Nashville, which is south of Kentucky, I started my journey in the lower southwestern corner of the state. Take a peek at a map with rivers and terrain, and you will see why I wanted to visit the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area when considering what to do in Kentucky. It just looks cool! And it is! There are tons of recreational activities in this area. Of course, I went hiking, and I discuss the trail that I explored in detail in my hiking in Kentucky post. But you can hike, fish, boat, and learn about nature at the park’s visitor centers.

It will take about 2 hours to drive from Nashville to the Woodlands Nature Station, which is in the northern section of the park.

Honestly, for nature lovers, you could spend an entire day enjoying this area on your Kentucky itinerary. I include it in mine for the hiking, but you could easily walk in the morning, have a picnic lunch and then spend a lazy afternoon out on the water and/or fishing. Just make sure you check out the official website for information on fishing and hiking permits. If you have any questions, you can always stop by the visitor center as well.

kentucky itinerary

Lost River Cave (c) ABR 2022

For me, I spent about half a day here and then I headed east to Bowling Green. Being the kind of person who loves riding boats through caves, I was super excited to head up to the land of caves. The small city of Bowling Green has you covered with Lost River Cave. This is a great way to end the day, as their tours are pretty relaxed. You will just walk down into the preserve with your tour group and then take a short boat ride in and out of the cave.

It takes about two hours to drive from Woodlands Nature Station to the Lost River Cave. Check Lost River Cave’s tour times to make sure that you arrive there before they close!

Stay the night in Bowling Green, KY.

Day 2: Mammoth Cave National Park

kentucky itinerary

Mammoth Caves (c) ABR 2022

It is about a 40 min drive from Bowling Green to Mammoth Cave National Park, and this is probably my favorite part of my Kentucky itinerary.

Plan to spend AT LEAST one full day in Mammoth Cave National Park. There is so much to do in this park. Top of your list, unless you are scared of caves, is to go on a cave tour. There are several different options in the park, and if you like caves you can try to do a couple. Mammoth Cave is so large that if you do two (or more!) tours you can see different parts of its depths. Just plan ahead, because you will likely want to get reservations. Check out Recreation.gov to plan out your tour reservations.

kentucky itinerary

Mammoth Caves (c) ABR 2022

There is also hiking at Mammoth Cave National Park! So, you can tour the cave and explore the forested lands above. If you want some more details on the park, check out my Caves in Kentucky Post. Caves are essential to one week in Kentucky.

There are a few options of places to stay tonight. Bowling Green is a great option for a second night or staying in Cave City is a good alternative; you might also consider camping at Mammoth Cave NP if that is something you would enjoy.

Day 3: Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace and Louisville 

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

Day 3 could be a bit of a down day for your Kentucky itinerary, depending on your energy level. But if you’d like a little more to do, you might consider revisiting Mammoth Cave National Park for the morning.

Either way, definitely plan on stopping by Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace. This is a small, historic national park unit, and it is free. Spend some time visiting the monument, learning about Abe’s life, and walking the grounds. It could take anywhere from 1-2 hours to thoroughly explore. You can learn a bit more about this spot in my post on History in Kentucky.

After that, drive up to Louisville and consider relaxing in the city for the evening. When considering what to do in Kentucky there is tons of good food here and plenty of places to stay. It’s about an hour from Bowling Green to Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace, and an hour from Birthplace to Louisville.

Stay in Louisville.

Day 4: Louisville

kentucky hiking trails

(c) ABR 2022

Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky, and it is full of history and culture to be explored. So, it is a must-visit for any Kentucky itinerary. I would suggest making sure that you do two things while you are there. (1) Walk through one of the city’s beautiful parks, and (2) visit some of the city’s museums.

For us, we wanted to explore the Waterfront Park so that we could walk across the Big Four Bridge to Indiana. This park had a lot of different amenities. These included some bathrooms (which were not in full operation when we visited because they had been overloaded by a huge event the night before). There are playgrounds for the kids to frolic in, bikes for rent, and swings for adults. The Big Four Bridge is also a pedestrian bridge, so it is really nice to walk across. On the other side, in Indiana, there are restaurants and biking paths as well. You could easily spend half a day just exploring and enjoying the park.

(c) ABR 2022

There are also LOADS of museums in Louisville, so really when planning one week in Kentucky, you likely won’t be able to visit them all. We visited the Muhammad Ali Center, which I would highly suggest and which I talk about more in my Exploring the History of Kentucky post. But there is also a bourbon museum, and plenty of great museums for kids.

After you’ve spent a day exploring the city, spent another night here.

Day 5: Camp Nelson and Lexington

Camp Nelson (c) ABR 2022

Camp Nelson might not be at the top of most people’s what to do in Kentucky lists, but for me it is essential. I am trying to visit as many national park units as possible, and it also covers history that you won’t see in many others places. I would suggest getting an early start to this day, so that you can arrive at Camp Nelson as soon as the visitor center opens at 9a. It is about a 1.5 hours drive from Louisville to Camp Nelson National Monument.

The visitor center is only open from May 30th to September 5 each year. Unfortunately, we visited outside of their season, so we missed learning as much about this site as we could have. Camp Nelson, however, is an important site related to the Civil War and the fight for African American freedom in Kentucky, which had a complicated relationship with the Union.

It is then an hour drive from Camp Nelson to the International Museum of the Horse, which would be my number one suggestion for a place to visit in Lexington, KY. The museum is open 9-5p every day EXCEPT Mondays and Tuesdays, when it is closed. This is easily a half day experience at least, so make sure to plan for this when timing out your day.

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

I talk more about this museum in my Exploring the History of Kentucky post, but you have the opportunity to learn about the history of horses in Kentucky in an indoor museum. There is also an outdoor section of the museum where you can visit with real horses. I think this museum should be on everyone’s Kentucky itinerary; horses are a major part of Kentucky culture and they are also amazingly cool animals.

Stay this night in Lexington.

Day 6: Red River Gorge

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

There are days worth of activities in the Red River Gorge area for folks who like hiking and camping. But in this Kentucky itinerary, I will suggest two activities for a single day. It is an hour drive from Lexington to Red River Gorge.

First, I would suggest visiting the Natural Bridge State Resort. Here, you can do a variety of things including plenty of hiking, or riding a cable car up to the natural bridge there. We hiked up to arch from the river and I cover the details of the trail that we took in my Hiking in Kentucky post.

kentucky itinerary

(c) ABR 2022

Second, I would suggest taking the 715 loop. You can just do this drive and stop to see some breathtaking views along the way. There are deep gorges, beautiful rivers and natural arches, and a very cool tunnel that the road passes through. When we visited this area, we took the driving tour, and coupled it with an easy hike to a suspension bridge. That Hiking in Kentucky post covers that trail in more detail.

Along with hikes and beautiful views, there are lots of little outdoor communities in this area with food and cool shops. I’d suggest spending the night in this area in a town like Campton, or in one of the more remote hotels. There are also campsites in this area if that is something you like doing.

Alternatively, you could use part of your day to drive back to where you will be flying out of. It is 4 hours to Nashville and 2 hours to Louisville.

Day 7: Start Heading Home

Start your journey home on this final day of the Kentucky itinerary, whether that is by car, plane, or both. After your one week in Kentucky, I hope you will think about coming back to learn more and explore more in this fascinating state.

Want to save this for later? Consider pinning it!

A Traveler’s Guide to Exploring Kentucky History

Everyone who visits or lives in Kentucky should take some time to experience the state’s history. This state had prehistoric cave explorers, and modern-day boxing prodigies. It was the birthplace for one of the United States most beloved presidents, and is home to one of the most famous horse-riding events in North America, the Kentucky Derby. No matter your interests, there is a little bit of Kentucky history for everyone. This short Traveler’s guide will give you a taste for some spots that I adored when I visited in 2022. None of these places will disappoint, and each one will give you a little something different when it comes to the story of the state.

kentucky history

The Muhammad Ali Center

kentucky history

(c) ABR 2022

One of the cool things about traveling with friends is that you end up visiting places that you might not otherwise see. For me, the Muhammad Ali Center was one of those places. I am not a huge museum go-er, and usually when I visit one, I either pick a historic museum for the area, or a natural history museum. I’m also not at all big into sports, or famous people for that matter.

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A Traveler’s Guide to Caves in Kentucky

The caves in Kentucky are some of the most spectacular in the whole world, believe it or not. And with short, road-side tours as well as long, National park- scale explorations, there are options for all levels and interests. Caves have shaped the history, economy, and ecology of Kentucky, and thus they are a must for any traveler to the state who is comfortable with their depths.

Sobre los Digests de Español Pequeño

En esta blog, trato incluir secciones cortos en Español. Lo siento para mi gramática muy horrible!

Pero, deseo que este blog es un inspiración para tus viajes. Las cuevas de Kentucky son muy especiales y hermosas. En todo el mundo, estas cuevas son algunas mas únicas.

Why You’ve Got to See the Caves in Kentucky

kentucky caves

Mammoth Caves (c) ABR 2022

If you are a hiker, kayker, or just general nature-nut, the caves in Kentucky should be on your bucketlist. These exceptional underground worlds shaped the history and economy of the state of Kentucky that we know today. They teach us about the geologic nature of the land, and harbor strange and unique creatures.

I have been to caves all over the world. As of 2022, this includes caves in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Arkansas, Belgium, Ireland, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Haiti. All of them have captured my imagination, and all of them are beautiful. But none of them was as awe-inspiring as Mammoth Caves. I have never been in such a large cave system before (the longest in the world with over 400 miles mapped). And it felt massive. The tour that we went on walked for almost 2 hours, up and down stairs, and through long passage ways. And this was just one of several tour options that explore completely different parts of the cave, never crossing paths.

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kentucky hiking trails

A Traveler’s Guide: Finding Kentucky Hiking Trails When You Only Have a Few Days

If you are looking for hikes across rolling green hills, and through lands of stone archways and underground rivers, Kentucky hiking trails are what you are looking for. This guide is not even scratching the surface of the adventures on trail that you can have in Kentucky. But if you only have a few days, these are some great options across from across the state and at varying levels of difficulty.

Digests de Español para los senderos de Kentucky: En este blog, trato usar mi Español en pequeño “digest” sobre cada sendero. Lo siento para mi gramática!

What is the best hiking in Kentucky?

kentucky hiking trails

(c) ABR 2022

As a West-coast folk who grew up exploring the wilds of Arizona, I never thought about Kentucky as a hiking destination. Even after I learned about its exceptional caving scene, I honestly still didn’t realize that this state had some really great hiking options. So, obviously, I am not an expert in Kentucky hiking trails. I was just a visitor. But I will outline some of the things that I was looking for on the trail in this beautiful state.

So, what makes for the best hiking in Kentucky in my opinion?

(1) The trail showcases the unique natural elements of the state. For Kentucky, this includes exceptional stone formations, rivers running to and from cave systems, and verdant rolling hills.

(2) Water features! Kentucky is the land of caves which means that it is also a land of water. Being from the desert, I think water along the trail is always an additional benefit for the experience of the hike. Sometimes it does add an additional challenge as well. But for the trails included here waters makes the trail interesting with dam crossings, and rope bridges!

(3) High quality trails which cater to all kinds of explorers, and which are connected to vibrant and welcoming gateway communities.

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5-Day Molokai Itinerary for Hikers

When I set off for Molokai, I wasn’t 100% sure what the experience was going to be like. This isn’t as popular an island as most of the more accessible parts of Hawaii. I also didn’t really find any itineraries that fit my preferences – e.g. an itinerary for a hiker. So, after visiting and having a wonderful time, I wanted to put together a 5-day Molokai itinerary for hikers. This will take you to several different, unique ecosystems that characterize the island, and give you space to enjoy some of the culture and history of Molokai as well.

Who Might Like This Itinerary

molokai itinerary

(c) ABR 2019

This definitely isn’t the 5-day Molokai itinerary for everyone, mostly because I think it is pretty high energy. And not everyone is looking for that on vacation. Furthermore, two of the day’s trails are pretty hard to get to and require both a 4WD vehicle and some careful drivers. You need to know when to turn back if things just aren’t safe on the road, on the trail, or due to weather.

Now that I’ve told you why you might NOT like this itinerary, why don’t I tell you why it’s awesome.

(1) This schedule features some of the most unique environmental and cultural experiences on Molokai.

(2) You will get a workout everyday. Believe me, even shorter trails in Hawaii will really take it out of you. (Unless you are a Hawaiian hiker, then I am sure it is old hat). Whether you are trekking across a beach, or navigating rainforest trails, there is no shortage of physical activity here.

(3) Every day is completely different than the last. You will never feel like you saw the same thing twice. And when you leave, you will definitely be feeling like you made the best use of your limited time on this amazing island.

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Kamakou Preserve: Tropical Mountain Hiking in Molokai, HI

I recently found out that my Polish ancestors were mountain folk, and so perhaps my love for the mountains has been passed down to me. Whatever it is, the mountains always call to me and Mololai’s heights were no different. However, unlike the readily accessible mountains of Phoenix, Molokai’s mountains are steep, can be treacherous, and/or aren’t always to be scaled (private land or sacred land). So, for me, the Nature Conservancy’s Kamakou Preserve was the perfect place for mountain hiking in Molokai. I got to see some very different ecosystems, a more temperate forest and then a tropical bog. Also, the views were out of this world.

While mountain hiking in Molokai isn’t easy, for those travelers who are willing to do it responsibly and respectfully, it is an amazing and unique experience. The challenge that it presents offers you an opportunity to explore your own limits. And the mountains offer a view into the wild heart of the Hawaiian islands. If this hike isn’t for you, I’ve got you covered with some cool photos of the forest and the bog. And no matter your location or travel style, I will include information in this blog about the conservation of Kamakou Preserve and how to support this important work.

Mountain Hiking in Molokai is a True Adventure

Mountain hiking in Molokai and Hawaii in general is like basically nowhere else in the United States. I hike hundreds of miles a year, in difficult desert terrain where people die every year. Despite that, even I found hiking in the mountains of Molokai to be extra difficult. Furthermore, there is lots of private land and sacred places in the mountains. And visitors need to be respectful of these spots.

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Mo’omomi Preserve: Beach Hiking in Molokai

When most people think about the beach, they usually envision themselves relaxing in the sand. Or at most, they see themselves walking along, picking up shells and enjoying the surf. Some of us, however, are just hikers through and through, and we can’t help but want to trek out further… even if that involves hiking through loads of… sand.

Point being, beach hiking isn’t for everyone. But beach hiking in Molokai, Hawaii, USA, is something that the hikers among you should consider. That’s because Molokai is home to Mo’omomi Preserve, where the Nature Conservancy is protecting this unique coastal environment.

 

Beach Hiking in Molokai, HI

Mo'omomi Preserve

(c) ABR 2019

Hawaii is known around the world for its beautiful, tropical beaches. Molokai is no exception; the island has many exceptional beaches where you can enjoy soft sand, the crystal, blue ocean, and be surrounded by the nature of Hawaii. Not all of them are tropical – including the beaches of Mo’omomi Preserve, but they are all representations of the ecosystems that make these islands unique. While beach hiking isn’t easy, I think this really special place is worth your time when you are on Molokai. Places like this have all but disappeared.

Experiencing the beach as a hiker is a different experience. It can still be relaxing, if you don’t have a mileage goal. But it can also be quite the physical challenge to trek across miles of sand. If you have ever hiked or ran in sand, you know and if you know, you know. But for those who haven’t tried it or been exposed to it by hiking in general, sand hiking is 2x as hard due to the sinkage. You will definitely be slower than you are used to being. Furthermore, most beaches lack shade, so if you aren’t used to hiking exposed, there is that added challenge.

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san diego hikes

Two Amazing San Diego Hikes: A National Monument and a Summit

There is a lot of great hiking in San Diego. So frankly, it can be hard to choose just one or two trails if you don’t have a ton of time. I’ve got you covered though with these two amazing San Diego hikes. The family-friendly Cabrillo National Monument trails cater to hikers of all levels. They offer history, seasonal whale watching, and a visitor center as well. For those of you looking for a workout, the Cowles Summit Trail is the place for you. The following guide will help you pick which trail is the best fit for you (or maybe you want to do both). And it will fill you in on what to expect and how to plan for each.

Read on to fit some nature into your San Diego vacation. Or if you are a local and haven’t been, maybe consider checking these spots out!

Cabrillo National Monument

A Brief History of the Park

san diego hikes

(c) ABR 2020

Cabrillo National Monument is home to several San Diego hikes. It has tide pools, land-based whale watching, as well as a wealth of historic heritage. The site was originally protected as the site of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first stepped foot onto the west coast of what we now call the United States. This made him the first European to visit this part of the world. And it signaled a wave of change that would come to the many indigenous peoples who called and still call this land home and have been stewarding it for thousands of years.

Cabrillo National Monument as it is now, is a wonderful attraction for families, but also has spaces for quiet contemplation of what these changes meant for the original Californians. If you would like to learn more about the historic and modern indigenous people associated with the land, I would suggest heading over to the Native Land Digital Map to learn more. You can also support tribes by donating, supporting their work with volunteer hours, and/or elevating their voices and stories.

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What to Do in Balboa Park on a Weekend Away in San Diego

Balboa park is really a cultural gem of San Diego, and no trip to this seaside city would be complete without a visit to this premier location. If you want to know about what to do in Balboa Park, here is a short list of what will be explored below. There are a variety of gardens, and museums of all kinds (some of them free). And on top of all that, Balboa is right next door to the San Diego Zoo, and walking distance from downtown. You could spend an entire weekend exploring this beautiful park, or you could visit different parts over time. Whatever the case, if you’ve never been and you are planning a visit to San Diego, don’t miss this special place. As I always say, it has a little bit of something for everybody.

what to do in Balboa Park

History of Balboa Park

what to do in Balboa Park

The land that Balboa Park now sits on is in the ancestral home of the Kumeyaay people, who have lived in the San Diego region for more than 10,000 years.

In 1868, post-colonization of the area, the land was designated a city park, but was not tended until Kate Sessions entered the scene in 1892. This amazing woman began planting 100 trees a year, and donating other plants in exchange for the use of some land as a nursery. Due to her tireless work and lasting impact on the place we know and love today, Kate is known as the “Mother of Balboa Park.”

More attention and investment was put to Balboa in preparation for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, at which time the park received the name it goes by today (replacing “City Park”). While much has changed in the park over time, many of the thematic ideas that we can still enjoy today were envisioned and developed at this time.

You can read more about the history of the park in Balboa Park History. 

What to Do in Balboa Park for a Weekend

what to do in Balboa Park

Inside the Botanical Building (c) ABR

If you really want to experience the park, you will need to spend at least an entire day, if not two. You could certainly spend more time in Balboa if you wanted to visit all the museums, and many elements of the park are fun to revisit.

On a nice fall or spring day, I would suggest spending the morning walking through the gardens (see below for some good options). Eat lunch at one of the park cafes or surrounding restaurants, and then go to one of the park’s many amazing museums for the afternoon.

When it is really hot in San Diego, you can also escape the heat in one of the many museums, while also getting some amazing views of the architecture and park.

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San Diego Tiki Bars and An Honest Review of Tiki Oasis

As the tiki folks who read my guide to Phoenix tiki bars know, I still have a lot to learn about the world of tiki. But we have really gotten into the scene (in my introverted way) since our first tiki bar out in Las Vegas. I’ve been to all the tiki bars in Arizona, visited tiki bars across the Midwest, started collecting signature tiki mugs… And we started our home bar with tiki recipe books. Needless to say, I really enjoy this corner of Americana. So, when we got vaccinated in the year of our Lord 2021, we wanted to celebrate with tickets to Tiki Oasis. It seemed like the biggest tiki celebration we’d probably ever have the chance to attend, and it was nestled among some of the amazing modern San Diego tiki bars. So, we made a weekend of it.

Whether you are considering Tiki Oasis in what I hope to be less strange years post-2021, or will be visiting San Diego in general and want to see the tiki sights, this little, honest guide is for you.

san diego tiki bars

The Wonderful World of San Diego Tiki Bars

San Diego is home to one of the oldest tiki restaurants still in operation in the US. It’s got the sun and sea for tiki. And its modern tiki bars are exceptionally fun.

For anyone looking to get into tiki or cross a few special places off of their tiki bucketlist, San Diego is a must-visit location. There is a tiki bar for everyone here.

Bali Hai

san diego tiki bars

(c) ABR 2021

The Bali Hai is a tiki classic, which opened all the way back in 1954. You can delve into the story of this historic restaurant on their website, but no tiki trip to San Diego tiki bars would be complete without a visit. At least, not if you’ve never been.

For as special as it is, the Bali Hai isn’t really what I would consider my jam when it comes to tiki. The restaurant is beautiful, and the views are unmatched, with its huge glass walls. But it’s really more of a classy place for date night than it is a fun-loving tiki place. The prices are higher, and the food is fancier. But it also lacks the immersion of other tiki restaurants/bars on this list. Also, while I think it is inarguable that tiki has questionable roots, there are some strong… inappropriate vibes when it comes to the Bali Hai signature tiki mug and the giant head that adorns the top of the building. I know it’s historic, but we didn’t even bother buying a mug because it just felt… a little too on the nose. I know people will have differing opinions than me on this in both directions when it comes to tiki, and I think all perspectives are legit. But for me, it was an additional element that just made Bali Hai one of my less favorite tiki spots in San Diego.

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