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.
- 1 The Muhammad Ali Center
- 2 Resumen Español
- 3 International Museum of the Horse
- 4 Abraham Lincoln’s Birth Place
- 5 Mammoth Caves National Park
- 6 More Kentucky Travel Guides
The Muhammad Ali Center
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.
All that being said, the Muhammad Ali Center was something that I really enjoyed visiting and learning from on my trip. So, if you fit my bill, this is a place that you should still check out. The museum has done a wonderful job creating an immersive learning environment. It also links Muhammad Ali’s story with the struggles of modern day as well, which is powerful from start to finish. It goes without saying that Muhammed Ali is one of Kentucky’s most famous folks, so he can’t be understated for his role in Kentucky history.
As you might expect, much of the museum focuses on the life and times of Muhammad Ali. As a visitor, you will gain insight into the world that he grew up in, and his story from childhood until his passing in 2016. Of course, there is plenty of focus on Ali’s world-class boxing abilities, but what pleasantly surprised me was its emphasis on his philosophy as well. It was really interesting to explore Ali’s spirituality and his perspective on the world throughout the museum.
As I mentioned above, there is also an emphasis on modern day as well. The final rooms of the museum showcase the winners of the Muhammed Ali Humanitarian Awards, as well as impactful art focused on issues of equality across the world stage.
Need to Know
The Muhammed Ali Center is located in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.
144 N. Sixth Street
Louisville, KY 40202 USA
Even if you aren’t big on famous people, sports, or museums, the Muhammed Ali Center is something you should consider. I am not a big museum go-er myself (I’m very picky about them!) but I really enjoyed this place and learned a whole lot. It’s immersive and amazingly well designed.
I’d say you need at least 2 hours to spend here if you are a fast museum explorer, and several hours if you like to take your time to read and watch everything. The museum is closed on Tuesdays, but otherwise costs $18 per adult to visit (2022). Learn more at their website: https://alicenter.org/
El Muhammed Ali Center es un museo para todos, y dice la historia del un hombre muy famoso en todo el mundo- Muhammed Ali. Tiene exhibiciones sobre su niñez, su vida adulta, y su filosofía. El museo esta cerrado los martes y un billete de adulto es $18 USD. Dirección: 144 N. Sixth Street
Louisville, KY 40202 USA
International Museum of the Horse
Kentucky is known for the world famous Kentucky Derby, which happens every year in early summer. Thus, the state has a rich history of horse riding and breeding. This is captured in the absolutely beautiful International Museum of the Horse which represents a unique slice of Kentucky history.
The museum covers the natural history of the horse, from their original evolution in the Great Plains of North America, through their extinction in their homeland, and then through time into their reintroduction to the Americas and beyond.
In conjunction with their natural history, the museum explores the relationship of horses and humans closely. This includes exhibits on related technology and various breeds. The museum features an entire section on the Arabian horse, and delves into the culture surrounding the initial creation of this breed. I really enjoyed exploring these elements of horse history and the museum did an amazing job with immersion here. Towards the end of your journey, they feature the history of the Kentucky Derby itself.
Along with the indoor portion of the museum, there is a beautiful outdoor section as well. There are vast, green rolling hills, and the iconic white fences. And alongside that are stables with different kinds of horse breeds to visit.
Need to Know
The International Museum of the Horse is in Lexington, Kentucky.
4089 Iron Works Pkwy, Lexington, KY 40511
This museum took me about 1.5 hours to explore, but I think you could spend half a day or more in the park. Sometimes there are shows, events, and rides to enhance your time here.
They are open every day from 9a-5p except for Mondays and Tuesdays, when they are closed. For up to date ticket prices, check the website.
El Museo Internacional del Caballos es un museo sobre los caballos. Tiene exhibiciones sobre el historia natural, y sobre la historia de los caballos y los humanos. Por supuesto, hay también partes del museo sobre el Kentucky Derby. Hay establos con muchos tipos de caballos también! El museo esta cerrado los lunes y los martes. Dirección: 4089 Iron Works Pkwy, Lexington, KY 40511
Abraham Lincoln’s Birth Place
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky? Because I didn’t. I thought he just lived his entire childhood in Illinois. Guess that shows you how little I know!
In any case, whether you knew Abraham Lincoln’s story better than me or not, there is a National Historic Park in Kentucky that is a spectacular commemoration of his childhood home in the wilds of Kentucky. In fact, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace is the first memorial that was ever built to Lincoln.
When you visit, start at the visitor center, and DO watch the video that they show. There is tons of good information on the park and stories about Abe’s life here. They cover the struggle of his parents during his early years, and bring to life the places of Lincoln’s young life.
After the visitor center, you can make your way up to the white marble memorial itself. The building will remind you of the more famous version in DC, with its huge columns and Grecian style. Walk around the back, and you can enter the enclosed building. Within is what some claimed to be the one-room cabin where Lincoln was born. Unfortunately, this isn’t really the truth, as the man who sold it as such was later proven wrong by testing on the wood of the cabin. However, it is still a very cool approximation. Definitely take some time to chat with any volunteers working up at the memorial. They will have some interesting stories to tell about the humble little wooden structure encased in the beautiful memorial.
After you are done there, be sure to head down to the spring at the base of the memorial. This little humble place is what brought life to the area and was used by Abe’s family back in the day. It is still beautiful and peaceful. In conjunction with the slice of Kentucky history, you can also do a bit of hiking in this area if you’d like.
Need to Know
Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace is in central Kentucky.
2995 Lincoln Farm Road
Hodgenville, KY 42748
There are no fees to enter! And the visitor center is open every day from 9a-5p.
This isn’t a huge park; so it look us maybe an hour to watch the film and walk around. We did not do the trails, however, so you could spend longer here.
El presidente mas famoso en los Estados Unidos es Abraham Lincoln (“Abe”). Y el nació en este lugar en Kentucky- un cabaña humilde en un bosque. Hoy es un monumento muy bonito con un edificio de mármol blanco. En el interior, hay un cabaña muy similar a la hogar del niño Abe Lincoln. Es abierto todos los días y es gratis. Dirección: 2995 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville, KY 42748
Mas informacion: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace
Mammoth Caves National Park
You might not generally think about a natural National Park as a historic attraction, but every landscape around us is full of history, geologic and human. Mammoth Cave National Park is no exception. And there is plenty of Kentucky history to explore here.
Touring Mammoth Cave National Park
I have an entire post on exploring the caves of Kentucky, which you can find here. Check that out for a more in-depth discussion of exploring Mammoth Cave as well as Kentucky’s other underground wonders.
In general, however, if you want a tour of Mammoth Cave, I would suggest getting a reservation online through the National Park website. If you don’t mind chancing it a little bit, you can also purchase tickets on site. However, there are many different tours and if you have your heart set on one in particular, I would definitely make sure that you have the spot before you head out to the park.
In my case, I did the Domes and Dripstones tour and absolutely loved it. The only things I would do different in the future is plan to spend longer in the park so I could do more tours, and maybe I would try to target a time/tour with less people on it.
Ancient Kentucky History of Mammoth Cave National Park
Again, you might be wondering what caves have to do with Kentucky history, and well, that goes all the way back to the formation of the land that we now know as Kentucky. Water and caves have been a major definer of the heart of this landscape since ancient times.
Up to 5,000 years ago, humans started exploring and using the caves. These ancient folks have been shown to have explored at least 19 miles of Mammoth Cave. There they mined minerals such as gypsum, although we are still not 100% sure what they did with this material. They also left behind both petroglyphs (carved) and pictographs (charcoal drawn), and we have found evidence of burials as well. You can learn a bit more about the ancient history of the caves at the National Park website (https://www.nps.gov/maca/learn/historyculture/native-americans.htm).
There were at least seven modern tribes that also used the caves, including the Cherokee, Shawnee, and Chickasaw peoples. The National Park is currently increasing its collaboration with these folks, particularly in consultation around the artifacts and deceased that are still discovered in Mammoth.
Post-Colonial Kentucky History of Mammoth Cave National Park
European colonists and descendants also found Mammoth Cave to be a place with a strong draw; it became a popular tourist spot in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Some of the earliest non-indigenous explorers included Stephen Bishop, who was an enslaved cave guide. In fact, Stephen Bishop drew one of the first detailed maps of the cave known today (read more – https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/exploring-the-worlds-longest-known-cave.htm).
Due to the popularity of the caves, local landowners seeking to make money off of cave tours, actually battled with one another. These Kentucky Cave Wars were physical, legal, and via intense marketing and the flurry centered around the already world-famous Mammoth Cave. Competing cave owners tried to get tourists to visit their locations, while also searching for back entrances to Mammoth Cave. In 1915, George Morrison did just this and struck it rich with the “New Entrance to Mammoth Cave” which can still be visited today on the Domes and Dripstones tour.
With the death of cave explorer Floyd Collins in 1925, the movement for a National Park at Mammoth Cave became stronger, which resulted in the formation of the park in 1941. Eventually, more and more caves were incorporated into the National Park, lessening the need for such intense competition. However, the struggle did not ended completely until the 1960s.
Por favor, hay mas información sobre Mammoth Cave y otros cuevas en mi post aquí – Las Cuevas de Kentucky.
More Kentucky Travel Guides
If you are looking for more things to do while in Kentucky, we have two Traveler’s Guides to the state. There is amazing hiking to suite all skill levels across the state, and we have a digest for some cool Hiking Spots in Kentucky. And if the spotlight on Mammoth Cave here got you thirsting to learn more about Caves in Kentucky, check out our post!
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