Established in 1924, Kentuckys state park system is the envy of many other states for its ability to preserve natural resources for the benefit of the commonwealths residents.
If you count Breaks Interstate Park, which it shares with Virginia, Kentucky has 53 parks, divided into State Resort Parks, State Recreation Parks and State Historic Sites.
Kentuckians could visit a different state park every week and still have one left over at the end of the year.
Here are four to get you started.
For more information on these and the rest of Kentuckys 49 other parks, visit Parks.ky.gov.
Carter Caves State Resort Park, Olive Hill, (606) 286-4411: If youre looking to spend a few relaxing days at a state resort park close to home, Carter Caves more than fills the bill; its less than a two-hour drive from Lexington on I-64.
Above ground, the resort is nestled in the beautiful forested hills of Carter County, but its mainly what is below ground that visitors come to see.
There are more than 20 caves at the park, although some have been closed temporarily to protect endangered bats. Two caves Cascade Cave, with its dazzling 30-foot underground waterfall, and X Cave, with spirals and pipes that have been forming for millions of years are open for tours year-round.
Its not just the caves that lure visitors. Other activities include guided canoe trips on Smokey Valley Lake; 26 miles of woodland nature trails for every level of hiker; the 10-mile, multi-use Kiser Hollow Trail, which is open to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians; a nine-hole golf course; and excellent fishing for bass, bluegill and catfish.
Overnight guests have their choice of accommodations in either the Lewis Caveland Lodge (28 rooms and 11 two-bedroom cottages) or a full-service campground (89 sites.)
Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park, London, (606) 330-2130: This recreation park, named for a Kentucky pioneer, incorporates a section of the Wilderness Road on which early settlers traveled to the commonwealth. Today, the park combines this history with the natural beauty of the area.
A family can find plenty to do within the parks 800 acres, as its features include a large camping area with a grocery store; a swimming pool; an 18-hole miniature golf course; and more than eight miles of trails, some of which follow the original course of the Wilderness Road.
The history surrounding the park, however, is what gives it its real importance. The area was the site of the worst massacre of pioneers in Kentucky history 24 settlers were slain by Indians in 1786, and a memorial to them is located here. Two buildings of note can also be visited: McHargues Mill, a working mill on the Little Laurel River where it intersects Boones Trace, and the Mountain Life Museum. Buildings from other sites in the state have been moved here to illustrate what an early pioneer settlement was like.
William Whitley House State Historic Site, Stanford, (606) 355-2881: This home, built by early settler William Whitley and his wife, Esther, and dubbed Sportsmans Hill, is deserving of its historic designation for several reasons.
Built in 1794, it is believed to be the first brick home west of the Allegheny Mountains, and it served as a gathering spot for prominent Kentuckians, including Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark. Because of the steady stream of early pioneers to the house, it became known as the Guardian of the Wilderness Road.
Almost as famous as the house was the racetrack Whitley erected on the property, where he held race meets every autumn. The track had several distinctions: it was the first to use clay rather than the more common turf; it was the first track laid out in circular fashion; and Whitley, to illustrate the anti-British sentiment of the time, had his horses run counterclockwise as opposed to the British manner of racing clockwise.
Tours of the house are available year-round (kids will be especially fascinated by the secret chamber for hiding in the event of an Indian attack), but by appointment only during the winter and early spring. The park grounds are open seasonally.
Green River Lake State Park, Campbellsville, (270) 465-8255: Kentucky may be a long way from the nearest ocean, but you would never know it here at this 1,331-acre park bordering an 8,200-acre lake. Primarily known as a mecca for boating and fishing you can rent everything from houseboats to ski boats (March to November) and fish for bass, crappie, muskie and bluegill Green River Lake Park has plenty to offer landlubbers as well.
Theres a pristine beach where there always seems to be a volleyball game in progress during the summer, an 18-hole miniature golf course and 28 miles of multiple-use trails.
And while there is no lodge in the park, there is a 157-site campground with all the necessary facilities, including restrooms, showers and a grocery.