The Ultimate Kentucky Summer Bucket List
This summer, while finishing renovations to our home, Ev and I have talked about how we’re going to travel and keep exploring. While we need to stay closer to home to get projects done, it’s really not feasible to run all over the country! With that in mind, becoming a tourist in our own state is probably our favorite way to keep our adventurous spirits up! Ev and I have lived in Kentucky for three years now, and we still haven’t seen all there is to offer. After we smashed our Spring Kentucky Bucket List, here is our Summer Kentucky Bucket List!
A FEW MORE KENTUCKY POSTS:
Best Summer Festivals In Kentucky
Summer is our biggest festival season and Kentucky summers wouldn’t be the same without beer, corndogs, food trucks, and music. There are three kinds of festivals to add to your summer bucket list in Kentucky. You have your music festivals, your food festivals, and your cultural festivals – and sometimes they’re a little bit of all three!!
Culture & Food Fests
The best way to explore any culture is by experiencing their art & food. You can try to tell us otherwise – but you’d be wrong. (Just kidding! Sort of…) Almost every different culture we’ve visited surrounds their most cherished events with ‘traditional foods’ – and Kentucky is the same!!!
- Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival (Louisville): High on everyone’s summer bucket list no matter where you live is a BBQ. There is just something about good beer, BBQ, and popsicles that screams summa’ time! Thankfully the Blues, Brews & BBQ festival in Louisville takes care of those things – and you don’t have to do any dishes later. Thousands of people gather to experience a perfectly chill weekend listening to Memphis-style Blues music! Sponsored by Four Roses Bourbon, Hendrick’s Gin, and Sailor Jerry Rum (to name a few) – you know it’ll be a good time!
When: Typically at the end of June
Where: Held at the historic Water Tower Park
- Kentucky Highlands Rennaisance Festival: Probably the most eclectic find in Kentucky for summer bucket list ideas is the Highlands Rennaissance Festival. For the past 16 years, Kentuckians have come together in Eminence, Kentucky to celebrate the European heritage of many of Kentucky’s first settlers. Complete with knights in full garb, jousting tournaments, merchants selling renaissance style goods, Celtic bagpipers, and dramatic Viking drummers – you have 6 weekends to stop at the Renaissance Festival!
When: Every weekend from early June to Mid July (June 5th-July 18th in 2021)
Where: 955 Elm St., Eminence, Kentucky 40019
- Kentucky Shakespeare Festival: Held every year in Central Park – the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is a free live-production theater event! The Kentucky Shakespeare company also runs the Shakespeare In The Parks Tour across Kentucky!
When: Typically in July and August
Where: Central Park – 1340 S 4th St, Louisville, Kentucky 40208
The state fair is the biggest festival in Kentucky, people from all over Kentucky for livestock shows, craft shows, carnival rides, local band performances, and tons of carnival food and craft food!!
When: Always the third weekend in August
Where: Kentucky Expo Center
- World Championship Horse Show: Held at the Kentucky Expo Center at the same time as the KY State Fair, this horse show brings visitors from all over the world – and $1 million dollars in prizes are awarded!! There are three different types of competitions: Saddlebreds, Hackney Poneys, and Road Horses.
A Few More Festivals Around Kentucky This Summer
Besides the major festivals, there are a few more to add to your summer bucket list throughout Kentucky!
P.S. Did you know Kentucky is the home of the first commercial winery in the United States?
- Jane Austin Festival: Celebrating.. you guessed it… Jane Austin’s books! A pretty popular event at the Locust Grove Historic Home in Louisville.
When: Second Saturday in July Typically
- Louisville Greek Fest: A colorful weekend celebrating Greek culture and Greek food!
When: Typically in June!
- Twin Lakes National Fiddle Festival: If you’ve never heard a fiddler play – it’s truly spectacular to see the level of raw talent these musicians possess!
When: 3rd Week of July
- Taste of Newport: A mix of local food, craft breweries, and multiple bands across Newport’s downtown!
When: The first weekend in June
- Kentucky Craft Beer Festival: A huge festival in Elizabethtown, put on by Flywheel Brewery in E-town. Raffle prizes include a bottle of Rip van Winkle Bourbon. (Super rare and expensive!)
- The Kentucky Wine & Vine Fest: Held in Jessamine counties historic wine country, at the USA’s first commercial winery from 1799!!
***Make sure to check all festival websites before planning a trip due to Covid-19 cancellations.
Kentucky Summer Music Festivals
There are three major music festivals in Kentucky to add to your summer bucket list!
- Forecastle Festival (Louisville): Our favorite music festival in Kentucky! We got to see Chris Stapleton a few years ago and it was epic!! A conglomeration of indie and country music, this festival has so many bands you’ll want to see. Lenny Kravtiz, Jack Johnson, Cage The Elephant, The Killers, and The Avett Brothers have all performed at Forecastle Fest. Make sure to grab a selfie in front of the Forecastle Mural!
The festival used to be in the dead of the summer, but now it’s been moved to Memorial Day Weekend (the last weekend in May). Moving it to the beginning of summer makes Forescastle Fest the perfect ‘teenage summer bucket list’ dream kick-off for the best season of the year. Tell us that you don’t still feel a little reminiscent of every time the school year ended and all of the endless summer possibilities?
When: Moving to Memorial Day Weekend
Where: Waterfront Park
- ROMP Fest (Owensboro): The biggest Bluegrass music festival of the year!! See our post for a full guide on what to do in Owensboro!!
When: Late June
Where: Yellow Creek Park
- Railbird Festival (Lexington): Along with some of the best country music concerts in the state, Railbird Festival is also famous for the release of specialty bourbon barrels!
When: Late August
Weekly Music Festivals:
- Waterfront Wednesdays (Louisville)
- Friday After 5 (Owensboro)
- Shaker Village Music on The Lawn: Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30 (Historic Plantation!)
Besides weekly music festivals, there are also once a year smaller music festivals celebrating Bluegrass Music’s heritage in Kentucky.
- Lexington Lion’s Club Bluegrass Fair: A 59-year-old tradition with more than 100 carnival rides!!
When: 2nd weekend in June
- Festival of The Bluegrass (KY Horse Park outside of Lexington) – A celebration of Appalachian culture and bluegrass music. Artists like The Local Honeys perform a variety of sets against the backdrop of horses and our stunning sunsets!!
In Kentucky, we’re known for our UK basketball, but sadly they don’t play all year long. Teams you’ll find fun watching in the summer are Louisville’s Minor League Baseball team and our professional soccer team. It’s a must to add sporting events to your summer bucket list, and both of these stadiums offer plenty of enjoyable shady spots to escape the heat!
- Louisville Bats: Since we’re both from Kentucky, heading to a Louisville Bats game is something we’ve done since we were kids. Funny story: One year, Shelb’s little brother Griffin (pictured above) ran out on top of the dugout and started dancing!!! He was only about five years old but so hilarious! The thing we love the most about Kentucky Bats games is that a couple of times a year they let you bring your dog!! See the schedule here.
Stadium Address: 401 E Main St, Louisville, Kentucky 40202
- Louisville City FC – Louisville’s first professional soccer league! With a brand new stadium, the games last from early spring to late fall – giving you and your peeps ample opportunity to catch a game. The Lynn Family Stadium is the largest dedicated soccer stadium in the Southeast of the US, and able to seat over eleven thousand fans!! And quite a few seats are covered to keep you out of the sun!
Stadium Address: 350 Adams St, Louisville, Kentucky 40206
P.S. Did you know Louisville is one of the country’s top producers of wooden baseball bats? Over five thousand are produced a day at Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory!!
If you’re into baseball and looking for another way to beat the heat – consider taking a tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory before you head to a Louisville Bats game!
Best Distilleries & Breweries To Visit In The Summer
There is nothing better than a crisp adult beverage on a hot summer day. Imagine yourself a little sunburnt, sitting on a patio somewhere enjoying the sun go down on a perfect breezy summer night? Here are our favorite breweries and distilleries to add to your summer bucket list in Kentucky.
- Flywheel Brewing – A new brewery in Elizabethtown! This up-and-coming little town’s new brewery is the perfect spot to stop after hiking Tioga Falls!!
Address: 218 S Mulberry St Suite 103, Elizabethtown, Kentucky 42701
- Ten 20 Brewing – A huge patio in Louisville and a ton of space inside if you’re looking to escape the heat!
Address: 1020 E Washington St, Louisville, Kentucky 40206
- Hofbrauhaus Newport Brewing & Restaurant – A stunning and enormous beer garden in Newport Kentucky!
Address: 200 3rd St, Newport, Kentucky 41071
- 3rd Turn Brewing – They have an incredible patio built adjacent to a repurposed church! The stained glass windows are stunning!
Address: 10408 Watterson Trail, Louisville, Kentucky 40299
Best Summer Stops On The Kentucky Bourbon Trail
If you’re trying to accomplish the entire Kentucky Bourbon Trail – you’re going to want to split up the distilleries. Believe it or not, there is a method to the madness. Just about every Kentuckian can tell you when you should go to their favorite distillery! (Along with naming one too many random facts about bourbon that no one outside the state will probably know!)
We’ve divided up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail by which ones are best for what season! When putting together ideas for your summer bucket list – these are the prettiest distilleries throughout the summertime!
- Woodford Distillery: One of the prettiest distilleries in Kentucky but also one of the most scenic drives in Kentucky to get there! Tours include sections of their lush grounds that have belonged to Woodford Distillery since 1812. This distillery is now a registered National Historic Landmark!
Address: 7785 McCracken Pike, Versailles, Kentucky 40383
- Stitzel Weller Distillery: Truly a gem in the Kentucky bourbon scene – the history of the Stitzel Weller distillery goes beyond your typical bourbon and whiskey distilleries, including being the distillery started by Julian’Pappy’ Van Winkle.
Address: 3860 Fitzgerald Rd, Shively, Kentucky 40216
- Green River Distilling: The farthest west point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and a perfect bucket list stop this summer in Owensboro!
Address: 10 Distillery Rd, Owensboro, Kentucky 42301
All of these distilleries have pretty grounds and refreshing drinks perfect for a relaxing day during Kentucky summers. If you’re looking to do more than one tour – we highly recommend booking your tours as in advance as possible because they do fill up!
Best Kentucky Hikes in The Summer
Did you know that Kentucky has 6 National Parks 10 State Forests? With over 50,000 acres of public land available for hiking, these are our favorite places to hike in Kentucky during the summer.
- Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area: One of the 6 National Parks in Kentucky, there are so many gorgeous areas to explore this summer. Hikers, rock climbers, horseback riders, and kayakers come from all over the state to experience the beauty of the rushing water through Big South Fork, and we’ve loved every trail we’ve hiked there!
Get our guide here for the best waterfalls on the Kentucky side in Big South Fork National Park!
- Cumberland Falls State Park: There are many beautiful trails in this area of Kentucky, but perhaps the most spectacular trail are the ones that allow you to see the moonbow. For a chance to see the moonbow, Cumberland Falls State Park is open 24 hours to allow hikers to catch a glimpse around the full moon. If you’re looking for Since you’ll be going at night – this would be an incredible experience to add to your summer bucket list ideas! The moonbow is a rare occurrence that only happens in a few places in the world!
- Red River Gorge Geological Area: Our favorite hiking region in Daniel Boone National Forest! If you’ve heard of it, Red River Gorge is the premier rock climbing spot on the East Coast and home to the biggest natural arch bridge on the East Coast. **Grab The Hinterlands 2020: Unofficial Hiking In Kentucky’s Red River Gorge to get the most out of your Red River Gorge trip!!!
Address to the Natural Bridge Trailhead: 2135 Natural Bridge Rd., Slade, KY 40376
The prettiest wetlands area in Kentucky is in John James Audubon State Park. There are 6 major trails and 2 really Instagram-worthy ones that will make you feel like you’re in the marshes of Louisiana! Add these walks along the Kentucky wetlands to your summer bucket list ideas!
- Wilderness Lake Trail – 1.9 miles around the lake with plenty of rest stops along the way.
- State Park Loop – Walking the entire nature preserve in one loop.
- Audubon Boardwalk – Only a quarter-mile long – this would be an amazing spot to catch a Kentucky sunset!
Address: 3100 US Hwy 41Henderson, KY 42420
A Few More Fun Summer Hikes in Kentucky:
- Fairmount Falls in Louisville – Only accessible to three cars a day!
- Tioga Falls – The most photographed waterfall near Fort Knox!
- Cove Springs Park: One of the most beautiful nature preserves in the state, Cove Springs Park of Frankfort is a stunning half-day trip. Walk amongst wildflowers along three miles of trails and you’ll also get to see a few stunning waterfalls!
Address: 100 Cove Spring Rd, Frankfort, KY 40601
Where To Go Swimming In Kentucky This Summer
When you’re struggling to come up with summer bucket list ideas, start thinking about how you’re going to cool off from our oppressive summer heat. Some of the most fun things to do in Kentucky during the summer begin with heading to the water. Kentucky has gorgeous swimming holes, six stunning lakes, and plenty of rivers to go kayaking when you’re ready to fully kick back and relax.
- Go Swimming In A Rock Quarry: The Falling Rock Park – LaGrange Quarry is an awesome spot to go for a dip! You have to buy tickets in advance and no alcohol is allowed – but you’ll have a great time floating!
- Where To Go Kayaking in Kentucky: Go kayaking at Floyds Fork, Green River, the Kentucky River, and Elkhorn Creek.
- Pennyrile Forest State Park: The water really is that blue! One of Kentucky’s hidden gems is the Pennyrile Forest State Park Beach. With white sands and tons of hiking trails, you could spend the whole weekend in this Kentucky State Park!
Address: 20781 Pennyrile Lodge Rd., Dawson Springs, KY 42408
One of the most popular Kentucky Lakes is Lake Cumberland in South Central Kentucky. This area has a ton of waterfalls on stunning hiking trails, and when you’re done – you’ll be able to cool off in the lake!
- Eagle Falls at Cumberland Falls State Park: If you’ve added the Cumberland Falls moonbow to your summer bucket list – you need to add the Eagle Falls hike to your daytime itinerary.
Address: Old Cumberland Falls Rd, Parkers Lake, KY 42634
- Lake Cumberland Raft Up – Typically in August, the Lake Cumberland Raft-Up holds the Guinness World Record for the largest number of boats tied together simultaneously. Beyond just a ridiculously long string of boats, around the bend for Conley Bottom on the South Shore of Lake Cumberland, you’ll find people floating, loud music, water skiers, and all manner of lake day fun!! We consider this one of the better summer bucket list ideas – especially if you’ve never been before! You’ll have a great time and the water at Cumberland lake is PRISTINE!
*No need to have your own boat either, you can rent one from the State Dock. For boat rentals, including houseboats, click here.
When: Typically the beginning of August
Where: Lake Cumberland (South Central Kentucky)
- Paddle Up To Cumberland Falls and take in the waterfall from the base of the falls!
More Kentucky Summer Bucket List Ideas
If you haven’t gotten enough of Kentucky after visiting distilleries, hiking, swimming, and festivals – here are a few more low-key things to enjoy!
- Get A Popsicle from Steel City Pops – The most deliciously fruity, gluten-free, organically, refreshing popsicles in all the land and absolutely necessary on a hot summer day. (Multiple locations around the state.)
- Sauerbeck Family Drive-In – If you need a date night or to fulfill those teenage summer bucket list dreams – you need to go to a drive-in movie!
Address: 3210 D.W. Griffith Lane, LaGrange, Kentucky 40031
- Louisville Mega Cavern: Another cave-like escape from the heat and close to Louisville! Underground walking tours, riding tours, zip-lining, and dino safaris.
Address: 1841 Taylor Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky 40213
- Take In A Sunset At Lighthouse Landing: Some of our prettiest lakes are in the Western portion of Kentucky: The Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Both of these lakes are amazing for summer water activities like skiing, boating, and tubing – but a hidden gem is Lighthouse Landing. Located on this marina and resort property is a public lighthouse where you can catch an incredible sunset!
Address: 320 W Commerce Ave, Grand Rivers, Kentucky 42045
- Underground River Tour at RRG – In Red River Gorge, take a 1-hour paddleboarding trip through the lit-up underground river tunnels of Daniel Boone National Forest.
Mammoth Cave & Cave City
You could spend an entire weekend doing all that Cave City and Bowling Green have to offer explorers!
- Mammoth Cave: We think this one just speaks for itself? It’s pretty cool no matter how many times you see it, and a total escape from the heavy Kentucky summer weather. Not to mention that Mammoth Cave is one of only 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites!!
Address: 1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky 42259
- Lost River Cave Underground River Boat Tours – One of the best things about this tour is that you don’t have to do any work! If the underground River Tour at Red River Gorge is too much – this boat tour at Lost River Cave is an excellent way to escape the heat and relax. (Would also be good for anyone who couldn’t handle walking Mammoth Cave – but still wanted a Mammoth Cave-like experience.)
Address: 2818 Nashville Rd, Bowling Green, Kentucky 42101
If you’ve enjoyed this post, make sure to snag your DEET-Free bug spray, your waterfall hiking gear, and save this post for later! (Or share it with your friends and totally make it a competition?) No matter what – just enjoy yourself while checking things off your Kentucky Summer Bucket List!
Make sure to snag all of your road trip basics (below) and have fun jamming to a new playlist!
Until next time friends,