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8 of the Most Overlooked Towns in Kentucky

by Staff

Known as the Bluegrass state, Kentucky is famous for the musical genre of the same name, the Kentucky Derby in May in Louisville and Bourbon Whiskey. Every year, hundreds of thousands descend on the state to bet on the Derby and sip Mint Juleps, another state staple. However, the Bluegrass state also hides many hidden small towns that are often overlooked by travelers. These towns offer hospitality, beautiful hiking trails, museums, and more. Here are eight overlooked small towns in Kentucky you should consider checking out.

Pikeville

Downtown Pikeville, Kentucky, located around the University of Pikeville. Editorial credit: CodyThane / Shutterstock.com

Tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains, Pikeville is a small town with just over 7,300 residents with a rich history. For one, the area was at the center of the infamous Hatfield and McCoy Feud, which you can learn about by taking the Hatfields and McCoy Feud Historic Driving Tour. Pikeville is a great place for a hike at the Jenny Wiley State Resort Park or The Dawkins Trail. A short drive away visitors have the opportunity to golf in the mountains at the StoneCrest Golf Course. In town, relax at The Landmark Hotel or the Hatfield-McCoy Lodge. For art appreciators, Pikeville is home to The Appalachian Center for the Arts, which hosts theater, music, visual arts, and more.

Berea

Fall at Berea College.
Fall at Berea College.

Home to the historic Berea College, founded in 1855, Berea has a reputation for learning and the arts. This charming Kentucky town is known as the Folks Arts & Crafts Capital of Kentucky for its many boutiques, handmade jewelry stores, and galleries such as the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen Galleries. Berea offers LearnShops to teach visitors and residents alike how to make folk art and crafts. Much like Pikeville, Berea is a great place to go hiking, especially The Pinnacles at the Berea College Forest, the John B. Stephenson Memorial Forest, and Anglin Falls. You can also consider staying at one of the area’s charming bed and breakfast locations, such as The Doctor’s Inn B&B.

Bardstown

Bardstwon, Kentucky, USA. Editorial credit: Ryan_hoel / Shutterstock.com
Bardstwon, Kentucky, USA. Editorial credit: Ryan_hoel / Shutterstock.com

With a population of 13,621, Bardstown maintains a small-town feel at less than an hour’s drive away from Louisville, which makes it a perfect place to go while you’re in the area for Derby. Bardstown is famous for being the Bourbon capital of the world and is located near many of the great distilleries such as Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Lux Row, and more on the world-famous Bourbon Trail. The town is also filled with historic buildings such as the Old Union Church, first established in 1812 and home to the Bardstown-Nelson County African-American Heritage Museum. For railway enthusiasts, the Kentucky Railway Museum is a must-visit as well.

Hodgenville

The first Lincoln Memorial building (1911) at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville, Kentucky.
The first Lincoln Memorial building (1911) at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

Hodgenville is one of the top places to visit for lovers of American history as it was the birthplace of one of America’s most influential presidents: Abraham Lincoln. You can learn more about the president by visiting the Lincoln Museum, which contains many artifacts and information about his life on the frontier, as well as the Lincoln Boyhood Home log cabin. You can also spend a day hiking at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. For quilting experts, Hodgenville provides the Quilt Trail, where you can see handcrafted quilts on barns and other structures in the area.

La Grange

La Grange, Kentucky. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Grange,_Kentucky By NearEMPTiness - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36827003
La Grange, Kentucky. In Wikipedia. By NearEMPTiness – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia

Located in Oldham County, directly to the east of Louisville, La Grange offers much-needed relaxation from the hustle and bustle of the big city. As a railway hub, it is home to the La Grange Railroad Museum, a great place to see historic trains. Take the Main Street Train through the quaint downtown area. Go for a hike at Wilborn Park or boating at the FRP La Grange Quarry. La Grange hosts both the Oldham County History Center and The Cheeky Museum of Contemporary Art + Culture. You can also experience a blast to the past by enjoying a movie at the Sauerbeck Family Drive-In.

Glasgow

Glasgow, Kentucky. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glasgow,_Kentucky By Ichabod - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31629280
Glasgow, Kentucky. In Wikipedia. By Ichabod – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

First established in the late 1700s and named by a Scottish immigrant, John Matthews, Glasgow is filled with historic places to visit, such as Fort Williams from the American Civil War and the Henry Clay Morrison Park, which holds the Morrison Park Camp Meeting from the early 1900s. There are a massive number of outdoor activities available in Glasgow, from trails at Barren River Lake State Resort Park to the Mammoth Cave National Park. See a show at the Historic Plaza Theater or at The Grove. For accommodations, consider renting a cabin at Skaggs Creek Lodge or Payne Farm Retreat.

Stearns

Big South Fork Scenic Railroad station in the historical coal mining town of Stearns, Kentucky, USA. Editorial credit: Shot Stalker / Shutterstock.com
Big South Fork Scenic Railroad station in the historical coal mining town of Stearns, Kentucky, USA. Editorial credit: Shot Stalker / Shutterstock.com

Stearns is known as Trail Town for its many trails which make for a great day of hiking and adventure. It is closeby to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Big South Fork itself is home to the National Arch Scenic Area, a beautiful view at nearly 45 feet high. For a less strenuous journey, consider riding the Big South Fork Scenic Railway for mountain-top views and information on logging and coal in the area. Also, consider visiting the McCreary County Museum to learn more about life in the Appalachian Mountains. This Kentucky small town is perfect for a weekend getaway with all of these natural attractions.

Slade

Skylift in Slade, KY, USA. Editorial credit: CiEll / Shutterstock.com
Skylift in Slade, KY, USA. Editorial credit: CiEll / Shutterstock.com

Slade is home to one of the best-kept secrets in Kentucky: the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. Part of the larger Red River Gorge, this park contains a natural sandstone arch that is 65-feet high and spans 78 feet, which you can walk on. For those who don’t want to make the climb, you can take a skylift instead or enjoy gem mining at the area’s Nature Center. The Red River Gorge offers many other walking trails and climbing opportunities as well, or you can learn more about reptiles by visiting the Kentucky Reptile Zoo. For thrill-seekers, Thrillsville Adventure Park provides 100 ariel ropes courses through the trees, and Red River Ziplines provides seven ziplines.

Kentucky has many hidden gems just waiting to be explored. From caves to forests to mountains, these small towns are filled with natural beauty. That beauty also expresses itself in local art, from quilts to folk art, and you can experience it at museums or learn how to make it yourself. This year, don’t just settle for the Derby; add these overlooked small towns in the Bluegrass state to your travel plans.

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