Article Summary: National Parks Near Lexington
National Parks near Lexington. There’s so much more to the Bluegrass State than the Kentucky Derby.
In this article, we’ll familiarize you with the incredible national parks that are within a day’s drive of downtown Lexington.
There are 6 national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Blue Grass State.
The region is famed for its horse breeding, and Lexington claims the title of “horse capital of the world.” The horse paddocks enclosed by white fences are common sights.
Besides the many equestrian-related things to do, Lexington is filled with numerous historical, natural, and cultural attractions to explore.
And let’s not forget about those amazing national parks that are a day’s drive (or less) from the city.
So, What Is A National Park?
We get asked that question a lot because there’s a difference between a “national park” and a “national park site.” To help you understand that difference you might want to check out our article titled: What Is A National Park Really?
If you’re planning a trip to the Lexington area then one book that I highly recommend is: Greater Than a Tourist-Kentucky USA: 50 Travel Tips from a Local by Hypha Fries.
Now let’s go ahead with 6 reasons why you’ll want to hop in your car and make a day’s drive from Lexington to one of these truly amazing places.
Table of Contents: National Parks Near Lexington
National Parks Near Lexington
- Best National Parks Near Lexington
- More National Parks Near Lexington
- National Parks Near Lexington FAQ
- Meet The Parks Brothers
- Map Of National Parks Near Lexington
- We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Best National Parks Near Lexington
1. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace & National Historical Park
Distance From Lexington: One hour & 28 minutes via KY=9002 W & US-31 E S.
In 2021, C-SPAN asked a group of distinguished presidential historians to rank our nation’s presidents from worst to best. At the top of their list, with a total score of 897 points, was Abraham Lincoln. George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt came in second and third respectively.
Why is Abraham Lincoln ranked as the greatest president of all time? Simply put, he saved the Union. In the process of saving the nation, Lincoln managed to define the creation of a more perfect Union in terms of liberty and economic equality that rallied the citizenry behind him.
As the National Park Service notes, “His early life on Kentucky’s frontier shaped his character and prepared him to lead the nation through Civil War. The country’s first memorial to Lincoln, built with donations from young and old, enshrines the symbolic birthplace cabin.”
Highlights At Lincoln’s Birthplace
The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace & National Historical Park marks the birthplace of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The park was established in 1916 and is one of the oldest National Parks in the United States.
Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin on this site in 1809, and the park was established to commemorate his life and legacy. The original log cabin was dismantled and moved to different locations over the years, but a replica of the cabin was built on its original site in 1909.
In addition to the replica cabin, the park features several other historic structures and monuments, including the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home Memorial, which marks the site of the family’s home in Indiana, and the Memorial Building, which houses exhibits and artifacts related to Lincoln’s life and presidency.
Visitors can also explore the park’s extensive grounds, which feature several trails and picnic areas.
2. Big South Fork National River & Recreational Area
Distance From Lexington: Two hours & 50 minutes via I-75 S.
The Big South Fork National River & Recreational Area is a protected area located in Tennessee and Kentucky. It was established in 1974 to preserve the natural beauty and cultural resources of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its surrounding areas.
The park covers over 125,000 acres and offers a wide range of recreational activities, including hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, and horseback riding. It is known for its rugged terrain, scenic gorges, and abundant wildlife, including species such as black bears, white-tailed deer, and various species of birds and reptiles.
There’s Over 300 Miles Of Hiking Trails
Visitors to the park can explore over 300 miles of hiking trails, including the John Muir and Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trails, and can also take guided horseback rides through the park’s backcountry.
The park also features several campgrounds and picnic areas, as well as opportunities for fishing and boating in the Cumberland River and its tributaries.
In addition to its natural beauty, the Big South Fork National River & Recreational Area also preserves the cultural heritage of the region, including historic sites such as the Blue Heron Mining Community and the Bandy Creek Historic District.
These sites provide a window into the lives of the people who lived and worked in the area over the past several centuries.
3. Camp Nelson National Monument
Distance From Lexington: 30 minutes via Nicholasville Rd. & US-27 S.
Camp Nelson National Monument commemorates the role of Camp Nelson in the American Civil War and the history of African American soldiers and refugees. The site was established as a National Monument in 2018.
Camp Nelson was established in 1863 as a Union supply depot and training center during the Civil War. It also served as a major recruitment and training center for African American soldiers, and was one of the largest sites for African American recruitment and training in the country. The camp was also a center for refugees, including women and children seeking refuge and freedom behind Union lines.
The site features several restored buildings, including the Commissary Storehouse, the Powder Magazine, and the hospital complex, as well as interpretive exhibits that explore the history of the camp and its role in the Civil War. Visitors can also explore the camp’s historic earthworks, including the original fortifications and rifle pits, and take guided tours of the site.
In addition to its military history, Camp Nelson National Monument is also significant for its role in the broader history of African Americans and their struggle for freedom and equality. The site serves as a powerful reminder of the contributions of African American soldiers and refugees during the Civil War, and provides a unique opportunity to learn about this important chapter in American history.
Check Out: 10 BEST Civil War Sites In America
Things To Do & See At Camp Nelson
There are museum exhibits and a short film. The visitor center provides an orientation to the historic events that unfolded at Camp Nelson.
Objects on display provide a window into the role Camp Nelson played during its height as a military installation, supply depot, hospital, recruitment center, and refugee camp.
While there, visitors can also see the Oliver Perry “White” House. It’s an original home built in the mid-1850s that was used as Officer Quarters while the property was part of Camp Nelson (1863-1866).
There’s also a reconstructed barracks depicting camp life for the thousands of Federal soldiers stationed at Camp Nelson. It includes a meeting space and small library and is open to the public for guided tours on a limited basis.
While you’re there, you should also visit the Hall Community. It symbolizes the efforts to assist African American refugees as they struggled to begin a new life. There is a small church there which was built in 1912. The church was named in honor of John Fee who dedicated his life to creating educational opportunities for African Americans.
More National Parks Near Lexington
4. Fort Donelson National Battlefield
Distance From Lexington: Three hours & 54 minutes via KY-9002 W & Western Kentucky Pkwy.
Fort Donelson National Battlefield is a historic site located in Dover, Tennessee that commemorates the Battle of Fort Donelson, which took place during the American Civil War. The site was established as a National Battlefield in 1928.
The Battle of Fort Donelson was fought in February 1862 and was one of the first major Union victories of the Civil War. Union forces, under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant, captured the Confederate fort, which controlled the Cumberland River and was considered a key strategic location. The victory at Fort Donelson was a turning point in the war and helped secure control of Tennessee and the Mississippi River for the Union.
The Fort Donelson National Battlefield preserves the site of the battle and several key historic structures, including the Confederate earthworks and the original Fort Donelson National Cemetery.
Visitors can explore the site on foot, take guided tours, and view interpretive exhibits that explore the history of the battle and its significance in the broader context of the Civil War.
Things To See & Do At Fort Donelson
Located along the beautiful banks of the Cumberland River, the Fort Donelson National Battlefield is a wonderful place to visit.
You can drive the actual battlefield grounds. First, however, I would recommend a trip to the visitor center. There’s a great park film that helps you understand the battle and why Fort Donelson was so important for the Union forces.
The park has a 6-mile trail with 11 stops. It’s a self-guided driving tour that takes you through battlefield sites, the spot where Union soldiers camped for the night before the surrender, and into the small town of Dover.
There you can see the historic Dover Hotel. It’s the site where Ulysses S. Grant accepted the Confederate surrender of the Fort from his old friend Simon B. Buckner.
While you’re there, you may also want to visit the Fort Donelson National Cemetery. The names of the soldiers interred in the Fort Donelson National Cemetery have been compiled from original cemetery records.
Check Out: 15 AMAZING Tennessee National Parks Worth Visiting
5. Mammoth Cave National Park
Distance From Lexington: One hour & 54 minutes via KY-9002 W & I-65 S.
Mammoth Cave National Park is known for its extensive underground cave system, the longest known cave system in the world. The park was established as a National Park in 1941 and was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981.
Mammoth Cave is a complex labyrinth of underground passages that stretch over 400 miles, offering a unique and fascinating underground world to explore. Visitors can take guided tours of the cave, ranging from short introductory walks to longer, more strenuous expeditions, to explore its stunning formations, subterranean streams, and diverse array of cave life.
In addition to its caves, Mammoth Cave National Park also offers a diverse range of outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing. The park is home to a wide range of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, turkeys, and numerous species of bats and birds, and is also known for its diverse forest and prairie ecosystems.
The park also preserves a rich cultural heritage, including the historic Mammoth Cave Hotel, the remains of early saltpeter mining operations, and several sites associated with the early exploration and development of the cave system.
Mammoth Is More Than Just Caves
If you enjoy hiking or biking then you’re in luck when visiting this Kentucky national park. A portion of the path of the former Mammoth Cave Railroad has been converted into a 9-mile hike and bike trail.
This trail can be accessed from Park City, Kentucky, at several points along Mammoth Cave Parkway, and also at the park’s visitor center area. Along the trail, you can stop at historic sites, interpretive waysides, and scenic overlooks.
The Big Hollow Trail Loop Trails and Connector Trail offer over 10 miles of single track mountain bike trail that winds through dense woodlands and rocky outcroppings. The trail can be accessed from the trailhead within Maple Springs Campground.
6. Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument
Distance From Lexington: One hour & 30 minutes via I-75 S.
The Battle of Mill Springs was a Union victory early in the Civil War. The battle took place on January 19, 1862. Confederate General Felix K. Zollicoffer was killed when he mistakenly approached a Union officer thinking it was one of his own men.
The death of the their commander coupled with intense Union volleys of gunfire quickly demoralized the Confederate forces. They subsequently retreated into Tennessee.
The Union victory led to the total collapse of the eastern sector of the Confederate defensive line established to defend the Upper South. This, in turn, helped to solidify the Union’s control of what was a pivotal border state in the conflict.
Things To Do At Mill Spring
There’s a wonderful Mill Springs Visitor Center which features a 20-minute film about the Battle of Mill Springs. Visitors will find a museum with many fascinating exhibits which provide a greater understanding of the battle’s combatants and its impact on the war.
Regarding the battlefield itself, much of the battlefield can be seen from public roadways. The Mill Springs Battlefield Association developed a 10-stop Driving Tour, which begins at the Visitor Center.
If you’re looking to stretch your legs then I recommend Zollicoffer Park. The park is named for the Confederate general who died there.
You may also want to tour the Brown-Lanier House. It’s an antebellum home built before the Civil War. The home housed the families that operated the nearby grist mill.
National Parks Near Lexington FAQ
Six Kentucky national parks offer adventures of historic proportions. Kentucky’s most visited NPS property is Mammoth Cave National Park, the largest known cave system in the world.
It’s the longest known cave system in the U.S. and even the world’s longest cave system, with more than 400 miles explored. Located in central Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, meaning this cave is of world importance.
Why Trust Us About National Parks Near Lexington?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
Map Of National Parks Near Lexington
List Of National Parks Near Lexington
- Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
- Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area
- Camp Nelson National Monument
- Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument
We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are.If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!
Leave a Reply