Nestled up against the hilly hips of the Appalachian Mountains, it’s no wonder Kentucky offers a thrilling spectacle of autumn hues each year. All across the Bluegrass State, you’ll find an array of different landscapes, parks, and types of forests. And many of these boast spectacular late-season foliage peaking during September, October, and November.
The tough part is picking just one place to go!
Read on for our roundup of the best spots to experience Kentucky fall foliage all around the state.
Best Places to See Western Kentucky Fall Foliage
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
When it comes to enjoying all things great outdoors in western Kentucky–and truly, across the state in general–you will be hard-pressed to find someplace better than Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.
This is a fantastic spot for biking, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, and exploration. And, a little surprise, with its many acres of forests, it’s also an amazing place to see a showcase of the best Kentucky fall foliage! Beginning in late September to early October, the tulip poplars, sumacs, maples, and black gum and sweetgum trees in this recreation area begin to transition to their fiery autumn hues.
If you are planning a trip to Land Between the Lakes to view this stunning display of Kentucky fall foliage, be sure to time your trip for an October timeframe. And consider making room in your schedule to enjoy the numerous recreations this National Recreation Area has to offer, as well.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Though Mammoth Cave National Park is best known for its over 300-mile cave system–the longest consecutive cave chain in the world, in fact–there’s just as much to enjoy aboveground at this national park.
The breathtaking cliffsides and steep hills throughout Mammoth Cave National Park absolutely pop in the autumn months! September, October, and November are arrayed in hues of red, orange, and yellow throughout this national park, where cool mornings give way to mild afternoons.
This is the perfect spot and ideal weather pattern to go on a hike to enjoy the Kentucky fall foliage at its best. You might even fit these hikes in between ventures down into the caves for a guided tour, a recreation that continues to hold great popularity at this time of year.
Best Places to See Central Kentucky Fall Foliage
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
Do you have your heart set on a true getaway experience when trekking out to see the Kentucky fall foliage? Then you will absolutely want to plan a trip to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in the heart of the Bluegrass State!
This state resort park has been dubbed the “Niagara of the South”, and for good reason. The stunning 125-foot wide waterfall and resulting water body and river for which it earned this title set the perfect backdrop to view Kentucky fall foliage at its finest. You can also hike the Heritage trail to Sunset Point for an absolutely mesmerizing view of the rolling hills blanketed in vivid autumn colors.
You should plan your trip to Cumberland Fall State Resort Park for the middle to end of October if your desire is to view some peak fall foliage. Luckily, arranging accommodations at any time of year here should be no trouble at all.
You can book one of the 51 rooms at the DuPont Lodge if you prefer the ultimate glamorous experience while viewing Kentucky fall foliage. You also have the option of reserving one of the 20 woodland rooms or 25 cottages within the state resort park. Or, if you prefer a more rustic camping experience, grab one of the 50 campsites in the state resort park campground.
Taylorsville Lake State Park
Do you dream of experiencing the splendor of Kentucky fall foliage but don’t have the desire to take a long trip outside of the urban purview to see it? Then consider making Taylorsville Lake State Park your destination for viewing Kentucky fall foliage!
Located just to the southwest of Louisville, Taylorsville, and the Taylorsville Lake State Park offer a fantastic semi-urban opportunity to view the majesty of Kentucky fall foliage just as if you were in the heart of the wilderness.
The best way to enjoy the beautiful fall colors at Taylorsville Lake State Park is on its many hiking trails. Two of the best are the Possum Ridge Trail and the Lake View Trail. You can also view the autumn hues from horseback, while kayaking, or even from a campsite.
Jefferson Memorial Forest
Thick woodland scenery and a stunning showcase of Kentucky fall foliage await every year at Jefferson Memorial Forest. This interurban memorial forest is an amazing and scenic location for viewing the Kentucky fall foliage annually…without having to travel too far from the heart of the city.
The autumn hues at Jefferson Memorial Forest are best seen on foot along the more than 50 miles of hiking and running trails within the forest. You can walk the two-mile Scenic Loop for a leisurely view of the fall foliage or strike out on another trail to experience these colors up close.
Best Places to See Eastern Kentucky Fall Foliage
Daniel Boone National Forest
Brimming with waterfalls, stone outcroppings, hiking paths, and a seemingly endless span of trees, it’s no wonder Daniel Boone National Forest is one of the most popular spots to view Kentucky fall foliage in the eastern portion of the state.
Daniel Boone National Forest swoops from the northeast to the south-central part of the Bluegrass State, encompassing numerous locations that are ideal for viewing the Kentucky fall foliage. Cumberland Fall State Resort Park is contained within this forest, as is the Red River Gorge.
You will find countless places to stay and perfect spots for sightseeing throughout the national forest. This is true whether you stay in the southern and central part of the forest or travel to the northeast toward places like the Mill Creek Wildlife Management Area, Natural Bridge State Resort Park, and others.
Big South Fork Scenic Railway
Are you on the hunt for a truly unique, unforgettable way to view Kentucky fall foliage? Forget scenic drives and hiking paths, then! With the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, you can take a train ride to view the stunning southern Kentucky mountains and their awe-inspiring autumn beauty.
Traveling at a leisurely 14 miles per hour, the Big South Fork Scenic Railway winds through the mountains and then trundles down 600 feet into the Big South Fork Gorge. Along the way, you will make a stop at the Blue Heron Mining Camp and learn about the history of coal mining in the United States.
The total trip to see the fall foliage, mines, and mountains via train takes about 3 hours, so bring some snacks and come prepared for a truly memorable fall foliage viewing experience.
Red River Gorge Geological Area
Whether you have an itch for a scenic drive to see the Kentucky fall foliage or you prefer seeing the trees up close on a hiking excursion, Red River Gorge Geological Area is the place for you!
This location is especially popular with hikers, who enjoy its countless trails and views of soaring cliffs, unique rock formations, and vaulting natural stone arches. These visuals truly pop against the incredible fall foliage of the peaking birches, bigleaf magnolias, and tulip poplars throughout the gorge.
Do you prefer to view the Kentucky fall foliage from the warmth and comfort of your car? You can still make the most of the unbeatable sights in the Red River Gorge area! Fill up your gas tank and head out on the Red River Gorge Byway, or take Zilpo Road. Both of these wind through the geological area, offering incredible views of the autumn hues it contains.
Kingdom Come State Park
An eastern Kentucky state park that truly lives up to its name, Kingdom Come State Park boasts paradise views at all times of the year. But in the autumn months, you are in for a particular treat with the fall foliage views this state park has to offer.
From this state park’s Creech Overlook and along its many hiking trails, you will be able to experience both the density as well as the vastness of Kentucky fall foliage at its best. Make sure you have sturdy boots and your camera at the ready because every mile you hike in Kingdom Come is likely to be a sight you want to capture and remember forever.
Things to Consider When Seeing Kentucky Fall Foliage
When to Plan Your Trip
Although many places in Kentucky vary in terms of the timing of their peak fall foliage, generally very late in September through late October and even sometimes into the beginning of November afford the best opportunities to see the autumn colors at their peak.
Numerous locations throughout the Bluegrass State offer camping opportunities well into the fall and even all year round! Spots like Cumberland Falls State Resort Park also have more comfortable indoor accommodations that can be reserved even in the cooler months of the year.
In several state parks, such as Kingdom Come State Park, you may also find dispersed, primitive camping for nominal fees throughout the park.
Wrapping up the Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Fall Foliage
Are you excited for your trip to view the Kentucky fall foliage at one of these stunning destinations across the Bluegrass State? Be sure to check out Best Apple Orchards in Kentucky and Best Pumpkin Patches in Kentucky for more seasonal activities in the beautiful Bluegrass State!
- About the Author
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Renee Dugan is a lifelong writer, professional editor, and lover of all things nature, gardening and the big outdoors.
A Midwest girl who’s been in the garden since she could first hold a hand trowel, Renee’s love of growing things has bloomed into a passion for healthy living, holistic lifestyle, and knowing where our food comes from.
Now a mother and maturing gardener herself, Renee is passionate about channeling everything she knows and continues to learn about gardening into lessons for her son and others. Her excitement for sharing this knowledge is only superseded by her excitement about being able to finally grow her own citrus plants in pots.
Renee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org