Kentucky has one of the most diverse landscapes in the U.S. The state is home to the mountains of Appalachia, boasts the world’s longest cave system, and is surrounded by rivers on three sides that form the state’s borders. With more than 40 state and national parks, Kentucky is a dream destination for outdoor enthusiasts. If you’re looking to get away from the city crowds and reconnect with nature, consider pitching a tent and spending a few days at one of the best camping spots in Kentucky.
The Red River Gorge Geological Area is 45-square-mile sprawling system of canyons that’s contained mostly within the Daniel Boone National Forest. It’s a popular destination for rock climbers because of its many sandstone cliffs, and the area is home to more than 100 sandstone arches and many natural bridges. Numerous camping opportunities are available within Red River Gorge, including cabins, campgrounds, and RV parks, and backcountry camping is allowed in many areas for overnight hikers.
On the border of western Kentucky and Tennessee, you’ll find the Land Between the Lakes, a massive inland peninsula formed by the Kentucky and Barkley Lakes. Land Between the Lakes boasts more than 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline and 170,000 acres of forests and open lands that offer numerous wildlife viewing opportunities. Camping opportunities at Land Between the Lakes include cabins, campgrounds, and RV parks, and backcountry camping is allowed anywhere in the area with a permit.
The Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky is an immense rugged forest area of more than 700,000 acres that spans 21 counties in the state. The massive forest encompasses some of the biggest natural attractions in the state, including Red River Gorge, Cumberland Falls, and the Clifty Wilderness. Packers can pick a specific area of the park that interests them for cabin, campground, or RV camping, or they can backpack through the park and camp overnight in many areas that allow backcountry camping.
Mammoth Cave National Park in south-central Kentucky, boasts the world’s longest known cave system and is one of the oldest tourist attractions in the U.S. While the main attraction at Mammoth Cave is the park’s massive cave, camping at the park is also popular for people who want to take multiple tours of the cave across several days. Mammoth Cave has more than 100 campsites, many of which offer amenities like bathrooms and running water, and RV camping and hookups are also available.
The Rough River Dam State Resort Park in Falls of Rough, Kentucky, is a popular spot for camping, fishing, and water recreation. The park features a 1,500-foot long dam that was built in the mid-1900s to prevent flooding in the Ohio River Valley, and the process of building the dam created the 5,000-acre Rough River Lake that is the park’s main draw. Campgrounds are available for both primitive and amenity camping, and RV hookups are provided on some campgrounds.
Lake Cumberland is water reservoir covering more than 50,000 acres that was created by the Wolf Creek Dam of the Cumberland River in eastern Kentucky. The lake is part of the Lake Cumberland State Resort Park and is popular for water recreation like fishing, boating, and swimming. Many campsites, cabins, and lodges are available for campers, offering a full suite of amenities, and campers can even bring their houseboats to the lake and sleep on the water.
Barren River Lake is a 10,000-acre water reservoir with the strangest name of all of Kentucky’s parks. The name is derived from the fact that the lake is located in Barren County, and it’s a lake that was created by damming Barren River, making it a river-lake. The river is not barren, however, and is a popular fishing spot in the state. Campers can rent boats, fish, and play on the lake’s beach, and they can stay on one of the parks campgrounds or in a cottage with either a lake view or in a quiet forest.
Located near Mammoth Cave, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park offers family-friendly camping for people who want to visit Mammoth Cave for multiple days in a row. The park allows for tent and RV camping and offers more than 70 air-conditioned cabins for rent. The draw of the park is its theme-park entertainment that caters to families, offering waterslides, pools, mini-golf, and bouncing castles that are sure to please kids that need more than just nature to feel satisfied.
Just north of Mammoth Cave, you’ll find Nolin Lake State Park. Nolin Lake is a 5,000-acre reservoir that was created by damming Nolin River. As one of the state’s smaller parks, Nolin Lake offers a quieter, less-crowded camping experience and is popular among fishers and bird-watchers. Primitive campsites are available for those who want the full nature experience, and for those looking for more modern amenities, there are more than 30 sites with electricity and running water. RV camping is also available.
The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area spans 125,000-acres of land across several counties in southeastern Kentucky and northeastern Tennessee. The river-canyon park boasts many natural bridges, miles of gorges, and scenic bluffs and is popular for hiking, white-water rafting, and rock climbing. The most popular campground on the Kentucky side of the park is the Blue Heron Campground, offering 45 sites that all include water and electricity hookups for tent and RV camping.
The Green River Lake State Park offers a quiet retreat from city life for hikers, campers, boaters, and fishers. Less trafficked than some of the larger, nearby parks, Green River Lake is a serene park surrounding an 8,000-acre water reservoir. Campers can rent boats for water recreation and fishing, and multiple campsites are available offering primitive camping, camping with amenities, and RV camping.
The Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park near London, Kentucky, is both a historic and natural attraction. Encompassing part of the trail that was used by settlers to get to Kentucky in colonial times, the park has several historical landmarks, buildings, and artifacts that are of interest to history buffs. For recreation, the park is a popular spot for hiking, and its campground offers more than 100 sites for tent or RV camping.
Located between Louisville and Lexington, Taylorsville Lake State Park’s is popular for horseback riding, hiking, and fishing. Fishers can bring their own boats or rent one from the marina, and hikers enjoy exploring more than 24-miles of trails. If you have a horse, you can stay on one of the park’s 10 horse-camping sites at night and ride your horse through beautiful horse country during the day. RV and primitive tent camping sites are also available.
Cumberland Gap is a narrow passageway through the Cumberland Mountains in the section of Appalachia that Kentucky claims. It was used by early explorers to traverse the mountain wilderness, and today it is part of the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Mountain views, waterfalls, and caves make this park a huge attraction among hikers and explorers. Primitive and modern tent camping sites are available at the Wilderness Road Campground, as well as RV camping.
Referred to as “Little Niagara,” Cumberland Falls is a 68-foot tall and 125-foot wide waterfall that is the centerpiece of the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. Campsites, lodges, and cabins are available for overnight stays at the park, and overnight camping is popular around full moons when visitors can see a visible moonbow after dark—a rainbow created by the light of the moon and the waterfall.