Are you ready to experience fall in Kentucky? From cute, little towns surrounded by fall foliage to hiking trails and waterfalls, there are tons of places in the Bluegrass State to explore the beauty of fall. While Kentucky sees the highest number of visitors in June, visiting in the fall is highly recommended!
The fall season offers a stunning show of vibrant foliage that peaks between mid-October and early November depending on what part of the state you visit. Visiting in late October is the best time to see fall colors in Kentucky!
Kentucky is known for a lot of things: horse racing, bourbon, bluegrass music, fried chicken, and much more. One thing that you don’t hear enough about Kentucky is how beautiful it is in the fall! Fall in Kentucky is beautiful no matter if you’re a traveler who prefers to get out into nature or someone who prefers to stay in the city.
Which of these beautiful places to experience fall in Kentucky will you visit first?
Is Kentucky Pretty In The Fall?
Kentucky might not be your first thought for a fall foliage trip, but this southern state is gorgeous in the fall! With mountains and lush forests, there are plenty of fall colors in Kentucky to amaze you. Almost half of Kentucky is forested with about 175 tree species so it is a great place to view changing leaves.
The nature mixed with small towns and farms makes Kentucky an absolute dream in autumn. You will have an amazing time driving scenic mountain roads, hiking to waterfalls, and visiting pumpkin patches.
Where is the best fall foliage in Kentucky?
There is awesome fall foliage all over Kentucky if you know where you look.
The trees in the eastern part of the state begin to change first around the end of September and usually reach peak colors near mid-October. The color quickly spreads west through Kentucky until the whole state is awash in fiery foliage by the beginning of November.
If you want more specific places for leaf peeping in Kentucky, keep reading! There are many parks, waterfalls, hiking trails, and towns to explore in the fall.
14 Best Places For Fall In Kentucky
The most iconic and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kentucky is Cumberland Falls near Corbin, Kentucky. This waterfall is epic and is a must-see while visiting Kentucky in the fall. There is a gem mine, trails, a large observation deck, a resort, and camping options available. The Cumberland Falls Campground will give you a great starting point for a day spent exploring Cumberland Falls!
There’s also a sandy beach at the falls that is lovely to sit at during the fall season. You can see the Cumberland River in front of you and a wall of rock formations and fall colors beyond the water. From the beach, turn left into the large boulders and you will have access to a secret view of the falls!
While visiting Cumberland Falls, make sure to visit the Pinnacle Knob Lookout. An easy 1.2-mile out and back trail will take you to the lookout tower. Climb the stairs to the top to be rewarded with amazing views of the mountains. The views are particularly stunning when waves of fog have filled the gaps between the mountains. This is one of the best views to see vibrant leaves during fall in Kentucky!
The Cracks in The Rocks
Just fifteen minutes from Tennessee is the Crack in The Rocks Trail. It’s located in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and is one of the best places to be in nature during fall in Kentucky! If you are looking for hiking trails in Kentucky that will showcase the beauty of fall, look no further!
If you aren’t much of a hiker, you can see the Cracks in The Rock via a less than a mile hike from the Blue Heron Mining Community parking lot. Or if you are looking for more adventure, you can extend your trip by taking the 6.4-mile Blue Heron Loop Trail. If you take this option, consider parking at the Overlook Parking Area. By parking here you can take a short walk to see the Blue Heron Gorge Overlook before heading to the Cracks In The Rocks.
This hike is ranked as moderate and includes climbing several wooden staircases. Dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash. Don’t be surprised if you are sharing the trail with rock climbers! If you plan on staying the night in the area, you may want to consider staying in Tennessee as the closest restaurants and accommodations are there.
Cumberland Gap National Park
If you’re looking for sprawling mountain views full of exciting fall colors, then the Cumberland Gap National Park is the place for you! Camping, backpacking, and hiking are popular activities. You can take guided tours of the caves and of the settlements in the park as well.
When it comes to hiking, the park has more than eight miles of trails to choose from. There’s a large variety of trails for every type of traveler! From short trails with no elevation gain to more strenuous trails, they can all be found in the park.
The viewpoints in the Cumberland Gap offer you some of the best views of beautiful fall colors in Kentucky! This park covers three states: Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. Given this perfect location, there are so many things to do in all three states around the park.
One of the most unique things to do in fall in Kentucky is to drive along Old Frankfort Pike. This is known as Thoroughbred Alley and is an insanely beautiful part of Horse Country.
This road starts in Lexington and ends in Frankfort. This road has a lot of history that is important not only to Kentucky but to a lot of places all around the world. Don’t forget to check out some of the best restaurants in Lexington while you are here!
The history of horses in Kentucky began along this road before Kentucky had even become a state. It was once used as a main path to travel between major cities in the state during the revolutionary way. Today, Kentucky produces more Thoroughbred foals than anywhere else in the United States.
For beautiful fall pictures, it doesn’t get much better than Old Frankfort Pike. There are many farms along the sides of the road where you can see horses running through the fields and the multi-million dollar barns that they get to stay in from time to time. Some of which allow visitors. It is quite common to see expensive, glowing crystal chandeliers through the windows of the barns!
This is one of the best fall activities in Lexington, KY, and should be added to your bucket list!
If you love learning about the history of the places you travel to, then Frankfort is one of the best places that you can visit during fall in Kentucky. Frankfort is the capital city and as such has been home to a large number of historical events for the state. The buildings, streets, and museums of the city allow you to see what Kentucky was like in the past and present as well as what it will be like in the future.
Walking the streets surrounded by stunning fall foliage is incredible. This is the perfect place to take photos on your travels and to learn about the state as a whole. Aside from the government buildings, there are also many other cool places to visit in Frankfort. For nature lovers, head to the Salato Wildlife Center or Cove Spring Park. The wildlife center showcases indigenous species of the state as well as walking trails, while Cove Spring offers hiking trails and a waterfall.
If you’re looking for museums or historical sites, there are plenty to choose from! The Liberty Hall Historic Site, Capital City Museum, and the Leslie Morris Park at Fort Hill. The Leslie Morris Park is home to a Civil War-era fort and it also offers views over the city of Frankfort! Last, but not least, are the Kentucky River tours. If you really want to enjoy the fall foliage while learning about the area, consider taking a boat tour along the Kentucky River! This is truly one of the best small towns in Kentucky!
Dog Slaughter Falls
Dog Slaughter Falls is one of the most beautiful places to experience fall in Kentucky. It’s very popular and the fall colors really shine around the waterfall. Cascading a little more than fifteen feet, this waterfall is a convergence of the Cumberland River and Dog Slaughter Creek.
The waterfall empties into a swimming whole that can be much needed during the summer months. You may not want to swim in the fall, but don’t worry, you will still enjoy the beauty of the falls!
This waterfall is in the Daniel Boone National Forest in the southern part of the state, just fifteen to twenty minutes from Tennessee. The trail is an out and back trail that is around 2.4 miles long. This trail can get very slippery and muddy so hiking boots are recommended. It’s highly trafficked but well worth the visit to see the natural beauty for yourself, especially during the fall!
This is one of the best things to do in Kentucky in September when the leaves first start to change.
Natural Bridge State Park
Natural Bridge State Park is a popular feature in the ever-so-popular Red River Gorge. Although it’s popular year-round, it’s really a fan favorite in October as it’s one of the best places to visit during fall in Kentucky. The Red River Gorge has more than one hundred naturally formed sandstone arches and there are countless trails to hike to these arches.
There are many trails that can take you up to the Natural Bridge. The most common is the Original Natural Bridge Trail. It is a heavily trafficked trail that is 1.2 miles up to the top of the bridge. This is the quickest way up so you should be prepared for many wooden and rock staircases and elevation gain. Just before you get to the top of the trail you will have to go through what people call “Fat Man’s Squeeze” or “Fat Man’s Misery.” There is a skinny walkway between two tall slabs of rock that you must walk through before walking into the bridge.
Once you get to the top you will have access to stunning views of the fall colors surrounding the bridge! If you’re looking for a more exciting way down from the bridge, consider taking the Rock Garden Trail. It’s beautiful and takes you through a variety of different natural features that really adds to your experience in the gorge. If hiking isn’t your thing, no worries! You can ride the sky life up and down from the bridge!
Head to northern Kentucky along the Ohio River for some of the best experiences you can have during fall in Kentucky! Bellevue is a small town with an amazing beach park. The Bellevue Beach Park offers views of Cincinnati over the Ohio River, playgrounds, and walking paths. The town has a number of unique shops and restaurants, including: Dannyelles Bellevue Tavern and Schneider’s Homemade Candies.
Bellevue is just ten minutes outside of the popular town of Newport, a place you should definitely consider visiting when in Bellevue! Newport is home to Newport on the Levee which has an aquarium, parks, walking paths along the river, restaurants, shops, and dessert shops. One of the most famous stops on the levee is Tom and Chee which is famous for being on Shark Tank in 2013!
Just ten minutes north of Bellevue and Newport is Cincinnatti, Ohio. A trip to Cincinnati is another option for a side trip from Bellevue. There you can visit a zoo, botanical garden, art museums, William Howard Taft’s former home, Coney Island Park, and much more!
Dive back into the beautiful autumn-colored leaves of Daniel Boone National Forest! The Courthouse Rock trail is one of the best things to do in fall in Kentucky! A common hiking path in the forest is the Courthouse Rock trail to Auxier Branch Loop Trail. This is a 5.1-mile trail that is heavily trafficked and gains more than 1,100 feet of elevation.
The trail is beautiful any time of year, however, visiting in the fall just can’t be beaten. You will walk along large rock facings, climb rock staircases, and see breathtaking views of the rolling hills wearing their fall best. The trail is about twenty minutes away from Natural Bridge State Park so you can visit both locations in one day.
Turkey Foot Campground
If your goal for spending fall in Kentucky is to be surrounded by stunning natural beauty, then a night or two at the Turkey Foot Campground is a must! The campground is about an hour south of the Natural Bridge State Park and is overflowing with gorgeous areas to explore.
There are fifteen campsites and the best part is it’s free! However, you should keep in mind that they work on a first-come, first-served basis and don’t offer any reservations.
You will be camping between walls of vibrant fall foliage along War Fork Creek. The creek is stocked with trout for fishing, there are horseshoe pits, and all of the sites are within walking distance of the creek!
This campground is surrounded by popular outdoor attractions. You have Flat Lick Falls to the south, a Sheltowee Trace Trailhead to the west, and Cave Run Lake to the northeast!
Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway
Driving the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway is one of the best fall activities in Kentucky. This 43-mile route is found in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area and connects Tennessee and Kentucky.
In fall, this byway is a popular drive since the surrounding forests turn pretty colors. This slice of land is tucked among rivers and lakes, perfect for reflecting the colors for photos.
Take time to loop through the Elk and Bison Prairie where you can spot the graceful animals grazing. There are also plenty of hiking trails, campgrounds, and historic sites. Kayaking, horseback riding, and mountain biking are cool ways to experience the Kentucky fall as well.
The Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest near Clermont is one of the top fall destinations in Kentucky. The trails wind you through trees such as maples, ginkgos, and walnuts which create a lovely palette of warm colors.
The Canopy Tree Walk is one of the best places to admire the Kentucky fall foliage. This boardwalk will take you 75 feet above the forest floor.
Find a peaceful bench near one of the lakes where you can see the autumn leaves reflect in the water. Photograph the iconic Forest Giants and other public art found here. When a guide is available, you can also climb the 961-foot historic fire tower for great views.
In November, you can enjoy ColorFest, one of the best fall events in Kentucky. This is a great fall activity for families! Everyone will enjoy the pumpkin launch, hay maze, and hay rides. There is also great food as well as arts and crafts vendors.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is best known for its underground attractions, but it is still one of the things to do in Kentucky in October. Along with the caves, this park has many forest hiking trails that will take your breath away in the fall.
The many overlooks provide jaw-dropping views of the Green River and lush forests. One of the best hikes is the easy .5-mile Heritage Trail. Halfway along, you will find Sunset Point. If the fall weather is too bad for hiking, drive the Mammoth Cave Parkway and stop at the Doyel Valley Overlook.
There is diverse flora and fauna in the park making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. Keep an eye out for deer, turkey, fox, beavers, river otters, and bald eagles. In the evening, you might get the chance to spot bats feeding on insects.
You might not think of a big city as a good place to see fall foliage, but Louisville is great if you love your autumn leaves mixed with beautiful architecture. There are a ton of old buildings in Louisville, especially in the Old Louisville district.
Old Louisville has the largest collection of historical Victorian homes in the world so it is perfect for architecture lovers. Take a stroll here to admire the pretty buildings and the giant old trees with their fall colors. Have fun photographing the cool fall and Halloween decor. You can take a walking ghost tour here as well for some spooky history.
Other places in Louisville for fall leaves include Cherokee Park, Iroquois Park, Cave Hill Cemetery, and Whitehall. While you are at it, make sure to check out some of the best distilleries in Louisville!
Louisville also has some of the best things to do in Kentucky in the fall including the Jack O’Lantern Spectacular, the Ultimate Halloween Fest, and the Fright Night Film Fest. There are also fantastic haunted houses. Make sure to check out our list of the Best Restaurants In Louisville!
There’s nothing like experiencing fall in Kentucky! The state is full of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and intriguing history. From hiking trails and waterfalls to cities on rivers and famous restaurants, there’s something for everyone in the Bluegrass State!