Highway in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

Best Day Trips From Louisville To Take This Summer

Located in northern Kentucky on the outskirts of the state’s Bluegrass region, Louisville serves as a great base from which to embark on a day trip or two. Within a 90-minute drive of Kentucky’s largest city is everything needed to get a taste of that authentic Southern hospitality, as well as the region’s rich history and some truly spectacular scenery. From historic Bardstown, the capital of bourbon, to a scenic drive north to visit some of the best bits of Indiana, a day trip from Louisville this summer promises no end of fun summer experiences.

Explore Frankfort, Kentucky’s Capital

Aerial view of Frankfort, Kentucky
Aerial view of Frankfort, Kentucky.

Where better to start a Kentucky day trip adventure than in Frankfort? The country’s fourth smallest state capital, Frankfort’s population of around 28,000 souls, lives in one of the prettiest communities in the South. Just a 50-minute drive east of Louisville, its immensely walkable streets and neighborhoods are especially nice to wander in summer when the grounds around landmarks like the Kentucky State Capitol are in full bloom (interior tours are also available).

The Kentucky History Center and Museum, located in the heart of historic downtown Frankfort, will also inform about Kentucky's past, from Native American settlements to the Civil War era and beyond. The area is also dotted with charming boutiques, antique shops, and great local eateries, and summer events such as the Capital City Blues & River Festival in August add to the fun.

Bardstown, America’s Bourbon Heartland

The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky.
The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky. Editorial credit: Ryan_hoel / Shutterstock.com.

Located 50 minutes southeast of Louisville, Bardstown is a must-visit for whiskey enthusiasts. Known as the "Bourbon Capital of the World," Bardstown boasts 11 whiskey makers, including Maker's Mark Distillery with its distinctive red wax-sealed bottles and Heaven Hill Distillery (both offer tours and tastings). These and numerous other distilleries can be visited as part of the excellent Kentucky Bourbon Trail, with Louisville’s Kentucky Bourbon TrailWelcome Center being a great place to start a whiskey-focused day trip.

A day trip to Bardstown should also include My Old Kentucky Home State Park, the site of the Federal Hill mansion and grounds that inspired Stephen Foster's famous Kentucky anthem. A summer walking tour of downtown Bardstown is another must-do, especially if it includes a visit to The Old Talbott Tavern. Built in 1779, it’s the world’s oldest surviving stagecoach stop… and yes, they serve bourbon!

Visit The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg

Old Historic building at Shaker Village in Kentucky
Old Historic building at Shaker Village in Kentucky.

A little over an hour southeast of Louisville near Harrodsburg, the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill offers a unique glimpse into the life and culture of the Shakers, a protestant religious group founded in Britain in the 1740s. Established in 1805, this quaint village is now a National Historic Landmark with over 30 restored buildings. Highlights of an interpreter-led tour include the Centre Family Dwelling, the Trustee's Office, and the Meeting House, all exactly as they would have appeared in the early 1800s.

Summers are especially pleasant for a visit as this fun-to-walk attraction also offers farm-to-table dining at The Trustee's Table restaurant, with much of the ingredients produced on-site or locally. Adding to the fun are workshops, demonstrations, and hands-on activities that celebrate Shaker traditions and craftsmanship.

Head To Historic Downtown Madison, Indiana

The view of Jefferson County Courthouse in Madison Indiana
The view of Jefferson County Courthouse in Madison, Indiana.

An hour’s drive to the northeast of Louisville along the Ohio River Scenic Byway and you’ll find yourself in Madison, Indiana. Head first to the Madison Historic District with its charming riverfront area. Established in the early 1800s, this picture-perfect community flourished during the steamboat era with the ensuing prosperity resulting in an impressive legacy of over 130 blocks of well-preserved 19th-century architecture.

In addition to exploring the area on foot, summer visitors can climb aboard a horse-drawn carriage for a ride to Lanier Mansion State Historic Site with its Greek Revival architecture and elegant interiors. Madison Railroad Station Museum is another sightseeing spot and features exhibits on the town’s role as a steamboat and railroad hub. Summer outdoor fun can be had at nearby Clifty Falls State Park with its rugged gorges, cliffs, waterfalls, and numerous hiking trails of varying difficulty levels.

Explore Bernheim Arboretum And Research Forest

Bernheim Arboretum
A wooden sculpture in the Bernheim Arboretum. Editorial credit: Trey Thomas / Shutterstock.com.

Follow the I-65 due south of Louisville for 25 miles and you’ll wind up in the 16,000-acre Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Founded by its namesake, Isaac W. Bernheim, in 1929, it’s easy to spend a full day here exploring the property’s mix of attractions and things to do related to art, science, and, of course, nature conservation. Highlights include the thrilling Canopy Tree Walk, a 75-foot-tall structure that traverses the treetops while offering a unique perspective.

The Arboretum is also home to an impressive 8,000 varieties of trees, shrubs, and plants from around the world, as well as an extensive network of hiking trails ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes. A favorite, the Lake Nevin Loop Trail, is great for birdwatchers. Guided nature hikes and wildlife encounters, as well as educational workshops, are also available in the summer.

Visit Indiana's First Capital, Corydon

Corydon, Indiana
The Old Capitol building, a part of the Corydon Capital State Historic Site in Corydon, Indiana.

Corydon makes for another great Indiana day trip from Louisville. Only a 30-minute drive due west of Kentucky’s biggest city, Corydon has the distinction of being Indiana's first capital, so there’s plenty of history to explore. Must-dos include Corydon Capitol State Historic Site where Indiana's constitution was drafted in 1816 (guided tours are available), and the Zimmerman Glass Factory Museum with its artifacts and exhibits related to the region's glassmaking history along with glassblowing demonstrations.

Prefer to have fun outdoors? Corydon’s Marengo Cave, a U.S. National Landmark, offers guided tours through its intricate underground chambers adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, and other geological formations, while nearby O'Bannon Woods State Park boasts plenty of scenic hiking trails including the Wyandotte Caves Trail and the Adventure Hiking Trail.

Go Underground At The Louisville Mega Cavern

Inside the Louisville Mega Cavern.
Inside the Louisville Mega Cavern. Image credit: H. Michael Miley via Flick.com.

Here’s an easy one for those not wanting to venture too far away from downtown Louisville. Louisville Mega Cavern is a unique underground attraction spanning 100 acres, all of it beneath the city. Situated around 30 minutes from downtown Louisville, this underground adventure offers various tours, one of the most popular being the Mega Tram Tour. This guided tram ride is perfect for those not wanting to walk too much, while more adventurous types can opt for the Mega Quest ropes and zipline course with its many challenging obstacles suspended throughout the cavern.

These spectacular caves are especially popular to visit in summer for their consistent year-round temperature of 58°F, making it a great escape from the heat of summer.

Take The Kids To Louisville Zoo

The Louisville Zoo in Louisville, Kentucky
The Louisville Zoo in Louisville, Kentucky. Editorial credit: Thomas Kelley / Shutterstock.com.

A 40-minute bus ride from the downtown area (or about 30 minutes by car, depending on traffic), Louisville Zoo is the perfect day trip for families with kids. Here, visitors can explore diverse habitats housing over 1,200 animals from around the world in exhibits like Glacier Run, home to polar bears, seals, and sea lions, and the Gorilla Forest, with its population of western lowland gorillas.

Kids will love the interactive and hands-on educational opportunities showcasing conservation efforts for endangered species and daily animal shows and keeper talks. If visiting on a hot summer day, turn the kids loose in the zoo’s Splash Park, a water play area that’s included with admission.

The Final Word

Whether it’s adventure, attractions, or simply great scenery you’re after, Louisville, Kentucky, makes for a great base for day trippers to venture forth. Whether you head south to the world bourbon capital of Bardstown, east to one of the country’s smallest state capitals, Frankfort, west to historic Corydon, or even north to Madison (both in Indiana), these unforgettable and easy day trips from Louisville will inspire you to hit the road.


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