6 things to do in Kentucky this summer that won't cost more than one tank to get there

·10 min read

Just when it felt like life might be getting back to normal, skyhigh fuel prices for both motor vehicles and passenger jets, along with a spike in demand for hotel rooms, are making post COVID-19 travel for a week long road trip or transcontinental excursion a costly proposition worth reconsidering. 

Fares for flights from June through August are 47% higher than in 2021 and 34% higher than in the same period in 2019 according to Hopper, an online travel site that analyzes prices.

As for the price tag at the gas pump, at around $5 a gallon in Kentucky, let's just say a lot of trips to Disney World and far-flung National Parks are currently being scrapped.

Travel company executives have been warning of a busy summer travel season for months. In April, USA Today reported that Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian forecasted a “very strong summer” for travel driven by pent-up demand. While summer travel always has the potential to turn into a headache, the 2022 summer influx of post COVID travelers, a shortage of airline personnel and higher fuel prices have combined to escalate the mess to a new level of chaos.

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This desire to travel has also fueled higher costs when you book an overnight stay at hotels. Average daily hotel room rates in the U.S. are up 22% compared to 2019 according to hotel data firm STR.

But before you throw out your summer 2022 travel plans, remember we all became experts at adjusting our expectations during the pandemic and surely we can rally those superpowers again. About 60% of Americans are still planning at least one trip this summer, and 35% expect to travel more this summer than last despite the high prices, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

The key to making summer travel in 2022 affordable is how you alter those plans to ease costs. The most logical solution is to stay closer to home. Here are a handful of road trip and vacation ideas in Kentucky that won't break the bank but will still satisfy a bit of your summer wanderlust.

Where to kayak, go whitewater rafting in Kentucky

Cumberland Falls
Cumberland Falls

While Kentuckians will tell you we live in one of the most beautiful of the lower 48 states, it’s not just the land itself that’s remarkable.

Nearly 2,000 miles of navigable waterways — more than any other in the contiguous United States — and dozens of lakes mean there is enough water for any type of adventure this summer. From flat water paddleboarding, canoeing or kayaking through the serene waters of an ancient eco-system at the Kentucky River Palisades to adrenaline pumping whitewater Class II and III rapids at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, there are enough options to keep water enthusiasts busy all summer and well into the fall.

By rotating your group through the front and side positions in the raft, everyone gets a chance to command the face-drenching spot at the bow.
By rotating your group through the front and side positions in the raft, everyone gets a chance to command the face-drenching spot at the bow.

Or, if you fancy yourself more of a thrill seeker, The Big Sandy River in eastern Kentucky includes several Class V+ whitewater rapid drops. It is considered one of the most serious stretches of whitewater in the U.S. where commercial guides operate.

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Plan a summer fishing trip in Kentucky

A worker from a natural resource agency uses a net to drive Asian carp to a fish pump which removes them from Kentucky Lake near Golden Pond, Ky., Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. The harvesting method mainly targets bighead and silver carp, two of the four invasive carp species collectively known as Asian carp in the U.S. Both bighead and silver carp devour plankton that form the base of the food chains, grow rapidly and reproduce prolifically, outcompeting many native fish. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
A worker from a natural resource agency uses a net to drive Asian carp to a fish pump which removes them from Kentucky Lake near Golden Pond, Ky., Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. The harvesting method mainly targets bighead and silver carp, two of the four invasive carp species collectively known as Asian carp in the U.S. Both bighead and silver carp devour plankton that form the base of the food chains, grow rapidly and reproduce prolifically, outcompeting many native fish. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

For those packing a rod and reel, Kentucky is home to more than 62,000 miles of fish-able streams, plus 40 public lakes of 100 acres or more. A wide variety of fish live in the waterways including blue catfish, crappie, walleye, several species of trout, and smallmouth, largemouth, spotted and striped bass. The Kentucky Boating and Fishing Access Site is a one-stop fishing information website that will help you narrow down the best spot to fish from more than 900 destinations.

And the good news is most are within a gas tank's driving distance of Louisville. For more information on finding Kentucky's best fishing holes, river boating opportunities, beaches and lakes visit kentuckytourism.com.

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Summer getaway ideas to Lexington,  Kentucky

The start of the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday, April 16, 2022
The start of the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday, April 16, 2022

Only one-and-one-half hours from Louisville, Lexington, offers lots of activities for a regional road trip.

Known as the “Horse Capital of the World," travelers can visit the historic Keeneland Racecourse, which offers tours during the summer season. New in 2022, people can now enjoy exclusive access to 400+ championship thoroughbred horse farms, including the historic Claiborne Farm that has been visited twice by Queen Elizabeth II, via Visit Horse Country.

That are is also home to the "Bluegrass region" of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and boasts 14 of the state’s largest distilleries, if you're looking to do a little bourbon tourism this summer. Lexington is also home to more than120 locally-owned restaurants that boast everything from Asian-fusion, West African, and Caribbean cuisines to locally-sourced fare at one of seven-time James Beard nominee  Chef Ouita Michel’s seven restaurants.

Benedictine on Biscuit in "Just a Few Miles South" cookbook by Chef Ouita Michel.
Benedictine on Biscuit in "Just a Few Miles South" cookbook by Chef Ouita Michel.

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And don't skip the outdoor adventure opportunities in the Lexington area, it's where you'll find the Kentucky River Palisades, great for hiking and watersports, or soar 185-feet above the Palisades via Boone Creek Outdoors’ Zipline Canopy Tours.

Where to stay during a summer trip to Lexington, Kentucky

"The Harmon Room" at 21c Museum Hotel in Lexington, Kentucky
"The Harmon Room" at 21c Museum Hotel in Lexington, Kentucky

If you plan to make Lexington your base for a multi-day summer excursion, the city has plenty of unique accommodations. For fans of the Golden Globes awarded show "The Queen's Gambit," you can book a night at the 21c Museum Hotel Lexington’s Queen’s Gambit-inspired Harmon Room. Guests are transported into a scene from the Netflix series complete with chess pieces suspended from the ceiling above the Queen-size bed.

For the history buff and families, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill offers private cottages with spectacular countryside views. Situated on 3,000 acres of native prairies and woodlands, this landmark destination was home to the third largest Shaker community in the United States between 1805 and 1910.

And for the camping experience without the bugs, humidity or the outdoors, Origin Hotel Lexington features 120 spacious loft-inspired suites with the option to request an in-room tent or sleeping bag for an in-room camping adventure

Where to visit in Hart County, Kentucky

Hidden River Cave Suspension Bridge
Hidden River Cave Suspension Bridge

If a summer vacation with a planned itinerary is what you are looking for, check out the activities in Hart County, Kentucky.

Intersected by Interstate 65, the Horse Cave/Hart County Tourist Commission has taken the guesswork out of planning your family's multi-day excursion. You can travel from the Louisville area to the Tennessee border, or fewer miles if you prefer, using a map of attractions that will direct you to fun at almost every exit.

Whether it's visiting Mammoth Cave National ParkKentucky Down Under Adventure ZooHidden River Cave or a stop at President Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace National Historical Park, the multi-day itineraries will help you plan your stops, dining and lodging.

Kayaks at McCoy Blue Hole on Hart County's Blueway on the Green
Kayaks at McCoy Blue Hole on Hart County's Blueway on the Green

Like the rest of the Bluegrass State, Hart County has some incredible water adventures suitable for a family excursion. The Hart County Blueway on the Green features 42.5-miles of paddling adventure on the Green River, one of the world’s most biologically diverse rivers.

Big Buffalo Crossing Canoe & Kayak offers Green River trips that include five of the state’s largest springs, or travel by water into Mammoth Cave National Park. Day or overnight tours can include camping, fishing, swimming, caving, and/or sightseeing.

Not to be missed, The Blueway on the Green features river islands and sand bars to explore, blue holes to dip into for a refreshing break and many freshwater springs. In addition to the blue holes, the spectacular 300 Springs, accessible only by the river, is a thrilling series of small waterfalls that are definitely worth the effort to paddle there.

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These trails in Hart County a network of more than 1,300 existing national recreation trails, which can be found in every U.S. state.

“As COVID-19 vaccination rates increase and our nation takes a collective and cautious sigh of relief, we need recreational resources now more than ever to strengthen physical, social and mental health across our country,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a news release. “National recreation trails boost local economies and provide communities with safe, equitable access to the outdoors.”

Once you make it off your river adventure, don't be surprised if you see a horse-drawn buggy slowly moving along one of the back roads in Hart County. The region is home to approximately 200 Amish families who run businesses including greenhouses, bakeries, window and lawn furniture manufacturing and general merchandise stores. Hart County Tourism offers an online brochure that details the Amish businesses in the area.

Safari, animal adventure vacations in Kentucky

Dutch Country Safari Park
Dutch Country Safari Park

One of the Amish businesses in Hart County worth visiting is the Dutch Country Safari Park, the region's newest animal attraction. Visitors will find a 3/4-mile exotic animal safari drive-thru and animal encounter areas where you can feed camels, pet baby animals, and maybe even bottle-feed a baby goat.

Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo is another option for animal lovers in your family. Whether it's the thrill of petting a kangaroo, feeding a rainbow lorikeet or watching sheep herding, the adventure park features animals from Australia, Kentucky and around the world.

Who knows, you might even learn to play the didgeridoo.

Spend the night in a covered wagon, treehouse or a yurt in Kentucky

Top off your trip to Hart County with a one of a kind experience when you sleep in a covered wagon at Conestoga Wagons at Horse Cave KOA. Each wagon has its own private patio and fire pit. Inside you'll find one king size bed, one set of twin bunks, bedding, a small fridge, microwave, coffee maker, electricity, and heat and air conditioning.

For a birdseye view, the campsite also offers a treehouse. You'll climb the stairs and nestle into a 20-foot-high, two bedroom treehouse decked out with a full kitchen, full bath with a tub and shower and more. Rustic cabins (no bathroom) and Deluxe cabins (full shower and bathroom) are also available at Horse Cave KOA.

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You'll find more treehouses when you travel to Red River Gorge located within the expansive Daniel Boone National Forest of east-central Kentucky. Red River Gorgeous offers several architecturally stunning treehouses plus a handful of yurts (round tent structures) stocked with queen sized beds, full kitchens and bathrooms for an unforgetable overnight stay. Treehouse Adventures in Brooksville, Kentucky is another destination that boasts treehouses and tree climbing activities for all ages.

Horse Cave KOA Conestoga Wagon at night
Horse Cave KOA Conestoga Wagon at night

Whether you travel for a week or a day, with an abundance of waterways, natural beauty and unique experiences, you don't have to travel far to travel well when you choose Kentucky.

Reach Kirby Adams at kadams@courier-journal.com or Twitter @kirbylouisville

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Things to do in KY: 6 trips to go within a day's drive to getaway

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