While Jefferson Memorial is best known for its long, excellent, hiking trails, it’s also a place to enjoy sleeping outdoors this 6,200-acre sanctuary in the suburban environs of Jefferson County. Jefferson Memorial Forest is the largest nature preserve in Jefferson County and the largest city-owned urban forest in the United States. A quick drive from Louisville puts you in its captivating environs with minimal effort.
With more than 35 miles of trails and a lake perfect for fishing, this nature preserve is a highly recommended way to escape from urban life and take in the beauty of Kentucky’s great outdoors. And during big events, such as the Kentucky Derby or Louisville’s biggest music festival, Forecastle, camping here offers a cheaper alternative to pricey hotel rooms with a far more interesting story to tell.
What Makes It Great
With more than 35 miles of scenic hiking trails, 11 miles of equestrian trails, and a serene lake ideal for fishing or paddling, Jefferson Memorial Forest beckons outdoor lovers of all stripes. And with great camping options, it’s a cinch to stretch your adventures into an overnighter or longer.
Three group campsites allow for multiple tents with a central campfire and picnic tables. But for a bit more privacy, opt for one of seven individual sites, which are surrounded by trees and more secluded and intimate. In addition, you’ll find some welcome extra padding on the ground thanks to the soft blanket of pine needles. Finally, the small number of sites keeps the campground from feeling overcrowded, allowing for that whole “get away from it all” vibe you’re after.
Excellent programming throughout the year offers another reason for a visit. One notable event in June is the Great American Campout. During this popular event, naturalists share family camping tips and host night hikes; everyone will love roasting s’mores around the campfire. During spring and fall, group hikes are available, including night hikes that wrap up with a campfire and s’mores. In May the park hosts its annual Forest Fest Music Festival, which includes food, wine, crafts and activities for kids. And in February, there are even romantic, candle-lit night hikes for couples. The park also offers a variety of camps for kids ages 5-15.
Who is Going to Love It
A quick, convenient trip from Louisville, Jefferson Memorial Forest is ideal for families new to overnight wilderness trips and city dwellers craving an easy escape into nature. Families will especially love the access to nature and educational programs at the Welcome Center, as well as the ropes and zipline adventure.
Hikers will love the access to such beautiful and challenging wooded trails for day-hikes, without driving across the state to get there. The trails provide steep, wooded slopes that rise to 450 feet above the Ohio River valley, resulting in amazing views of the city below. Equestrians can take advantage of 12 miles of trails designated for them, too.
Anglers, meanwhile, will find plenty to keep them occupied at 5.4-acre Tom Wallace Lake, which is stocked with trout, catfish, and bluegill. While many find a shady spot on the shore, you can also launch a small boat (though keep in mind that there is no boat ramp, so you have to be able to launch yourself from the bank). Trout are stocked in March and again in the fall by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Jefferson Memorial Forest is at 11311 Mitchell Hill Road, Fairdale, KY 40118.
Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, tent pad, and lantern post. Five people and one car are allowed per site. Extra vehicles can park in the main parking lot outside the campground gate, which also has a large field and picnic tables for extra space.
Welcome Center hours are 8:30 am-4:30 pm Monday through Saturday, and 10 am-3 pm Sunday.
Written by Lisa Hornung for RootsRated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.