Kentucky is filled with natural beauty, and the people who live here are proud of it (and rightfully so). They also make it easy for everyone else to experience the beauty by putting on a ton of wonderful events celebrating the state’s many waterways, world-class climbing, mysterious caves, and honoring those who capture it all on film. We’ve put together a list of eight of these events held throughout the year, that will show you some of the best land, lakes, caves, and mountains the Bluegrass State has to offer.
In the Water
*Location: *Louisville *Dates: *September 16, 2017
The Ohio River touches six states, one of which is—that’s right—Kentucky. In fact, Kentucky holds ownership of the Ohio River, and Louisville is said to sit at the widest point on the river. It’s this stretch of the river where Riverthon is hosted. The 15-mile Mayor’s Cup and the 5-mile Ohio Dash are designed for competitive paddlers, while the newly added 1.5-mile Derby City Sprint is just for recreational boaters or newbie paddlers. For a real challenge, sign up for the Louisville 50-mile race on June 24, 2017.
2. Russell Fork Rendezvous
*Location: *_Elkhorn City *_Dates: *_Takes place during the last full weekend of dam releases in October, which _should be during the weekend of October 21st this year.
Get your feet wet with the Russell Fork Rendezvous, a celebration of paddling culture. If you’re into competitive kayaking, sign up for the Lord of the Fork race: a timed race down the Russell Fork River for experts only. But don’t worry if you are less than an expert—the festival has something for boaters of any skill level. You can float, paddle more approachable sections of the river, or simply hang out on the sidelines. Setup camp at Carson Island in Elkhorn City for a great weekend.
3. National Paddling Film Festival
Location: Frankfort *_Dates: *_February 2018
Another way to celebrate the paddling culture in Kentucky is at the National Paddling Film Festival, held every February in Frankfort, Kentucky. Each year, the competition determines the best in paddlesport films and photos, while raising funds for organizations dedicated to river conservation and access.
On Dry Land
4. Ohio Valley Birding Festival
*_Location: *_Henderson *_Dates: *_2018 dates not yet announced, but in 2017, the event was in April and May
If birdwatching is your passion, then add the Ohio Valley Birding Festival to your schedule. Held during the spring migration of birds flying through southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky, you’ll be treated to bird hikes and walks, as well as educational activities and interactive experiences for the whole family. There are events for both experienced birdwatchers and people who are just getting into the hobby.
Location: *Campton *Dates: October (2017 dates not yet announced)
If you’ve heard of the Red River Gorge, you have likely heard about Kentucky's rock climbing—home to some of the best climbing in the state, and known around the world. Come see what climbs this area has to offer during Rocktoberfest, a fundraiser for Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition (RRGCC). This weekend-long event welcomes newbies and seasoned climbers alike, with a speed climbing competition and skills clinics. This event is a great introduction to the area, and will leave you wanting to come back for more.
6. The Horsey Hundred
Location: *Lexington *Dates: 2018 dates not announced yet, but it was held in May in 2017
If you prefer to travel on two wheels, check out The Horsey Hundred. This has been a popular choice since the cycling event was first held in 1978. Over 2,000 riders cycle through the Lexington area each May, partaking in the celebrations with food, drinks, and live music.
Location: *Bonnieville *Dates: Memorial Day Weekend 2018
Kentucky's caves offer a glimpse into an underground world, and while the Mammoth Cave is the most widely known, there are dozens of others. The local chapter of the National Speleological Society, the Louisville Grotto, has dedicated themselves to cave exploration, education, and conservation. Each year, they host Speloefest, a caving festival held each year on Memorial Day Weekend. They invite you to beat the heat and help raise money for Kentucky caves during the weekend-long event that includes caving (of course), camping, hiking, and tons of fun.
8. The Bourbon Chase
*Location: *_various distillers through the state *Dates: *_October 13-14, 2017
It wouldn’t be a visit to Kentucky without a bit of bourbon, right? If you are wondering what might be the best way to get your bourbon fix while still enjoying the outdoors, the answer is The Bourbon Chase. The 200-mile relay race takes you along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail through horse country. Along the way, you will hit Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Maker's Mark, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve before reaching the finish line at Triangle Park near the Alltech Brewery & Distillery. A run like that will earn you a stiff glass of bourbon.
As you can see, Kentucky is filled with all kinds of events, whether you are looking to run, cycle, climb, or paddle. The hardest part is picking one, so why not add them all to your Kentucky bucket list?
Written by Alex Hendrickson for RootsRated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.