It doesn’t take long to realize why Kentucky is known as “The Bluegrass State” with how richly colored the grass is due to the fertile soil. The region is also renowned for its horse racing history and bourbon-making centers. These things alone make spending time in the area a worthwhile and enjoyable endeavor, but there’s more to Kentucky than initially meets the eye. Its rivers and state parks are chock full of recreational opportunities, and wildlife like deer, turkey, and elk thrive. Get off the well-worn interstate and onto a country road or two-lane highway to forge a more intimate connection with the state, beginning with one of our favorite Kentucky scenic drives:

No. 10 – Route 10 Country Tour

Starting Location: Alexandria, KY
Ending Location: Maysville, KY
Length: 53 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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For a tour of Kentucky’s countryside without a lot of distractions from the natural views, it doesn’t get much better than Route 10. Small towns and rural farms dominate the landscape, and valleys with patches of woodlands delight the eye. The larger town of Maysville on the banks of the Ohio River is especially picturesque, and the series of murals on the downtown floodwalls document the town’s rich history.

No. 9 – State Route 92

Starting Location: Williamsburg, KY
Ending Location: Pineville, KY
Length: 38 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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Much of this tree-lined drive passes through the state’s foothills and skirts the Kentucky Ridge State Forest. Most of the countryside is rural and gas stations are few, so stock up on fuel and provisions at the start or the end of the trip. In Pineville, consider hiking up Pine Mountain to see the unusual rock formation of Chained Rock, which is a popular spot for taking photographs.

No. 8 – Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

Starting Location: Stanton, KY
Ending Location: Zachariah, KY
Length: 47 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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This winding drive goes right through the Red River Gorge National Geological Area within the Daniel Boone National Forest. The setting with more than 100 natural stone arches, waterfalls, and dense foliage is an outdoorsman’s dream and offers plenty of photo opportunities. In Slade, consider seizing the chance to kayak or rock climb for thrills, or just visit the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, which is full of poisonous snakes.

No. 7 – Red River & Nada Tunnel

Starting Location: Stanton, KY
Ending Location: Pine Ridge, KY
Length: 29 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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Much of this trip snakes along with the Red River, so travelers this way can almost always stop to drop a line or dip a toe in the water when the mood hits. In Stanton, don’t miss the easy one-mile hike to Sky Bridge, which is great for photographs with its natural rock arch that looks like a bridge. On Route 77, you will encounter the 900-foot Nada Tunnel, which was once a railway tunnel and serves as a connector between the Red River Gorge and the Daniel Boone National Forest.

No. 6 – Big Lick Loop

Starting Location: Carrollton, KY
Ending Location: Carrollton, KY
Length: 230 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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Ideal for a relaxing weekend trip through rural Kentucky, this drive traverses two scenic routes between Carrollton and Big Lick Hollow on the outskirts of New Haven. The trails at Big Lick Hollow can afford panoramic views of the North Fork River and the quaint town of New Haven, which is full of railroad history. In the spring, you’re likely to encounter the three-month-long Highland Renaissance Festival or a Celtic Fest in the month of September.

No. 5 – Ohio River and Trail of Tears

Starting Location: Marion, KY
Ending Location: Marion, KY
Length: 89 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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This drive showcases two of Kentucky’s places of note – the Ohio River and a portion of the Trail of Tears – along with plenty of hills and wooded areas. Stop in Smithland to take in its historic buildings and perhaps enjoy some water recreation like fishing or swimming near the dam. If you decide to make this a weekend getaway, consider an overnight stay in Benton, where you can catch a Friday or Saturday night show at the Kentucky Opry.

No. 4 – Elk Creek Winery Loop

Starting Location: Louisville, KY
Ending Location: Louisville, KY
Length: 153 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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Take your time on this drive through rolling hills, sleeping towns, and stretching farmlands, but watch out for sharp curves along the way. Stop to investigate the capital city of Frankfort, where several old churches may be of interest, including the Church of the Ascension Episcopal Church built in 1835. After a dose of religion, enjoy the sights as they roll by your window all the way to Elk Creek Winery, with beautiful views and delectable adult beverages.

No. 3 – Duncan Hines Scenic Byway

Starting Location: Bowling Green, KY
Ending Location: Bowling Green, KY
Length: 105 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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With at least three essential stops on this route, allow a day to fully savor the sights, beginning with the Kentucky Museum in Bowling Green, the birth place of cake-making legend Duncan Hines. Once in the Green River Valley with sweeping views, pull over to investigate Mammoth Cave State Park, with 400 miles of underground passages charted and far more to explore. Once back in Bowling Green, end the day at the National Corvette Museum right across the street from the assembly plant that makes each and every one of these supercars.

No. 2 – Old Frankfort Pike

Starting Location: Lexington, KY
Ending Location: Frankfort, KY
Length: 26 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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Passing right through the heart of the Kentucky Bluegrass Region, expect lovely farmland views off this rural two-lane route. Consider touring the Kentucky Horse Park or the Lexington National Cemetery before starting off to get a taste of the racing tradition and Civil War history that shaped the region. Once in Frankfort, Cove Spring Park offers plenty of recreational activities, such as a hike to Hurst Falls, to help unwind from the day.

No. 1 – Lincoln Heritage Scenic Byway

Starting Location: Hodgenville, KY
Ending Location: Danville, KY
Length: 67 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
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This scenic drive through various small towns and bourbon country is an ideal way to spend a morning or afternoon and is easily accessible from cities like Louisville or Lexington. Travelers along this way have the opportunity to explore sites of interest to Civil War enthusiasts, such as the Civil War History Museum in Bardstown and the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site. While in Bardstown, known as “The Bourbon Capital of the World,” sampling an ounce or two at the Maker’s Mark Distillery or Jim Beam’s American Stillhouse is a must.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Top 10 Scenic Drives in Kentucky and was authored by Elan McAfee.


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