Moonbows, A Bridge In The Sky, Frozen Niagara and Honest Abe: A Wild, Historic Road Trip Through Kentucky  

Story & Photos by Matt Bayman

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Not far beyond the Ohio border in Kentucky are some of the most fascinating tourist attractions in the United States. Some are downright rare, such as the moonbow at Cumberland Falls State Park. This nighttime rainbow is the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and can only be observed under a full moon and a clear sky. However, the regular daytime rainbows, which can be seen almost anytime, are just as beautiful.
An equally breathtaking experience can be had by walking across the Sky Bridge at Natural Bridge State Resort Park. This natural bridge spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. It offers panoramic views of the surrounding Daniel Boone National Forest and is located next to Red River Gorge, where camping, hiking and canoeing are popular activities. 
Mammoth Cave National Park, and the little cave towns that surround it, is a magical place to visit. Along with experiencing the longest cave system in the world, and tours with names such as "Frozen Niagara" and "Domes & Dripstones," the park's hiking trails are some of the best in the Eastern United States. Hikers can find sink holes, natural springs and many other geological features, plus lots of wildlife, including deer and wild turkey around every corner.
Last, but certainly not least, is Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace National Historical Park. This beautiful park is highlighted by a Beaux-Arts neo-classical memorial building (dedicated by President William Howard Taft in 1911). It also features a log cabin symbolic of the one Lincoln would have been born in and the natural spring where the Lincoln family got its drinking water.
The following road trip not only visits each of these destinations, but also countless other attractions and small towns along the way.
Using as many backroads as possible, this 720-mile journey from Miami County can be enjoyed in several days, or over several weeks. There are numerous campgrounds to stay in, as well as cabins in the woods, hotels, state park resorts and bed and breakfasts. Best of all, with the exception of cave tours at Mammoth Cave, everything mentioned above is free to visit, as are many other places found along the way. With camping as a main source of lodging, this can be a very affordable, yet very adventurous trip.
Some of the things you can see/experience on this road trip include:

  • See the Moonbow of Cumberland Falls

  • Walk across Sky Bridge

  • Experience total darkness, deep in a cave

  • National Underground Railroad Museum

  • Grant Boyhood Home & Schoolhouse 

  • Rock climbing at Red River Gorge 

  • Canoeing Red River Gorge

  • Stand next to the River Styx 

  • Shop at the Wildcat Flea Market

  • Hike the Natural Arch Scenic Area

  • General Burnside State Park

  • Sign up to go spelunking

  • Hike miles of beautiful trail at Mammoth Cave N.P.

  • Stay at the Grand Victorian Inn

  • Ride the Mammoth Cave Bike Path

  • Hidden River Cave & American Cave Museum

  • Visit Horse Cave, where downtown is a cave

  • Lincoln's Birthplace National Historic Park

ABOVE: Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky. Along with great scenery, the parks have excellent hiking trails. BELOW:  The entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park and the famous Frozen Niagara Cave Tour.

Directions & Points of Interest
Total Miles = 720

Directions are in black, with the mileage for each leg of the trip in red. Points of interest are places that can be visited during that particular leg of the trip. The underlined Points of Interest are linked for more information. The map above is a very rough look at the complete route.

Starting Point: Troy
(Note: This route takes the “scenic” way to Red River Gorge, largely along U.S. 68 South and Route 11/111 in Kentucky. This adds about a half-hour to the trip. If you’re rather go the fastest route, take Interstate 75 to Interstate 64 in Lexington). Otherwise…

- Take Interstate 75 South to U.S. 35 East to U.S. 68 South in Xenia
(40 miles)

- U.S. 68 South to Redoak, OH (68 miles)
 

Points of Interest
- Cowan Lake State Park
-
Pike Street Bar & Grill, 171 E. Pike St., Fayetteville

- Butterbee’s American Grille, 390 N. High St., Mt. Orab
- Grant Lake Wildlife Area
- US Grant Boyhood Home and Schoolhouse, 219 E. Grant Ave., Georgetown
- Grant Avenue School Antiques, 307 W. Grant Ave., Georgetown
- Cotton Picking Folkart, 115 N. Pleasant St., Georgetown
- Country Inn Restaurant, 30 Sunset Blvd., Georgetown


- Redoak to Flemingsburg, KY: U.S. 62 W/U.S. 68S – cross the Ohio River – Route 11 South (32 miles)

Points of Interest

Ripley Historic District & Underground Railroad History
- John Rankin House
- John Parker House
- Rockin’ Robin’s Soda Shoppe, 8 N. Front St., Ripley
- Ripley Gourmet Tortillas, 6 Main St., Ripley
- Ohio River Scenic Drive
- Aberdeen Community Park (on the Ohio River), 886 High St., Aberdeen
- National Underground Railroad Museum, 38 W. 4th St., Marysville, KY
- Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, 215 Sutton St., Marysville, KY 


- Flemingsburg to Red River Gorge/Sky Bridge: 
Route 11 South to Route 1325. Continue on Route 36 and then onto Route 77. Follow the signs to Red River Gorge 
(62 miles)

Points of Interest
- Countless churches and small villages 
- The Pink Magnolia Café, 112 Suddith St., Owingsville, KY
- El Monterrey (Mexican restaurant), 53 Miller Dr., Owingsville, KY
- Olympia State Forest
- Red River Gorge Campground & State Park

- Rock climbing

- Red River Adventure (canoes, tubes)
- Grays Arch Recreation Area
- Pinch-Em Tight Trail Head
- Natural Bridge State Resort Park & Sky Bridge
- Li’l Abner Motel & Cottages
- Natural Bridge Cabin Company
- Fern Valley Cabins

- Red River Gorge to Cumberland Falls State Park: 
Follow Route 715 to Route 11 South. Continue on Route 30 to Interstate 75. Take Interstate 75 South and follow signs to Cumberland Falls State Park
(101 miles)

Points of Interest
- Three Forks Historical Center, Cs-1065, Beattyville
- The Art Factory Coffeehouse & Bistro, 29 Railroad St., Beattyville
- The Hip Chic Boutique, 109 Main St., Beattyville, KY
- Kentucky River
- Linda’s Victorian Rose Bed & Breakfast, 496 Kentucky 30, Booneville
- Flat Lick Falls Recreational Area (off the path a bit)
- Wildcat Flea Market, 590 Hal Rogers Parkway, London
- Shiloh Steakhouse, 218 Russel Dyche Memorial Highway, London
- Laurel Bridge Recreation Area
- The Wrigley Taproom & Brewery, 207 S. Main St., Corbin
- Buddy’s BBQ (catfish, too), 2700 Cumberland Falls Highway, Corbin
- Cumberland Falls State Park & Resort
- The Famous Moonbow
- Cumberland Falls Campground
- Cumberland Falls Beach
- Eagles Falls View

 

- Cumberland Falls State Park to Mammoth Cave National Park: Route 90 West to U.S. 27 North to the Cumberland Parkway West to Interstate 65 North. Follow the signs to the national park (135 miles)

 

Points of Interest

- Natural Arch Scenic Area
- General Burnside State Park
- Speedy Tacos #1, 5295 US 27, Somerset
- Pulaski County Park Campground, 1200 Highway 3189, Nancy
- Mill Springs National Cemetery
- Grand Victorian Inn, 5 Old Dixie Hwy, Park City (Mammoth Cave)
- Diamond Caverns, 1900 Mammoth Cave Parkway
- Mammoth Cave National Park & Cave Tours
- Mammoth Cave Bike Trail 
- River Styx Spring
- The Lodge at Mammoth Cave
- Mammoth Dome Sink

- Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo
- Horse Cave & Hidden River Cave & American Cave Museum

- Mammoth Cave National Park to Lincoln Birthplace Memorial: Take Interstate 65 North to Route 728, which will dead-end into Route 357. Take this north to Hammondsville Schoolhouse Road to US-31 East. Look for signs to the historical site. (40 miles)

 

- Angie’s Backporch BBQ & Grill, 8758 New Jackson Highway, Magnolia
- Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park
- Lincoln Jamboree, 2579 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville


- Lincoln Birthplace Memorial to Troy: Take Interstate 65 North. In Louisville, you’ll have the choice to head toward Cincinnati via Interstate 71/75, or, better yet, continue north on I-65 into Indiana, then cut over to Madison and Hanover, along the Ohio River. These are two very amazing towns. In fact, Madison was designated as the “largest contiguous National Historic Landmark in the United States – 133 blocks of the downtown is known as the Madison Historic Landmark District.” (227 miles)

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