Best time to travel to Kentucky

Kentucky Fall Colors 2024

The Bluegrass State is most beautiful during fall

Best time: October

Kentucky Fall Colors
Kentucky Fall Colors
Kentucky Fall Colors
Kentucky Fall Colors
Buzzard Rock, located in the Daniel Boone National Forest

Kentucky boasts diverse and beautiful landscapes, from the Appalachian mountains to rich forests and rolling hills. Since almost half of Kentucky’s land area is covered by hardwood forests, it's an excellent fall destination that will take your breath away with its vibrant foliage.

Red maples comprise over 12% of all trees in Kentucky, while sugar maple is the second most common tree that makes up about 10 % of all trees. Yellow poplar is the third most common tree in the state. There are also plenty of dogwoods, sweet gums, and sumacs, which add red tones. Oaks and hickories are responsible for gorgeous golden hues.

Best time to see fall colors in Kentucky

The first colorful leaves appear in the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Kentucky in September. By October, the color spreads to lower elevations. Central Kentucky usually experiences peak fall colors in late October. Finally, the foliage season spreads over southwest Kentucky, where it may last till early November.

Best places to see fall foliage in Kentucky

Daniel Boone National Forest | Red River Gorge Scenic Byway

Daniel Boone National Forest, with its more than 600 mi (965 km) of trails is the top leaf-peeping destination in Kentucky. The Red River Gorge area is a true hiker's paradise with scenic rock formations, cliffs, and over 100 natural stone arches. The Red River Gorge Geological Area is one of the most breathtaking spots to enjoy fall foliage by traveling along the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway with its stone arches and unique rock formations (Raven Rock, Sky Bridge, and Angel Windows). The byway is about 45 mi (72,5 km).

Visit it in the first two weeks of October for peak colors, produced by tulip poplars, birches, and bigleaf magnolias. Take a scenic drive on the Red River Gorge Byway and the Zilpo Road to fully enjoy the change of seasons.

Cumberland Falls State Park

Cumberland Falls State Park is a perfect day-trip destination. This state park is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest and features the most spectacular waterfall in Kentucky—Cumberland Falls, which is famous for its moonbows. Visitors can spend time by the river, near the waterfalls, observe rock formations, see active wildlife, and enjoy many other recreational activities.

The falls indeed look gorgeous when framed by the colorful leaves. You can take the best shots of the waterfall from the Eagle Falls Trail. Overall, the park boasts about 17 mi (27 km) of hiking trails. Birding, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and rafting are also available on the park grounds. The park is open 24 hours a day.

Louisville and Taylorsville

The largest city in Kentucky has no shortage of picturesque spots for leaf-peeping. Cherokee Park is Louisville's most popular location, with over a million visitors annually. Jefferson Memorial Forest is one more scenic spot with a two-mile Scenic Loop and more than 50 mi (80 km) of other trails for hiking and running. Shawnee Park in West Louisville along the Ohio River is an excellent spot thanks to its scenic Riverwalk Trail.

Southwest of Louisville, you can stop by Taylorsville Lake State Park and hike the scenic Lake View Trail and Possum Ridge Trail. In addition to beautiful fall foliage, you can enjoy kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, and camping at equestrian-friendly campgrounds for RVs and tents.

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

Laying on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee, Land Between the Lakes boasts 151,000 ac (60,702 ha) that are dotted with lakes and forests. The area is rich with sumacs, black gums, and Virginia creeper, which produce attractive shades of red. Also, oaks, tulip poplars, and hickory trees add beautiful bronze tones. You can take The Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway from Grand Rivers, Kentucky, into Tennessee to appreciate this scenic area. Hematite Lake, Honker Lake, and the Pryor Creek Area are quite famous for fall foliage displays.

Big South Fork Scenic Railway

Big South Fork Scenic Railway is an excellent idea for a fall weekend. The train goes for 14 mi (22 km) through the beautiful mountains of Southern Kentucky with a stop at the historic Blue Heron Mining Camp. You can learn a lot about coal mining in the US and enjoy spectacular foliage as the train descends 600 feet into the Big South Fork Gorge. The trip lasts about 3 hours.

Old Frankfort Pike

To see the fall colors, you only need to drive down Old Frankfort, originally named the Old Lexington-Frankfort Road Pike, between Lexington and Frankfort. This route includes a plethora of horse farms, small towns, and a few distilleries. Additionally, you'll see limestone rock walls, as well as four National Register-listed properties.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest features more than 16,000 acres (6,474 hectares), where thousands of selected and natural plant species are growing at the 600-acre Arboretum. The Bernheim Arboretum also offers over 40 miles of hiking trails for those who want challenges and the Forest Giants Trail for those who prefer a relaxed two-mile walk. Visitors will have a chance to observe Danish artist Thomas Dambo’s Giant sculptures, tranquil Olmstead Ponds, and wide-ranging prairie along the way. Fall foliage can also be viewed from a 75-foot (30 m) boardwalk above the hardwood forest. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest operates from 7 am to a pm.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

All the fall colors in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park can be seen. thought a 4-mile drive from the visitor center to Pinnacle Overlook. Visitors can see Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia nature from this vantage point—2,440 feet (743 m) high. The park is open from 9 am to 4 pm.

Other best places for fall foliage in Kentucky

So, you also can explore fall foliage at George Rogers Clark Park, Western Kentucky Botanical Garden, Yellow Creek Park, Waverly Park, or Lake Cumberland State Resort Park. Whether you are a fan of hiking, biking, or just prefer a drive through a picturesque forest, Kentucky has a lot to offer. The state has a long and impressive fall foliage season with plenty of jaw-dropping views to enjoy.

Practical info

When do fall colors typically appear across Kentucky?

The onset of fall foliage season in Kentucky begins towards the end of September, particularly in higher elevations. Central Kentucky experiences peak foliage in late October, while southwest Kentucky retains its colors until early November. The length of the fall season and leaf vibrancy depends on a variety of factors, including sunlight, moisture, and temperature. While nothing guarantees the peak color-peeping season, these variables, in particular, are significant contributors to the fall foliage intensity. Show more

What are some nearby hiking spots for viewing peak fall colors beyond Louisville?

Cherokee Park in Louisville is famous for its fall foliage, with over one million visitors heading there annually. Jefferson Memorial Forest, with over 50 miles of trails and a 2-mile Scenic Loop, is an excellent option for keen hikers. For an ultimate outdoor experience, Taylorsville Lake State Park, situated southwest of Louisville, provides hikers with stunning fall foliage views. Hikers can enjoy Lake View Trail and Possum Ridge Trail, in addition to other activities such as kayaking, horseback riding, camping, and fishing. Show more

Which trees are most commonly associated with Kentucky's fall colors?

Kentucky's trees produce the state's fall colors, with red maple comprising more than 12% of all trees. Sugar maple is the second most common tree, constituting around 10% of the trees, followed by yellow poplar, which adds a red tone to the mix. Other trees like oaks and hickories contribute golden hues to the autumn colors, while dogwoods, sweet gums, and sumacs add varying shades of red. All these beautiful trees combine to give visitors an unforgettable fall experience. Show more

What activities and attractions can visitors enjoy in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area besides leaf-peeping?

The Land Between the Lakes contains a vast array of outdoor activities beyond its inherent beauty in the fall season. Birdwatching and spotting animals such as bison or elk are popular activities in the neighboring Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. Hikers can explore the many trails in the park, while thrill-seekers can try water activities like kayaking and canoeing at Kentucky Lake or Lake Barkley. You can also camp at numerous park campgrounds, visit the Elk & Bison Prairie, or even explore the area hunting for geocaches. Show more

What is the purpose of the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, and why is it popular during Kentucky's fall season?

The Big South Fork Scenic Railway is a 14-mile train ride that travels through the Big South Fork Gorge in Southern Kentucky. During fall, this ride offers some stunning views of the autumn foliage, including rugged mountains and dense forests. Explore the Blue Heron Mining Camp's history during the railway stop, and then head back to Stearns Depot, where riders initially boarded. This beautiful train ride is a must-do during Kentucky's fall season, allowing visitors to admire the scenic landscape and the changing leaves from a unique perspective. Show more

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