Summer is on the horizon, which means more opportunities for travel. Even if you don’t have a lot of extra time this summer, there are plenty of places to go that are less than two hours away. You can spend the night if you wish or simply drive home at the end of the day. Here are three great day-trip destinations that are good to check out year-round, but especially in warmer weather. Fill up the tank, grab your bag and go!
Travel time: 1 hour, 19 minutes (72.5 miles) via I-64 East
If you want a quintessential taste of Kentucky — think white fences lining rolling green hills and understated, yet beautiful, barns and homes — look no farther than Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
Only a little more than an hour’s drive from Louisville, located about halfway between Lexington and Danville, Shaker Village is like taking a step back in time. You’ll enjoy the same rich landscape and communal spirit that lured the Shakers to central Kentucky in 1805.
But don’t be mistaken, the folks at Shaker Village have created an extensive events calendar for even the pickiest modern-day travelers. You’ll find an exceptional array of seasonal activities — candlelight tours at Christmas, petting baby animals at Breakfast with the Babies in the spring — as well as craft fairs, concerts and clinics year-round. Folks who love a physical challenge in the great outdoors can come for the marathon and half-marathon, various yoga programs, or kayaking and canoeing the Kentucky River.
If you’d like a more relaxing visit, enjoy a cruise on the Dixie Belle riverboat or listen to a costumed historian teach about the traditional weaving, cooking, harvesting and building methods of the 19th-century Shakers. With all this activity, you will certainly work up an appetite. Luckily, you can dine on classic Kentucky fare at The Trustees’ Table, where the menu celebrates “seed-to-table” freshness. View admission prices and hours here.
If you decide to stay the night, enjoy an inviting respite at The Inn, comprised of 72 guest rooms spread out among 13 historic buildings within Shaker Village. Whether you stay in a cottage or in the renovated Trustees’ Office, your reservation includes complimentary admission to The Historic Centre, The Farm and The Preserve, the three main components of any visit to Shaker Village.
Travel time: 1 hour, 35 minutes (95.6 miles) via I-65 South
A trip to Mammoth Cave National Park near Cave City is the prerequisite road trip for any Kentuckian.
The park, about a 90-minute drive from Louisville, really is mammoth, with 400 miles of explored territory in the world’s longest known cave system. You can buy tour tickets at the newly remodeled visitor center or make your reservations online; summer hours and ticket information can be found here.
Although you can walk through certain parts of the cave without a guide, explorers have been giving tours in Mammoth Cave since 1816 (that’s 200 years!), and you’ll definitely learn more about this amazing geological wonder by embarking on a ranger-led tour. Do take a look at the list of restricted items before you pack the car, however; for those families with small tots, strollers and any child backpack carrier (even those without metal frames) are not permitted. Although the cool cave temperature is a delight on a hot summer day, don’t forget that the park also boasts some great sights above ground, with nearly 70 miles of nature trails. Picnic and a hike, anyone?
After your visit to Mammoth Cave, stop at Kentucky Down Under, a zoo 10 miles north on I-65. Your kids will enjoy roaming around this small animal park, where kids are encouraged to get up close and personal with the animals; you’ll get great pictures of your child holding a kangaroo’s tail or becoming a perch for lorikeets. Guests come in contact with Australian animals they’re not used to seeing at American zoos, such as kangaroos, dingoes, kookaburras and emus.
There are other attractions to round out your visit — kids can try to strike it rich at a gem mine and even take another cave tour at Mammoth Onyx Cave. This cave is a great option if you’re traveling with younger children who might be mesmerized by the stalactites and stalagmites, but who are a bit too young for a full tour at Mammoth Cave. It’s included in your admission price, and you don’t need a prior reservation. Easy and laid-back — a perfect cave tour for the very young or the very old (or just the very tired parents!). View admission rates and park hours here.
West Baden Springs and French Lick, Ind.
Travel time: 1 hour, 25 minutes (65.6 miles) via Indiana Hwy. 150
West Baden Springs or French Lick — what’s the difference? Well, these German-influenced neighboring villages are about an hour northwest in Indiana, and both have two large resort hotels owned by the same company. So what you cannot find at one location, you can find at the other.
This has been a resort community since the early 1900s, where visitors from all over came to enjoy the beautiful valley and landscape. Now, these historical and completely renovated venues are still attracting guests from all over. The resort at West Baden is a quiet, beautiful escape. French Lick’s hotel has a casino, which is self-explanatory, but beyond that, there is something for everyone and enough activities to keep you occupied for longer than a day if you want.
Swing a club at one of the three golf courses, which have played host most recently to the 2015 Senior PGA Golf Tournament. There are also other options such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, carriage rides, bowling and tennis. If you are more in the mood for relaxation, try one of the spas — there is one at both locations. If you have brought the kids, check out the Big Splash Adventure Indoor Water Park, which is a glassed-in, 40,000-square-foot water park good for year-round use. This is something to keep in your pocket for rainy days and winter.
Be sure to check out the town of French Lick while you’re there, especially to eat at the delicious local favorite restaurant, simply named The German Cafe. Originally located in a renovated trailer home outside Paoli, this restaurant moved to the bigger town of French Lick into a large historic building a couple of years ago. The German food is divine, and the German family that owns it will help you navigate the menu and the menagerie of German beer they have in stock.
Bon Voyage! Have a great time exploring all of the great travel locations just a quick drive away!
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