Illustration by Scott DuBar
When you think of Louisville, the first things that come to mind are bourbon, the Derby, and Slugger bats. But the best things about this bustling city on the banks of the Ohio River are its parks. Louisville has 112 parks totaling more than 11,000 acres and one of only five park systems in America designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted Sr., known best for creating New York City’s Central Park. With all of that green space, it’s no wonder the city’s active population is burning off their mint juleps by riding downtown singletrack and running on a vast network of city trails.
“This is a big city without a lot of the big city problems,” says Scott Newsome, general manager for local outfitter Quest Outdoors. “A lot of that has to do with the network of parks and the easy access to scenic escapes.”
Newsome’s Outdoor Picks
Hiking the Outskirts Forest
For an easy access hiking fix, lace up your boots and head to Bernheim Research Forest, a wooded 14,000-acre arboretum less than 30 minutes from downtown with over 35 miles of trails.
Paddle the Ohio
Out of the city boat launch in Westport, paddlers hit the wide upper reaches of the Ohio. “You won’t realize you’re 12 miles from almost a million people,” says Newsome. For a smaller stream, try the quiet waters of the Blue River from Milltown.
You can get a solid 10-mile ride downtown by connecting the Wilderness Loop in Seneca Park with the main trail that loops around adjacent Cherokee Park.
Run from Slugger Field
On July 23, the Grand Slam 4 Mile running race moves from home plate at Slugger Field to the scenic Waterfront Park and back. Another favorite route for runners is the three-mile loop around Iroquois Park.
Cycling the Kentucky Countryside
Louisville has a vibrant cycling community lead by the Louisville Bicycle Club. The club’s main event is the Old Kentucky Home Tour (September 10), a former winner of the League of American Bicyclists Best Century Award. The ride leaves the city from E.P. Tom Sawyer Park and winds south through rolling countryside to Bardstown and back.
Camping Near the City Lights
Pitch a tent in Jefferson Memorial Forest, a 6,218-acre wooded escape just 15 miles south of downtown. At night you can see the city lights from the hills.