Elizabethtown, Kentucky and the surrounding area is full of dozens of low-cost and free places to explore for those that appreciate history and love nature.
Places To Explore In Elizabethtown, Kentucky And Surrounding Areas
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My husband Jack and I have spent a total of two weekends and one day trip in Elizabethtown and surrounding towns in the last few months. In that time, we managed to pack in a variety of free and affordable history and nature sites.
Most of what we explored would be perfect not just for couples like us, but also families with children of various ages. There were a few sites I wished I would have known about during our homeschooling years as they certainly helped bring history to life.
I am going to start with trails we walked and hiked during our time in the area before going on to the historic sites. However, some of the historical sites we visited also had short hikes you needed to take to see the site or trails you could take to get a better feel for what it would have been like to live as a boy growing up in Kentucky as President Lincoln did.
Freeman Lake Park
Location: 212 Freeman Lake Park Road, Elizabethtown, KY.
Freeman Lake is a peaceful oasis in the middle of the sprawling businesses of Elizabethtown. While Jack took a nap in the slide-in camper in the parking lot of the park, I hiked the almost five miles of trail around the perimeter of the lake.
This trail is a relatively easy one, but there is a hill or two and I think that parts of the trail could get pretty muddy in wet weather. I got a bit confused as to where the path was in the Freeman Park area as it isn’t defined–I just kept following the roads through the park until I saw a sign for the trail.
It was a warmer day in January when I hiked it, and yet still without a single leaf on the trees and not a flower blooming I found the trail to be a beautiful one, offering solitude (I only passed one runner and one biker) and lots of time to ponder.
Elizabethtown Nature Park
Location: 1900 Ring Road, Elizabethtown, KY.
My husband and I had a bit of trouble finding the wooded part of the trail in Elizabethtown Nature Park; it is marked only by two big boulders on the edge of the park driveway. A few feet away, you will see a trail sign. Snap a picture of it; you will need it when you are wondering if you are still on the trail or simply in someone’s field.
Despite feeling a bit lost, this trail is a pleasant stroll. I am not sure how many miles the loop trail is, I would guess roughly two.
Buffalo Lake Trail
Location: You will find an entrance off of Commerce Drive, Elizabethtown, KY (we parked on the side of the road, we didn’t see parking).
On our last morning before heading home during our second weekend in the Elizabethtown area, I said to Jack, “let’s go on one last short hike before we shove ourselves in the truck for four hours for the drive home.” Well, what should have been an easy hike became one long hike due to us getting lost around the heavily wooded side of the Buffalo Lake Trail.
There were so many side trails and trail markers seemed to be few and far between. Plus, we never did find a map legend that explained what color trail marker was for what path. In the end, we got out my smartphone and used Google maps to help us find a way out to the closest road and then walked along it to our truck.
Still, the hike had pretty lake views, but if I were to hike it again, I would find the map legend for it online first so I could snap a picture of it to take along with us.
Trails In Surrounding Areas
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
Price: $10 suggested donation per car
Location: 2075 Clermont Road, Clermont, KY.
I am a kid at heart so when I saw an article about the Forest Giants Trail at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, I put it on my bucket list and was super excited to find out it was near Elizabethtown (under a 30-minute drive).
Here are a few more pictures of the giants. The park has much more to see than just the giants, though. There are over 40 miles of trails to hike that will take you around ponds and a lake, through forests and gardens, and even a playground.
If you decided to go, I recommend getting an early start, pack a picnic, and plan on staying the day.
Location: Louisville, Nashville Turnpike, West Point, KY.
One photo cannot capture all of Tioga Falls. Multiple falls converge into one waterfall and then cascade down the several different rock ledges creating several more waterfalls. The sound of all that cascading water is incredibly soothing.
The beauty of the Falls makes it well worth the steep climb up to it. The hike is short at a mile in and a mile back and you will cross a railway track that provides a valley view on the way up. We went when it had been raining earlier that day, so the trail was muddy but not slippery.
Museums And Historical Sites In Elizabethtown
Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum
Price: Free (no donation box)
Location: 1080 N Dixie Highway (tucked back in a sea of car dealerships).
I am not a big car fan, but I am still glad we stopped at this museum. There are just under 100 cars in the display, and the selection is a good representation of how automobiles have changed over the years. Each car has a plaque either in front of it or beside it that provides information about its history.
We were at Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear for under an hour, but we both learned a few new things about classic cars and enjoyed our time there.
Hardin County History Museum
Price: Free (donations box near front desk)
Location: 201 W Dixie, Ave, Elizabethtown, KY.
Local museums are a favorite stop of ours, no matter where we are. They are usually free, although donations are accepted and appreciated (and we do give at each museum we visit) or only a small fee is charged for entrance.
We always leave with a better understanding of the area and its history, and at least one exhibit at each one fascinates us. At the Hardin museum, I spent a significant amount of time in the General store display, looking over each package displayed.
What held my attention in the area the longest were these tin potato chip containers. Can you imagine how many tins your family would be discarding if potato chips still came in tin cans? I am going to guess that back when they were sold in tins; people didn’t absentmindedly toss them in their grocery carts as they do now. I would think they were enjoyed only on rare occasions.
Location: This is in the Elizabethtown town square down the street from the museum and just a few shops over from Vibe Coffee shop.
I am a sucker for oddity sites like “the biggest rocking chair” or “the largest mailbox,” so when I found out that Elizabethtown had a building with a cannonball from the civil war era stuck in the side of it–I added it to our weekend plans.
This is not the original building the cannonball landed in, that one burned down, and when the new building was built in its place, they put the cannonball back where it was when it was fired in 1862.
Vietnam War Memorial
Location: Inside Elizabethtown Nature Park
Words cannot describe how it felt to walk from one end of the Vietnam War Memorial to the other glimpsing and sometimes pausing to read name after name after name of soldiers either lost or killed during their service to the United States of America.
You can read a total in a book about the Vietnam War, but you can’t grasp how impactful that total is. However, when you walk by rows and rows of names, the loss becomes more real.
The One-Room Schoolhouse
Location: Inside Freeman Lake Park, Elizabethtown, KY.
I came upon this one-room schoolhouse during my hike around Freeman lake. I wasn’t able to enter it, but I was able to look inside the windows and see that it is fully restored with desks and school supplies from its era.
Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln Memorial Cabin
Location: Inside Freeman Lake Park
This was another find on my walk around Freeman lake. It is a recreation of the cabin that Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln was living in when she married Lincoln’s father after the death of Lincoln’s mother. She is said to be the most famous step-mother in history.
If you happen to be in the area the first Saturday and Sunday of the month, you can tour the inside of the cabin. From what I read on the website, you can also tour the Schoolhouse and the Lincoln Heritage House at this time as well.
Lincoln Heritage House
Location: Inside Freeman Lake Park
Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, built the original homes on this site, and Lincoln himself helped with the building of the second, bigger cabin. However, fire damaged the original homes in 2009, and since then, they have been restored by the community.
Museums And Historical Areas Near Elizabethtown
General George Patton Museum Of Leadership
Price: Free (donation box on site)
Location: This is inside the Fort Knox Army Base. You need to visit the visitor center near the gates to obtain a visitors pass to visit the museum. We were asked for our Driver’s License and Social Security number in order to get the pass.
Jack is a huge war history fanatic and has wanted to visit the General George Patton Museum for a long while. In the end, I think I enjoyed the museum just as much as he did. My favorite part was the quotes by General George Patton, such as “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.”
Location: West Point, KY
Visiting Fort Duffield was a last-minute decision for us. We saw a sign and we decided to follow it to the parking lot of the Fort.
It is a steep climb up from the parking lot to the Fort, but there are several benches along the way for those who may struggle with the severity of it. At the top, you will see two arrow signs, one pointing towards the memorial site for the soldiers and the other pointing toward the grounds of the Fort. We visited both.
The Fort brought history to life as you walked along the top of the earthen walls that were constructed to stop cannonballs. These earthen walls were once one thousand feet long and 17 feet high and were made by the soldiers using nothing but hand tools.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
Location: 2995 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville, KY.
Start your time here by heading into the visitor center and going through the exhibit there about President Lincoln’s family history and the story of how and where he spent his childhood years.
After that, head up to the memorial building to see a representation of the cabin that the Lincolns lived in during their time at Sinking Springs. On the way down the steps from the memorial, be sure to visit the spring, which is down a set of stairs off to one side of the memorial stairs.
Once you are done at the memorial site, be sure to go across the street and walk the trail that will take you by an original wagon road used by settlers.
Price: $5 per adult, reduced admission for seniors and children. Children under four are free.
Location: 66 Lincoln Square, Hodgenville, KY.
This museum goes deeper into the history of Lincoln’s life than the visitor center at the memorial site. It starts with his childhood and follows his story, including his presidency and assassination. When you are finished at the museum, be sure to see the statue of Lincoln in the middle of the town square. Plus, there is a mural of Lincoln at the corner of West Water Street and North Lincoln Blvd.
Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek
Location: 7120 Bardstown Road, Hodgenville, KY.
Here you can see the Lincoln Tavern (built to cash in on tourist traffic) and the Gollaher Cabin (a childhood friend of Lincoln). We were unable to go inside either building as we were there off-season. However, we were able to walk down to the creek where Abraham Lincoln almost died when he fell in its swollen waters, luckily his friend Austin Gollaher was able to extend a branch to him and pull him to shore.
Once we viewed the lake, we headed up the trail to the lookout point at the top of the hill where you can get a good view of the valley and imagine what it would have looked like when Lincoln was a boy. The trail to the lookout is steep, but the view is worth the hike.
Food We Enjoyed While Exploring Elizabethtown
Amazin Glazin Donuts
This has never happened before I swear –but that box of 6 donuts you see above was eaten in one short sitting by my husband and me. We both thought Amazin Glazin donuts were so light and fluffy that they went down a little too easily. My favorite was the lemon filled donut with powdered sugar topping.
I like trying out a local coffee shop where ever we travel to and in Elizabethtown that was Vibe Coffee. I ordered an iced coffee with vanilla, and it was all the things l love in coffee; bold, yet smooth. I would return again.
Food We Enjoyed While Exploring The Area
Laha’s Red Castle Hamburgers
This tiny little hamburger joint serves a hamburger that is packed with flavor and the onion rings are great too! We went twice and both times the place was packed.
I hope this guide helps you plan your adventures in the Elizabethtown area. Locals, did I miss anything?
Are you looking for an alternative to busy and expensive campgrounds and one-night Walmart stops on the way to your destination? Check out our post about our first time using Boondockers Welcome.
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