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By Greg Gerber
Located along the banks of the Ohio River right at the border between Kentucky and Indiana, Louisville is a unique cultural center in America’s heartland.
Surrounded by rolling farmland and well known for its horse racing heritage, Louisville offers a surprising number of recreational activities for people of all ages. Whether you’re traveling solo or with a family, there are plenty of things to do above ground and below.
The most popular point of interest in Louisville must certainly be Churchill Downs, the world-acclaimed horse racing track and home to the Kentucky Derby, which takes place the first Saturday of May. Thoroughbred racing action takes place between the end of April through early July, and again in September and October.
During non race days, people can stroll through the meticulously manicured grounds and marvel at the iconic twin spires that define Churchill Downs.
General admission tickets are $3 for adults, $1 for seniors and children 12 and under are admitted free. Reserved seats are $20 each. Guests can wager a few dollars on their favorite horses to win, place or show.
Visitors can check out the history of horse racing at the Kentucky Derby Museum Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is open longer in summer months.
Tickets to the museum are $15 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $5 for children ages 5 to 14. Kids under 5 are admitted free. www.churchilldowns.com
Louisville Slugger factory
Baseball fans will enjoy an opportunity to see how baseball bats are made at the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. Guided tours are 30 minutes and take place every 20 minutes to an hour, depending upon the season. Even if the factory is not running, guests will enjoy a bat-making demonstration.
The Grand Slam Gallery features the bats used by some of the legends of baseball, and a movie about the history of baseball runs continuously throughout the day. Guests can have pictures taken next to life-size, lifelike sculptures of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Derek Jeter.
Best of all, visitors get a free mini-bat after every tour. However, people can also order a personalized bat and pick them up before leaving. The cost is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors over 60, and $8 for children 6 to 12.
You’ll have no problem finding the museum. Just look for the world’s largest bat, a 68,000-pound, 120-foot replica of Babe Ruth’s bat that leans against the museum building. www.sluggermuseum.com
Muhammad Ali Center
A trip to the Muhammad Ali Center is more than a museum about the legendary boxer’s life, it’s a multi-cultural center that puts Ali’s career and six life principles on display. Start the visit by watching a short film “If You Can Dream” which highlights key points of his life and provides the foundation for the rest of the items on display.
The museum goes into detail regarding Ali’s six pillars of his life: confidence, conviction, dedication, respect, giving and spirituality. An interactive display allows guests to shadow box with the champ, practice on a boxing bag and feel the power behind one of Ali’s punches on the other side of a heavy bag.
On demand videos allow visitors to experience highlights from 15 of Ali’s most famous fights. The Wall of Hope features a 55-foot collection of children’s art from around the world. There are two art galleries including LeRoy Neiman Gallery, one of the best sports artists in the world.
The center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $14 for adults, $13 for seniors, $10 for military and students with ID. Children 6 to 12 are $9 and kids under 5 are free. www.alicenter.org
Belle of Louisville
Cruise back in time aboard an authentic, 100-year-old Mississippi River steamboat as it paddles its way up and down the Ohio River. You can chose between a standard sightseeing tour and a cruise featuring lunch or dinner as well.
There are actually two ships – the Belle of Louisville and the Spirit of Jefferson. Both offer concession cafes, a full-service bar and outdoor observation deck. Sightseeing cruises offer outdoor seating and require use of stairs. The deck is not handicapped accessible.
Sightseeing cruises are $23 per adult, $22 for seniors and $13 for children 3 to 12 years of age. Lunch cruises are $38 for adults, $37 for seniors and $26 for children. Dinner prices are $46, $45 and $29, respectively. www.belleoflouisville.org
Louisville Mega Cavern
Not all the cool sites to see in Louisville are above ground. The Louisville Mega Cavern is a mine that goes under all 10 lanes of Interstate 264 and occupies about 100 acres of property beneath the city. For some reason, the cave is classified as a “building” by the state of Kentucky and subject to special zoning laws for above ground and below ground use. In fact, there are several “attraction” within the cavern
Mega Zip features six underground zip lines that allow for side-by-side racing, as well as two challenge bridges. Trained tour guides take people on a 2.5-hour thrilling adventure around the unique geological formation.
The attraction is rather pricey at $69 per person Monday through Friday and $79 on the weekends.
Mega Quest is an underground aerial ropes course that features 76 different challenges to overcome. The courses are designed for people of all ages, but children must be at least 5 and reach 52 inches with an outstretched arm.
The company provides all equipment necessary to safely navigate the course. Weekday tickets sell for $24.99 per adult, $19.99 for children 5 to 11. Saturday and Sunday, the price jumps to $29.99 for adults and $24.99 for children.
For those who prefer a more relaxed approach to touring the underground system, take the Mega Tram to enjoy an above ground and below ground tour to learn about the history, geology, mining, recycling, green building technology encompassed within the caverns.
Visitors take the 60-minute tour aboard an SUV-pulled tram that takes guests to a worm recycling center, early mining operation, and a replica Cuban missile fallout bunker. Tickets are $15.99 for adults and $10.99 for children ages 3 to 11. Discounts are available for senior citizens and military members.
For more information on all the underground activities, visit www.louisvillemegacavern.com.
For those who prefer sunny adventures, consider visiting Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay. Formerly a Six Flags amusement park, Kentucky Kingdom features dozens of rollercoasters and other thrill rides along with a complete waterpark.
Open weekends from late April to late May as well as September, the park is also open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Check the website for ticket information because it changes based on the day and time of year.
The park is located adjacent to the Kentucky Expo Center, and there is an RV park on the grounds. www.kentuckykingdom.com.
Cave Hill Cemetery
Speaking of underground, visitors to Louisville who enjoy history will really enjoy touring Cave Hill Cemetery where they can take any one of six different tours of the historical park. The tours include:
- Historical walking tour
- Twilight tram tour
- Horticultural tour
- Art and artists tour
- Civil War tour
- Bourbon distillers tour
Tours costs range between $15 and $35 per person, with the twilight and distillers tours being the most expensive. Reservations are required. For more information, visit www.cavehillheritagefoundation.org
No trip to Louisville is complete without a sip of good old Kentucky bourbon. Fortunately, its distilled right in Louisville at Peerless Distilling Company.
Tours of the factory take place daily where visitors see how grains are grains are milled, cooked, fermented, double-distilled, and barreled as bourbon and rye. No reservations are required and tours begin on the half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The cost is $20 for adults, $10 for tweens and teens, and children under 10 are admitted free.
Following the tour, you’ll have a chance to visit the gift shop to buy clothing, barware, food and other items, like Kentucky Moonshine. www.kentuckypeerless.com/
Fourth Street Live
One of the most popular places to visit in Louisville is the downtown entertainment district. Fourth Street Live features an abundant options of dining and drinking establishments as well as a waterfront park.
According to the website, there are a variety of free events throughout the year. Occasionally, there is a cover charge, such as special events and holidays, but the majority of all public events held in the street are free.
Many days, especially on summer weekends, live music can be enjoyed as people wander through the plethora of businesses that encompass the district. For a truly unique experience, take one of the horse-drawn carriage rides through the downtown area. It’s especially charming at night as the carriages are lit up. www.4thstlive.com
Places to stay
There are not many RV parks located in the Louisville area, but here are a few:
Kentucky Expo Center – This is a parking lot set up for RV use. There are no assigned stalls, but people congregate around power stations that offer 30- to 50-amp service. Some sites offer water and sewer connections, and the park staff will show you where those area. All sites are the same rate, which is $50 per night. (502) 367-5380
Louisville North Campground – Located across the river in Clarksville, Ind., the park offers basic amenities and pull-through sites. (800) 562-4771
Louisville South KOA – Located about 20 miles south of the city, this campground offers 100-foot pull through sites, 50-amp service and mini-golf and pool. Several cabins and deluxe cabins are also available to rent. (502) 543-8942