"Sometimes, it seems to me that nothing can excel a woodland pasture in the fall," wrote Lexington journalist and literary stylist J. Soule Smith in 1898. Nearly a century later, he’s still got a point. Lexington’s scenic landscape--gorgeous any time of year--takes on a special beauty in the autumn. Here’s our suggestions for how to get the most out of it before the leaves fall.
Take the Long Way Home
Fall is a perfect time to take our self-guided Bluegrass Country Driving Tour, available free from VisitLEX. (Check out an abbreviated online version of the tour here.) The tour route winds past horse farms and through some of the prettiest scenic routes in and around Lexington. It’s designed in three segments, so you can make a morning or afternoon--or a whole day--of it.
Bluegrass Note: Get updates on the status of changing leaves across Kentucky from late September through early November on the Kentucky Tourism ColorFall page.
Answer the Call to Post
It’s not fall in Lexington without at least one day spent at Keeneland’s Fall Meet, held every October. So break out your tweeds and get ready to enjoy the cool fall air and a warm cup of burgoo--a special Bluegrass stew--at what many consider the most beautiful racetrack in the world. The 2020 fall racing dates are October 2 through 24, with racing Wednesdays through Sundays. Gates open at 11 a.m. and post time is 1:05 p.m. General admission: $5.00. (859-254-3412 or 800-456-3412).
See the Picturesque Palisades.
The limestone cliffs known as the "Palisades" were cut by the Kentucky River some five million years ago. Today, they serve as a dramatic backdrop for fall scenery along the river. One of the best ways to take in the view is aboard the Dixie Belle paddlewheeler, which has daily hour-long excursions from the landing at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. The boat's season runs May through October. As the leaves reach their peak color, the waters of the Kentucky River turn a shade of teal, making for the perfect Kentucky photo op. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for ages 6 - 12 (ages 5 and under are free), available at Shaker Village. (859-734-5411 or toll free at 800-734-5611).
Paddle at Your Own Pace
"Sweet silver Elkhorn, I hear thy music in my dreams," waxed a 19th-century poet about Elkhorn Creek. Take an excursion along this historic and beautiful Bluegrass stream and you’ll get it. The Elkhorn’s sparkling waters wind through horse farms, historic sites, great picnic spots and plenty of fall color.
The Elkhorn wanders through several counties. You can set a canoe at several spots along the creek: Oser Landing Park on US 460 near the I-75 exit; Great Crossings Park off US 227; or Cardome Park on US 25 N, north of downtown Georgetown. Excursions at these sites can be arranged by calling Canoe Kentucky at (502) 227-4492 or (888) CANOEKY, or visit www.canoeky.com.
Tour on Two Wheels
The backroads surrounding Lexington are ideal for scenic bicycling. Ride under the canopy of trees along Old Frankfort Pike, an official Scenic Byway or Pisgah Pike, past the castle, historic Pisgah Church and lovely horse farms. The Legacy Trail, a beautifully landscaped 12 mile paved trail is another option. It runs from the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden downtown to Kentucky Horse Park. About eight miles of the trail are off-street and fully paved.
For information about regular organized rides and other recommended routes, ask at area bike shops like Bicycle Face (859) 888-2453 or Pedal Power (859) 255-6408.
Go Where the Wild Things Are
Raven Run Nature Sanctuary is 734 acres of unspoiled natural scenery just minutes from downtown Lexington. In the fall, the sanctuary is a wonderful place to admire meadow wildflowers, catch sight of many varieties of birds passing through on their way south, and explore the Kentucky River Palisades area. You can just drop by to wander its ten miles of trails on your own, or call ahead to register for special programs ranging from Tree Walks to guided history hikes. There is no admission charge to enter the park. The sanctuary is at 3885 Raven Run Way in Fayette County, and is open daily. (859) 272-6105.
Discover Tree-mendous Getaways in the City
You don't even have to leave the city to enjoy fabulous fall scenery. Lexington Cemetery at 833 West Main Street includes more than 200 varieties of trees, along with lovely ponds, other plantings and an array of fascinating monuments. The cemetery is nationally recognized as an arboretum. A tree guide is available at the cemetery. Gates open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. Admission is free. (859) 255-5522.
Large trees, interesting fountains, sculptures and colorful historic homes in the Gratz Park neighborhood (bounded by Third, North Mill, Market and Second streets) make it a gorgeous place to take a walk in the fall. The Lexington Walk map, available free at the Lexington Visitors Center, offers a descriptive tour of the history of the area and points out some notable historic houses. (859) 233-7299 or (800) 845-3959.
Fall also is a beautiful time to stroll the grounds of Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate. The hundreds of trees on the 20-acre setting include gingko, maple, beech, bur oak, a huge American elm and, of course, blue ash, for which the estate was named. There's no charge to tour the grounds. (859) 266-8581. While you’re in the area, take a stroll down nearby Catalpa Road--lined with massive gingko trees, the street turns gold in the fall, making it a popular photo spot for locals.
Bluegrass Note: About 12 million acres--representing about 47 percent of the state's land area--are forested in Kentucky. Some 175 species of native and introduced trees grow wild in the state. The official state tree is the tulip poplar, and the Kentucky coffeetree, the only tree to mention Kentucky in its name, is the official state heritage tree.
Have Some Fun on the Farm
Fall isn’t fall without a family trip to the farm. Find the perfect pumpkin, along with fresh apples, Indian corn, gourds and other fall bounty. Eckert's Boyd Orchard in Versailles is famous for its apple cider and pumpkins. (859) 873-3097. At Bi-Water Farm & Greenhouse, you can tackle a five-acre corn maze, hop on a hayride, walk through the haunted farm house, visit the Enchanted Barnyard or take a train ride around the farm. (502) 863-3676. Evans Orchard always has tons of family fun in the fall, which sometimes involves a pumpkin throwing contest. (502) 863-2255.
Take a Train Ride
The Bluegrass Scenic Railroad lives up to its name with its fall excursions into the jaw-droppingly pretty Kentucky River Gorge area. The 90-minute train rides are offered on Saturdays and Sundays through late October and depart from Woodford County Park, off US 62 (Tyrone Road) and Beasley Drive in Versailles. They also offer special Halloween and holiday excursions. Tickets for regular excursions are $14 adults, $12 ages 62 and over, $10 ages 2 to 12. Check out their museum before you board. (859) 873-2476.
Giddy Up and Go
Enjoy the crisp fall air and bright scenery from the best seat in the house: a horse. Through October, horseback riding is offered at the Kentucky Horse Park (Ironworks Pike off I-75, four miles north of Lexington). Prices start at $25 for horseback rides ($20 with park admission) and $5 for pony rides. (859) 233-4303.
Advanced riders will enjoy Big Red Stables in Harrodsburg, where both unguided and guided rides are available. Prices start at $45 per hour and reservations must be made in advance. (502) 863-5701. At Whispering Woods, 265 Wright Lane in Georgetown, your riding adventure can include camping and picnicking as well as trail rides and pony rides. There are special haunted trails to explore in October. Prices start at $30 for a fifty minute ride, and, if you won't get too saddle sore, $50 for ninety minutes. (502) 570-9663. At Deer Run Stables, 2001 River Circle Drive in Richmond, guided one hour trail rides are $30 per person. (615) 268-9960.
Catch Fall Scenery--and Maybe More
With its mild temperatures and sunny weather, fall is an ideal time to go fishing in the Bluegrass. Jacobson Park on Richmond Road in Lexington includes a small fishing lake. (859) 288-290. There are numerous marinas at the 3,600-acre Lake Herrington, located off KY 152 between Harrodsburg and Danville. (800) 355-9192. And Elkhorn Creek is one of the top small mouth bass streams in the South--there's good shoreline fishing, and a boat ramp at Great Crossing Park, off US 227 in Scott County. (502-863-2547 or 888-863-8600)
As always, a state fishing license, available from most local convenience stores, sporting goods stores and bait shops, is required to fish.
Bluegrass Note: Kentuckians celebrate fall with a variety of festivities and special events. Court Days in Mount Sterling, east of Lexington, is perhaps the most famous "shop and swap" meet in the state. It's always held the weekend before the third Monday of October. Late in October, a variety of Halloween "ghost tours" and events are scheduled, including the popular Halloween Parade of Breeds at the Kentucky Horse Park, and, of course, the iconic Thriller Parade in downtown Lexington. Contact VisitLEX for the specific dates of this year's fall happenings. (859-233-7299 or 800-845-3959)