This friendly Kentucky city’s numerous parks (more than 120!) fill its unique neighborhoods with accessible greenspaces.
Louisville is famous for being the home of the Kentucky Derby, Muhammad Ali Center and the bourbon distilleries of Whiskey Row, but it’s also a fantastic place to explore the outdoors. With the strong foundation of a parks system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted – America’s foremost landscape architect and the designer of New York City’s Central Park, among many others – Louisville’s parks include popular urban spots and hidden gems where visitors can be surrounded by serene nature just steps from the hubbub of the city.
Olmsted Parks System
One of only four completed Olmsted parks systems in the world is found in Louisville. Start by exploring the following parks – or any of the other 18 parks and six parkways in the Louisville system – then spend time discovering the charms of the neighborhoods they call home.
Cherokee Park is set in The Highlands, a neighborhood known for its Restaurant Row. The park’s main feature is a 3.9-kilometer scenic loop (with separate one-way lanes for cars and recreational traffic) that navigates a landscape of hills, meadows and forests in the Beargrass Creek Valley. Satisfy your post-exercise hunger at a sidewalk café or local pizza joint.
For spectacular views of downtown Louisville, head to the North Overlook in Iroquois Park, a hilly, forested oasis in the South Points Scenic Area. Enjoy a concert in the amphitheater and holiday events throughout the park, play a game on the disc golf course, then learn how bourbon and whiskey are made at the nearby Stitzel-Weller Distillery.
A small urban green space, Central Park is surrounded by the charming architecture of Old Louisville, a neighborhood with the largest collection of restored Victorian homes in the country. Highlights of the park include a stately pergola, manicured lawns and the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater, which hosts free summertime performances of Shakespeare in the Park. After exploring the park, sample local craft brews in the taproom at the Old Louisville Brewery or check out the newly expanded Speed Art Museum.
Vast Shawnee Park is located on the banks of the Ohio River in the West Louisville neighborhood of Shawnee. With walking tracks, baseball diamonds and tennis courts, as well as an 18-hole championship golf course, this 115-hectare park was Olmsted’s vision for the great public space of the city, perfect for parades and large public events. After playing and picnicking in the park, set aside time to visit the nearby Kentucky Center for African American Heritage.
Shakespeare in the Park at Central Park in Old Louisville
The Parklands of Floyds Fork
A series of parks set along the banks of Floyds Fork – a tributary of the Salt River located east and south of Louisville – the Parklands continues Olmsted’s work of “bringing nature into neighborhoods.” The four parks are linked by a park drive, an urban trail system and a paddling trail, providing abundant opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, canoeing and other outdoor pursuits.
The parks – Beckley Creek Park, Pope Lick Park, Turkey Run Park and Broad Run Park – include children’s playgrounds, dog parks, picnic pavilions, lodges, sports fields and a mountain bike park with challenging terrain, as well as boat ramp access to Floyds Fork for paddling and fishing. In addition, the William F. Miles Lakes and Boulder Pond are stocked with game fish, inviting visitors to cast a line from the accessible fishing pier or the shore. Interpretive centers offer educational programs and displays about local plants and animals.
A paved path winding through the Parklands of Floyds Fork
More Ways to Get Outdoors
Perched on the banks of the Ohio River, adjacent to downtown, Waterfront Park is a popular gathering spot for events, with plenty of scenic riverside green space for exploring. Visitors can walk across the Big Four Bridge, ride the Belle of Louisville steamboat, rent a bike or take a Segway tour through the park. Listen to a concert in the amphitheater and grab a bite from a food truck, then stroll along the Louisville Riverwalk and watch the sun set over the river.
In Jefferson Memorial Forest, a lush woodland located just 15 minutes southwest of downtown, visitors can experience nature along nearly 80 kilometers of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Hike along ridges and through valleys on the serene Red Trail or soar through the tree canopy at Zipline Kingdom.
Joe Creason Park is a small municipal park in the Poplar Level neighborhood that’s a favorite among bird watchers. The park provides access to the family-friendly Louisville Nature Center and Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve’s 5-kilometer hiking and cross-country running trail. After getting in your steps at the park, check out the nearby Louisville Zoo.
Sunset over the Big Four Bridge at Waterfront Park
Fly into the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF), and rent a car to explore the city.