By Hannah Schultz, Features Editor

The fossil of a mastodon skull, a small herd of bison and almost five miles of hiking through salt-sulfur springs and woodlands — all of these things can be found right in your backyard (or at least an hour and a half drive away). While many are content with limiting themselves to the popular destination of Natural Bridge State Park or Red River Gorge for their excursions into the natural world while at Asbury, you may want to consider some other locations for your next hiking trip. There are 48 other state parks in Kentucky — a wealth of untapped natural beauty — that each highlight different aspects about the state’s unique natural features and varied history.

naturalbridgeRecently, I made my first foray into the world of state parks with a trip to Big Bone Lick State Historic Site. Located in Union, Ky. about 1.5 hours from Asbury, this state park first sparked my interest when I learned that it was the birthplace of American paleontology. For history or biology nerds, according to the park’s website, the salt marshes in that area attracted Ice Age Megafauna — mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths and stag-moose — with the rich feeding grounds. The marshes, which were unstable, quick-sand-like bogs, swallowed these ancient giants and preserved them for future archaeologists and paleontologists. The fossils found in that area have sparked academic interest since the 1700s, even drawing the attention of President Thomas Jefferson.

However, for those who won’t be enthralled by the mastodon skull or Native American artifacts, the park also boasts almost five miles of hiking trails. With all the beauty of the Gorge and a fraction of the tourists, the trails are ideally situated around a lake, and the view is completely worth the uphill trek. For groups with a mixture of history buffs and nature enthusiasts, the Discovery trail may be the perfect balance of facts and fauna. It begins beside a recreation of a bog, with vultures feeding on various trapped Ice Age Megafauna. It then winds through the grasslands, where the park maintains a small herd of bison onsite—a species hunted to extinction by the Native Americans and reestablished through conservation efforts. It also features hiking through gorgeous woodlands along a stream, punctuated by informational plaques detailing the history of the region.

fortharrodThere are so many more opportunities to engage with the natural beauty and the history of Kentucky than just the same old trip to Natural Bridge or the Gorge. Carter Caves State Resort Park, located in Carter County, Ky. and less than two hours from campus, features miles of subterranean adventure — the highest concentration of caves to be found in Kentucky. Just 30 minutes from Wilmore, Old Fort Harrod State Historic Site boasts an original-structure museum that contains an impressive collection of firearms, from early flintlocks to Civil War-era muskets. Kentucky’s first state park, Pine Mountain State Resort Park, features 12 miles of self-guided hiking up Pine Mountain, which is studded with ravines growing 300-year-old Hemlock trees and breathtaking views of valleys and waterfalls.

Whichever state park you choose to start your adventure, Kentucky’s unique culture, history and natural beauty is guaranteed to make you thankful to live in the Bluegrass State.