Louisville Camping Guide

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Photo by Tommy Lisbin

Table of Contents

Whether you’re preparing to be the next Kentucky survivalist on the History channel’s, “Alone,” or looking for a glamping experience, we’ve got you covered. Here’s our guide to 5 of the best nearby campgrounds for every kind of camper, terms for beginners + local places to buy your camping gear.

Where to buy gear

Shop for camping gear at Louisville’s only locally owned + operated outdoor specialty store, Quest Outdoors at Shelbyville Rd. Plaza by Trader Joe’s. Here’s REI’s essential packing checklist to get you started.

Camping terms

Backcountry: Also called backpack camping, backcountry camping is done off-road or away from developed areas. You’ve likely hiked, kayaked or canoed, ridden horseback, or mountain biked into your camping location.

Front country: Also called car camping, Front country camping refers to camping at a campsite you can drive to, typically at an established campground with basic amenities.

Primitive site: These designated campsites do not include any modern amenities.

Electric site: These sites are one step above primitive campsites as they include access to electricity onsite.

Full hookup site: Designed to accommodate RVs and trailers, these campsites include electric, sewer + water hookups.

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City-editor Katie’s camping set up | Photo by @theloutoday

Nearby camping

⛺ Jefferson Memorial Forest

Only a 20-minute drive from downtown, Jefferson Memorial Forest is your destination for a quick camping trip. Established by the city in 1945 to honor military veterans, the once 1,500-acre park has grown to become the largest municipal-owned urban forest in the US at 6,500 acres.

There are 11 primitive campsites tucked in the forest with access to running water and latrines. Most of the campsites are well covered by towering pine trees + are adjacent to the forest’s sprawling hiking trails. You can make reservations online and they are recommended as spots sell out quickly.

Camping Level: Moderate

What to Do: Wilderness Louisville Forest Adventure on Oct. 16

Bonus: Firewood delivery available

⛺ Mammoth Cave National Park

While it’s a 2-hour drive from Louisville, Mammoth Cave National Park is worth the trip to see the world’s longest known cave system in the hilly country of southern Central Kentucky. With 420 miles of discovered system, the park offers numerous cave tours throughout the year.

The park offers 3 front country campgrounds with tent and RV sites for those who enjoy the outdoors but like to be close to amenities. They also have 13 backcountry campsites or riverside camping (available by boat) for those expert campers looking for a trip through rugged hills + majestic woods. All camping requires a permit and reservations are recommended.

Camping Level: Easy to challenging

What to Do: Aside from cave tours, check out horseback riding + boating

Bonus: Listen to this podcast about how Mammoth Cave was used as an experimental hospital treatment facility for tuberculosis in the 1800s.

⛺ General Butler State Resort Park

This Kentucky State Park in Carroll County — an hour from Louisville — has something for everyone including the history buff. The 791-acre park is named after General William O. Butler, a soldier in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. It also is home to the preserved Butler-Turpin historic home, a brick federal-style house open for tours with period pieces + family heirlooms.

The grounds also have a 53-room lodge with a restaurant overlooking the Ohio River, 24 cottages, and 100+ campsites with utility hookups + bathhouse access open year-round.

Camping Level: Easy

What to Do: Miniature golf + paddle boating

Bonus: Experience paranormal activity in the Butler-Turpin House during Butler Boo Bash weekends in October.

Lago Linda Hideaway

We couldn’t put out a camping guide without mentioning the Red River Gorge in the Daniel Boone National Forest. This privately-owned campground in Beattyville, KY — 2.5 hours from Louisville — is a hidden gem for gorge climbers + those seeking a quaint, classic camping experience. The owners are onsite during the season serving drinks at a small bar and cooking homemade meals in the cafe. The 410-acre property also has a lodge-style lounge with WiFi, bathhouse, horseback riding trails, and pond.

They have 35 graveled campsites with water, picnic tables, and fire rings along ridge tops covered with oak trees, as well as a grassy meadow for overflow camping. Lago Linda also has 6 rentable cabins surrounding the pond.

Camping Level: Moderate

What to Do: Guided climbing

Bonus: Hike the nature trail to a waterfall on the property. You might even see a bear.

Spring Mill State Park

Located about an hour north of Louisville in Mitchell, Indiana, this state park is home to an 1800s pioneer village + guided and self-guided cave systems. The village, founded in 1814, has 20 historic buildings to explore and a 3-story gristmill still grinding cornmeal today. Heritage interpreters are often onsite demonstrating period crafts.

The park has primitive, electric, and full hookup sites for RVs in their year-round campground + a camp store. Kentucky residents will have to pay the $9 out-of-state fee to enter the State Park.

Camping Level: Easy

What to Do: Visit the nature center to see 6 native snakes and an Eastern box turtle

Bonus: The park also honors Indiana astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom — America’s second man in space — at The Grissom Memorial where you can see his contributions to the space program, space suit + the Gemini Molly Brown spacecraft.

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