Louisville, KY Parks and Outdoor Recreation

By Carol Cowan on March 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm EST
Waterfront Park in Downtown Louisville, KY

PHOTO CREDIT: Antony Boshier

Outdoor enthusiasts of all sorts love Louisville – and it's easy to see why. With more than 120 parks covering some 15,000 acres, Louisville is home to more parkland per capita than any other city in the United States. Plenty of walking and biking trails, nature centers, golf courses, swimming pools, campgrounds, community centers and more make outdoor recreation both easily accessible and fun.

 21st Century Parks Initiative

Louisville’s 21st Century Parks Initiative, the most comprehensive effort to grow and improve Louisville’s park system since the creation of the Olmsted parks in the 1890s, calls for the acquisition and development of 3,800 additional acres of parkland. The Parklands of Floyds Fork, previously known as the Floyds Fork Greenway Master Plan, includes 100 miles of new hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, as well as 19 miles of canoe trail, children's playgrounds, walking paths, dog parks, picnic and event facilities, fishing holes, playing fields and more. Phase I construction began in 2011 and is scheduled to be fully completed by 2015. However, The Parklands will open in phases beginning in 2013.
Another element of the City of Parks Initiative the Louisville Loop – a paved, 100-mile, multiuse trail around the community. Once completed, the trail will wind through five physiographic regions including the Ohio River Valley, the Knobs, the Shale Lowland, the Floyd's Fork watershed and the Limestone Belt. To date, the Ohio River Valley portion of the trail has been completed, as well as the Olmsted Parkways which connect each region of the Louisville Loop.

Olmsted Legacy

Many years before the 21st Century Parks Initiative was realized, Frederick Law Olmsted – the Father of American Landscape Architecture – laid the groundwork for the city's remarkable park system. Louisville is proud to have one of only four park systems designed by Olmsted, who is famous for works such as New York City's Central Park and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. In 1891, Olmsted made his first visit to Louisville to present his vision of a system of parks connected by tree-lined parkways.

The innovative concept, which broke away from separate, freestanding parks common in those days, earned Olmsted a commission to design three major multipurpose parks for the city of Louisville: Cherokee, Iroquois and Shawnee. Ultimately, Olmsted and his successor firm developed plans for 18 parks and six parkways that today comprise Louisville’s historic park system. A vital component of the city’s identity and quality of life, the Olmsted parks represent the fullest realization of his social vision – that parks should provide spaces for creating a stronger community and a respite from the stresses of modern city life.

Cherokee Park

The 390-acre Cherokee Park features a 2.4-mile loop with separate lanes for vehicle and recreational traffic, set amid the gently rolling slopes of the Beargrass Creek valley. Other amenities include ball fields, tennis courts, archery range, golf, dog run, picnic tables, playgrounds and fishing. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy provides a downloadable MP3 audio tour of Cherokee Park.

Iroquois Park

Iroquois Park features hiking and equestrian trails in a rugged setting that preserves an ancient forest and rare plant and animal species. With 725 acres, Iroquois has ample room for a golf course, disc golf, picnic shelters, the 2,400-seat Iroquois Amphitheater and more. A number of clubs make use of Iroquois Park amenities, such as the Iroquois Hill Runners and Louisville Disc Golf Club.

Shawnee Park

The riverfront location and expansive Great Lawn of Shawnee Park make it a popular spot for major city gatherings and events. It also features a state-of-the-art athletic complex and the RiverWalk hiking and bike path. These three major Olmsted parks represent just a portion of the vast wealth of green space and recreational facilities available to Louisvillians.

Waterfront Park

Louisville's 85-acre Waterfront Park offers a grand view of the river, space for concerts and festivals, and the 14-acre Great Lawn, along with the promenade along the river and the Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park, which commemorates Abraham Lincoln's lifelong Kentucky connections. The "urban park" has hosted crowds of up to 350,000 for events like Thunder Over Louisville.

Metro Parks Online Resources

The city’s Metro Parks Web site makes it easy for residents to find exactly what they’re looking for in a park. It lists all Metro Parks and Parkways by name and also provides a search function by location, amenities or features. Maps of all parks are available online, as well as some informative videos and virtual and downloadable tours. Residents can also visit the Web site for the latest news about volunteer opportunities, healthy living initiatives, bike transportation, sports programming, activities for all ages, clubs, and improvements and additions to the parks system.

More Recreation Fun

The Louisville Science Center is the largest hands-on science center in Kentucky, with about 150 interactive exhibits and activity stations, a four-story IMAX Theatre, teaching laboratories, educational programs, and distance learning capabilities. Designated the “State Science Center of Kentucky” by the 2002 Kentucky General Assembly, the Louisville Science Center features interactive exhibits and engaging programs for children, families and adults. 

The Louisville Zoo is located on 100 acres in the heart of the city and features more than 1,300 animals living in naturalistic and mixed animal settings designed to mimic their natural geographic areas and habitats. The innovative MetaZoo Education Center was the first facility of its kind to serve both as a public exhibit and a living classroom.

Read about more great activities in Louisville, KY.

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