Bluegrass Beauty Abounds in Northern Kentucky

Residents enjoy outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the region.

Cary Estes
On Monday, May 10, 2021 - 12:47
Northern Kentucky

You don’t have to be lucky to enjoy outdoor recreation in Northern Kentucky.

The possibilities are all around and easy to find, from the obvious spots, such as hiking trails and sports fields to several unexpected finds, like places to mountain bike, kayak and even rock climb.

“Northern Kentucky is a great place for outdoor recreation because of the diversity of activities we can provide,” says Rhonda Ritzi, programs coordinator for Kenton County Parks & Recreation. “People in this region love to get outside, enjoy the outdoors and use as much of those spaces as possible.”

Northern Kentucky
City of Florence

Parks Aplenty in Northern Kentucky

One of the most popular ways is by visiting the numerous parks throughout the region, which offer a wide array of recreational opportunities. For example, the 290-acre England/Idlewild Park in Burlington, KY, has trails for hiking and biking as well as a highly rated disc golf course that hosts an annual national professional tournament.

In addition, three fishing ponds in the park are regularly stocked with bluegill and catfish. Other favorites in the region include the sprawling 1,000-acre A.J. Jolly Park in Alexandria, KY, which offers camping, boating and horseback riding, and Boone County Arboretum, located just outside Union, KY, which is home to a number of sports fields, approximately 2.5 miles of walking trails and an arboretum featuring a diverse collection of plants and trees.

Other popular spots are Doe Run Lake in Covington, KY, a 183-acre park with a 50-acre lake, and the trio of Florence Nature Park, Lincoln Woods Park and South Fork Park in Florence, KY.

Kenton County is in the process of turning the former Fox Run golf course in Independence, KY, into a 225-acre park, nearly doubling the amount of parkland within the county.

The park already is open for passive recreation, such as walking, biking and fishing, with more amenities to come.

Parks have long been a priority for Diane Whalen, who is entering her 23rd year as mayor of Florence. Over the past two decades, she says, the city has made sure that new residential developments include easily accessible green space, and it has worked to improve or establish parks in many older neighborhoods.

“It is important for families to have a place to be outside within walking distance of their homes,” Whalen says. “It really is about quality of life. If there’s no place for people to walk to safely and for children to play safely, then that changes who is willing to live in that area. When people are looking for a place to raise their family, this is just one more piece of the puzzle that fits into it.”

Northern Kentucky
Devou Park Trail Collective

Adventure Awaits Along the Ohio River

For those who prefer their outdoor recreation a bit more on the adventurous side, Northern Kentucky provides places for them, as well. The most well known is the 700-acre Devou Park in Covington, which has more than a dozen miles of natural surface trails that are designed for mountain biking but are open to runners and hikers, too.

Volunteers led by the Devou Park Trail Collective began carving out the pathways through the park’s woods a decade ago. Plans are underway to add another 3 miles of trails in the coming years, according to Trail Collective official Lee Ransdell.

“The trails were built with all-volunteer hours and labor, and the grants we’ve received for them have mostly been through private foundations,” Ransdell says. “We had almost 800 volunteer hours last year just to help maintain the trail. So not only do the people here use the trails, they also give back and keep them in great shape.”

The park includes some beginner trails, Ransdell says, but it’s mostly geared toward the intermediate rider.

“You’re in this beautiful wooded area. Some of the trails have river and city views. There’s just so much that they offer a mountain biker,” he says.

For road cycling, Ransdell recommends Route 8 along the Ohio River as well as some of the less crowded roads in the farm country to the south.

Bikers and hikers also flock to Riverfront Commons, an 11.5-mile path that runs along the Ohio River from Ludlow to Fort Thomas, as well as the 2.5-mile Aero Parkway Bicycle Trail in Boone County. Meanwhile, kayaking and paddling opportunities can be found at Doe Run Lake Park and along the Licking River, which flows between Covington and Newport, just south of Cincinnati.

“The communities in Northern Kentucky have invested a lot of time, money and research into providing the types of activities and recreational opportunities that the citizens want,” Whalen says. “We didn’t want to be just the next stop off the expressway. We wanted to create special places for people to enjoy. That’s the exclamation point to everything else we offer.”

Want to learn more about what Northern Kentucky has to offer? Check out the latest edition at Livability Northern Kentucky.


Cary Estes is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala.