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Kentucky’s Great River Road Highlights

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While Kentucky’s Great River Road might be the shortest section along the ten state route, that doesn’t mean it lacks places to go or things to see on the way. Whether you’re driving the entire Great River Road from end to end, or just in portions, Kentucky has a few sights to see. I’ve picked my three favorite stops along Kentucky’s Great River Road that highlights the great history it has to offer!

1. Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site

The first of the highlights along Kentucky’s Great River Road is Wickliffe Mounds. Like many of the mound sites found along the Mississippi River, it has been preserved in one way or another. This site has been a museum since the mid 1930s. However, it was occupied by its builders for almost 200 years from 1100 to 1300 CE. There is a wealth of fantastic archaeological information and research about the people lived here and called this place home well before Europeans showed up.

An example of a dig site at Wickliffe Mounds

The site features three preserved mounds. There is a self-guided audio walking tour of these mounds. If you’re needing to stretch your legs a bit more, you can also take the woods walk which is just over 1/10th of a mile. Wickliffe Mounds is also serves as the first Great River Road Interpretive Center along Kentucky’s Great River Road. Make sure you stop in and check out this cool piece of history!

2. Barlow House Museum

Since Kentucky’s portion of the Great River Road is relatively short, there is plenty of time to take a few detours. One of those should be to head on up to the Barlow House Museum. After leaving the Wickliffe Mounds site, you’ll just make a quick left onto US 60 and head into Barlow, Kentucky. It’s here that you’ll find the Barlow House Museum.

The Barlow House is a quick detour from Kentucky's Great River Road
The beautiful Barlow House

The patriarch of the family was one, Thomas Jefferson Barlow, who moved into the area that would come to bear his name in the 1840s. Eventually his son, Clifton Barlow, would build this beautiful Victorian-style home for his growing young family. Most of the unique antiques, collectables, and baubles were brought to the home by Vivian Barlow, who was Clifton’s oldest son. He maintained the home as a summer residence until his death in 1990, when it was set to be preserved on behalf of the people of Barlow. This regal home became a part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, making it a worth a quick visit on your drive down the Great River Road.

3. Columbus-Belmont State Park

This is another great state park that sits along Kentucky’s Great River Road. This location played a vital role during the American Civil War. The Confederate position in Columbus (site of the park) was so heavily fortified it became known as the “Gibraltar of the West”. Although General Ulysses Grant had made progress in capturing Cairo, Illinois, this new Gibraltar stood in the way of reopening the Mississippi. The coming battle of Belmont was claimed as a victory by both sides. The Confederacy retained its positions until 1862 when they retreated from Columbus due to other losses further east.

Sunset at Columbus-Belmont State Park along Kentucky's Great River Road
Sunset is a great time to visit Columbus-Belmont State Park

Today, visitors can walk along the earthworks and trenches that were created during its fortification. The park features replica cannon that once stood guard over the mighty Mississippi below. Beyond it’s historical functions, Columbus-Belmont State Park is also a great place to bring the kids. It features playgrounds, mini-golf, and even a snack bar during the summer season. If you’re searching for camping along the Kentucky’s Great River Road, then this is the place to do it as well! All in all, Columbus-Belmont State Park is one of the best stops along this stretch of the road.

So Long to Kentucky’s Great River Road

With it being the shortest stretch of the Great River Road, there isn’t a whole lot to see. What that does mean is that it’s really easy to take it all in! During our trip down the road we spent the majority of our time simply enjoying a quiet drive through the country. The farms of rye and wheat line the road and will make you wonder if there isn’t a simpler way to enjoy life.

Myself along Kentucky's Great River Road
Sometimes you’ll even find friendly faces along the way!

If you’re looking to spend a night in the area, consider staying at the Iron Banks Lodge. It’s located in Columbus, and is a quaint hotel right on the main route. Otherwise, I suggest simply taking in the road and making your way on down to Tennessee for the night. Kentucky’s Great River Road is just one part of the greater whole. To learn more about its neighbors, check out my post on Illinois’ Great River Road!

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