Kentucky in Fall: A Travel Guide to Bowling Green, KY

While it’s most known across the globe for the Kentucky Derby and The Bourbon Trail, there is so much more to Kentucky than meets the eye. Beautiful in any season, Kentucky in fall is a real treat for the senses. From the rolling hills of horse country to the dense forests of Daniel Boone National Forest, the autumn season in the Bluegrass State brings a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors, fall festivals, and plenty of pumpkin and apple picking. Among the top destinations in Kentucky to visit during the fall season, one city in particular stands out above the rest: the central Kentucky college town of Bowling Green.

During the fall months, Bowling Green comes to life with lively football stadiums, tailgating, an epic haunted house, apple and pumpkin farms, corn mazes, and plenty of fall scenery. As the state’s third largest city, and the home to one of the state’s largest Division I institutions, Western Kentucky University (WKU), it’s charming historic downtown, quirky coffee shops, and array of seasonal events make it one of the top destinations in the United States to visit in the fall. 

I was lucky enough to call Bowling Green home for six years as a student of WKU, and got to experience six amazing fall season in the city. In the blog post below, I outline the must-see attractions and must-do fall activities to help you plan a fun and stress-free trip to Kentucky in fall!

Located in southern Kentucky, Bowling Green is home to nearly 70,000 permanent residents. Providing an average of 265 sunny days a year, it’s easy to see why thousands of others decide to make “The Park City” their home. It’s one of the best places to live, start a family, work, and in my case, attend college!

However, great weather isn’t the only factor that draws people to the city. Firstly, it’s surrounded my miles of trails for hiking, walking, and biking. From short trails like Lost River Cave and Valley Trail to longer hikes on the BG Greenway, the city is a haven for nature lovers. Secondly, it’s within short driving distance of Kentucky’s horse country where you can enjoy some amazing walking and food tours of downtown Lexington.

downtown Bowling Green Kentucky

You can easily take a day trip to watching horse racing at Keeneland race track, or tour the breeding farms to learn about the equine industry. Lastly, Bowling Green is within driving distance to some of the state’s top natural attractions including Mammoth Cave National Park, Red River Gorge, and Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. All of these sites are perfect for hiking and epic outdoor adventures in during the fall months!

With assistance from the Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, I was able to return to Bowling Green nearly a decade after I graduated to experience my seventh fall season in the city. I was able to see what changed, and the special places that had stayed the same. If you’re contemplating a visit to Kentucky in the fall, keep reading below for the best things to do and best places to see for the perfect 3 day itinerary!

There are dozens of hotels and Airbnb’s to choose from in and around Bowling Green proper. However, some are better than others and closer to main attractions. Read below for my hotel recommendation while visiting the city!

Towneplace Suites by Marriott (link to book)

Bowling Green has a number of global hotel chains with properties throughout the city, especially along Scottsville Road. During my visit, the Townplace Suites by Marriott became my home away from home. Every room at the hotel is an apartment-style suite with a full kitchen and spacious living room and bedroom. Complimentary breakfast is served each morning, along with unlimited fresh coffee and free parking. For other amenities, the hotel offers an indoor pool, fitness center, free WiFi, and a snack center.  The hotel is also in close proximity to many of Bowling Green’s top attractions. You can learn about Kentucky aviation history at Aviation Heritage Park, go caving at Lost River Cave, or tour the National Corvette Museum

If this hotel doesn’t fit your needs, you can check out many other hotels in Bowling Green to fit your budget on!

1. White Squirrel Brewery

At the center of Bowling Green’s microbrew and pub grub scene sits the White Squirrel Brewery (named after the white squirrels that roam the neighboring WKU campus). Serving up an impressive list of brewed-in-house beer and southern grub, it’s quickly become one of the town’s most popular hot spots. On certain days of the week, the brewery hosts entertainment including comedy shows, live music, karaoke, and musical brunches. White Squirrel Brewery is the perfect place to go before a home football game, after taking a scenic hike, or visiting one of the areas many historical sites. 

My personal menu favorites are the Jalapeño Kolsch beer (a White Squirrel Original brew), their Smoked Brisket Tacos, and the Smoked Pork Poutine. You really can’y go wrong with anything on the menu as it’s a great place to go for a warm and hearty fall meal.

2. Hickory & Oak

One of Bowling Green’s newer hot spots for southern comfort food, this sophisticated bar and restaurant boasts swoon-worthy interiors. (The bar also features 125 different kinds of bourbon, yes please!) If you’re looking for a more upscale restaurant to enjoy a mid-day brunch with the girls before the pumpkin patch, look no further. 

best places to eat in Bowling Green Kentucky

Here, unique dishes such as Bacon Cornbread, Fried Burrata, and Country Ham & Pimento Cheese Wontons are the stars of the menu. Local ingredients are sourced whenever possible, but menu items are rotated out often to ensure a unique and enjoyable experience for all diners.

Pro tip: Don’t pass up a side of the Pimento Gouda Mac and Cheese with a Surf n Turf entree. It’s beyond decadent!

3. Chaney’s Dairy Barn

At the very heart of Kentucky’s rich farming heritage, there’s Chaney’s Dairy Barn. A Bowling Green staple since 1940, most know the farm for its big red barn and world-famous Jersey cows. In fact, it’s one of only 500 diary farms left in the U.S.

Since the first scoop was served in 2003, the entire nation took notice. USA Today named Chaney’s the “#1 Ice Cream in Kentucky” as thousands come through the farm’s doors each year. They likely came to try ice cream tacos, or popular flavours such as “Wow Now Brownie Cow” and “Big Red Rumble”. In addition to ice cream, Chaney’s also serves sandwiches, hearty soups, pies, and many other Kentucky-proud food items.

Fall is the best time to visit Chaney’s. One of my favorite ways to celebrate the season is to take a group farm tour. The tour includes a wagon ride to the barn to see the newborn cows, a robotic milking demonstration, a giant jumping pillow, a scoop of ice cream, and one trip through the corn maze. Chaney’s is also a great place to take in the crisp fall air and enjoy the natural beauty of Kentucky’s farmland!

Honorable Mentions

There are so many amazing restaurants in Bowling Green as the city continues to improve its culinary landscape, so it’s hard to only include a few! Some of my other favorites that I would highly recommend are The Bistro, Fifth Street Diner, El Mazatlan, and Gerard’s 1907 Tavern.

Pick Your Own Apples at Jackson’s Orchard

Visiting Jackson’s Orchard is a favorite fall activity: just ask the locals! This 100+ year old year-round working farm is the perfect place to celebrate the beauty of fall with hay rides, pick your own apples and pumpkins, fresh apple cider, and plenty of good food. At the farm’s store, you can buy homemade jams, salsa, fresh fruit and veggies, dips, pies, and so much more.

Outside the barn, there is a playground, a corn maze, a petting zoo, pumpkin patches, and rows of apple trees for as far as the eye can see. In fact, Jackson’s Orchard has a tree planting program that began in 1969 and still continues to this day. They have multiple tree species including apple, peach, and cherry to name a few.

The farm is also located at the highest elevation in the county, which makes it a great place to take in the colorful leaves of the trees. Did I mention the farm is also super photogenic and adorable? You’ll definitely want to bring your camera to this one.

Take a Day Trip to Nashville, Tennessee

A short 45-minute drive down I-65 leads to Nashville, Tennessee. Known as “Music City”, Nashville is the home of country music and offers hundreds of fun honkey tonk bars that are the perfect place to celebrate birthdays and bachelorette parties. Nashville is fun any time of year, but the fall season provides more mild temperatures, lively music and film festivals, and local sporting events.

If you visit in early or late October, it’s still warm enough outside to catch an NFL game at the Tennessee Titan’s stadium. The temperatures begin to slightly fall in November, so if it’s a bit too cold outside during your trip, head to the Bridgestone Arena and watch an exhilarating Nashville Predators hockey game. If you visit Nashville during Halloween season, make sure to bring your best costume and get ready for a night out on Lower Broadway (just be prepared for bar crawls, crowds, loud music, and party buses)!

Prefer to stay indoors? You can also tour one of the many museums in the area, including the Ryman Auditorium, The Grand Ole Opry, or the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Explore Lost River Cave on a Boat Cruise

Locals know and visitors discover that they don’t have to travel far from Bowling Green to catch a glimpse of what life is like “down under”. All it takes is a trip to Lost River Cave — home to the only underground boat tour in the entire state. Tours begin at the Lost River gift shop with a certified guide who escorts visitors through the entirety of the cave to provide historical context. On most days, visitors can take the stroll down a lush valley lined with oak trees past the famous “blue hole” to the cave entrance. However, on days with bad weather, you can opt to take a gold cart.

At the cave entrance, there is a 15-step staircase and a brief ramp that leads to a steel-grated boat. For the first 30 seconds, you have to duck head-to-knee to pass under the famous Wishing Rock overhead. The cave then opens up into a cathedral-like cavern with flowing waterfalls and spectacular views of rock formations. The rock in side the cave is estimated to be once found near what is now Jamaica millions of years go. The total tour time is only 20 minutes, it’s a great place to enjoy outdoor adventures if you’re interested in caving.

Take a Guided Tour of the Historic Railpark & Train Museum

Once the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Station (L&N) when it first opened in 1925, is now a historic museum and ode to the Golden Years. At the museum, you can find multiple authentic railcars including an E8A Diesel Locomotive and a 1953 Luxury Pullman Sleeper train.

Inside the museum, there are a number of exhibits highlighting women in railroading, the role of trains during the Civil War, and segregation during railroad years. For a more detailed experience, you can book a guided tour with a staff member who’ll walk you through the vintage train cars. Aside from tours, every second Thursday in September, the museum hosts fun fall events like the RailPark Rendezvous. Guests can enjoy dinner, drinks, and dancing throughout the depot. For wine enthusiasts, the museum also sells their own curated wine collection from Carriage House Vineyards! It includes The Whistle Stop White Chardonnay, and the RailPark Red Cabernet.

best fall activities in Kentucky

Relax at Be Happy Yoga & Salt Cave

For hundreds of years, the powerful health benefits of Himalayan salt caves and salt-therapy had only been enjoyed by those in Europe. This was only until a few years ago when cities across the U.S. began to adopt the drug-free healing remedies of “halo-therapy”.

Bowling Green became one of these cities in 2016 with the establishment of Be Happy Yoga & Salt Cave. Located on Nashville Road, Be Happy is the brainchild of certified yoga-instructor Susan Polk and her husband, Doug. The cave features six tons of Himalayan pharmaceutical-grade salt. The salt is infused with dry aerosol using a specialized halogenerator to help alleviate symptoms of asthma, allergies, depression, and other common health issues.

Be Happy also incorporates color therapy into each session through fibre optic lighting to bring a truly calming and relaxing effect on the body and mind. Visitors can also enjoy guided deep relaxation, meditation, therapeutic massages or yoga sessions in or outside of the cave. It’s the perfect way to unwind and recenter after a busy day of exploring!

Have I convinced you to visit Bowling Green, Kentucky in the fall yet? From scenic trails and homemade ice cream, to adorable apple orchards and luxurious spas, Bowling Green is a crossroad between “big city” living and small-town charm. It’s a gateway to iconic landmarks such as Cumberland Gap National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park, and larger cities such as Nashville, Tennessee, Louisville, and Lexington.

If you plan to fly, there are a number of flight routes from U.S. airports that will put you in close proximity to Bowling Green. The closest airport is Nashville, Tennessee (BNA), which is 69 miles away or a one hour drive. The next closest major airport is A town once described as “not too small and just big enough” might not be perfection, but it’s pretty darn close.


56 replies to “Kentucky in Fall: A Travel Guide to Bowling Green, KY”

  1. Wow I’ve been here so many times before (I used to live in Ohio) but I would love to go back and check some of these places out great post, love your photos!

  2. I love your background on Bowling Green, I need to revisit my university too! The food looks amazing, I would love some good southern cooking right now!

  3. Omg! You hooked me with the food! The tacos and ice cream look amazing! It’s so nice that you decided to go back to a place that you spent so much time in 🙂 it’s nice to see how places change (and stay the same!) over time

  4. I had not really thought of visiting Kentucky but I can’t wait to visit Bowling Green! The food alone looks so incredible along with the salt mine and caves! Thank you for introducing me to Bowling Green!

  5. The salt canes look like a really interesting experience. I’d love to do that. That cow picture though just made my day itself. So cute. And all your food looks fantastic. If I make it to Kentucky I know where I’m headed

  6. I’ve done a salt cave once and knocked out like a baby lol, so relaxing! Also you had me at homemade ice cream, yum 🙂

  7. I’ve never been to Kentucky but there’s a large part of me that has always wanted to go. It looks like such an interesting place and I love these photos! I will definitely head over once this quarantine has finished.

  8. Bowling Green looks awesome! I have been wanting to go to Kentucky for some time. It would be a great long weekend getaway. 🙂 Definitely keeping this article handy.

  9. What a nice trip down memory lane for you (and a fab way for us to see this perfect mix between city and countryside.)

    The food all looks amaaazing!

  10. Okay I’ll admit that I never had a desire to visit Kentucky… until now! You are adorable, and your pictures are stunning! Who knew there was SO much to do?! (I mean aside from you.) You have successfully converted me and now Kentucky has officially made it to my bucket list. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  11. I had no idea this place existed and it looks so interesting. I need to go for the food alone, this post made me hungry!!! Oh and the salt cave looks awesome.

  12. I am not sure how I have not heard about this beautiful town before. The food looks amazing. This are the places I love to discover. I know you said 70,000 residents but that is small (and perfect for me) when compared to massive Los Angeles.

  13. Isn’t it fun going back to our college towns as adults? And super impressive how Bowling Green has really stepped up its game even though I’ve always thought of it as a college town. Now it’s becoming a foodie destination! How fun!

  14. Girl, just based on the food I’m there! It looks so freaking good. Looks like I’m going to eat my way through Bowling Green. haha

  15. I have never heard of this place but I have no idea why! You make it look amazing and now I can’t wait to go – once we’re able to travel again!

  16. Amazing post! First off, the quote at the beginning got to me. I always think about going somewhere new and exciting, but you’re right, sometimes we need to revisit the past to make new memories. Also, thank you for the recommendations for food and activities. The burger and southern seafood look delicious, and the salt cave looks like so much fun!

  17. This sounds like such a great visit. I would love to visit that farm and have some of the delicious homemade ice cream!

  18. I didn’t realise there was so much to do (and eat) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I have two friends who were born and raised in Kentucky, I’ll be having a stern word to both of them for not telling me about Bowling Green! This might just be my stomach talking though.

  19. Love your story! That’s a great idea to travel back. In fact, I’d actually like to do that to see how much things have changed. The food from the restaurants you posted look absolutely delicious. I love seafood, so Steamer Southern Food Kitchen is a must.

  20. I would happily visit for the food alone. Everything just looks delicious. Wouldnt have considered visiting Kentucky but would now be considering it after seeing these images.

  21. Such lovely photos of Bowling Green! I totally agree that sometimes it’s good to re-visit an old place to see how far we’ve come. Perhaps we can then look at that place with a different perspective and appreciate our time there more <3

  22. That food looks amazing! But you’ve also opened my eyes as to what else to do in Kentucky, so thank you!

  23. Thanks for this great guide! There looks like there is so much to do in Bowling Green. The salt caves look amazing and the dairy farm looks adorable…I’d love to try the ice cream! The food at White Squirrel Brewery looks fantastic too!

    Hannah |

  24. Bowling Green looks like such an underrated place to visit! There is tons to do and the food at the White Squirrel Brewery looks delicious! Thanks for sharing!

  25. Aww, I love going back to places and discovering them under a new light! I need to do this for my hometown!

  26. Oh My God. Those food photos! Stop it!!! After having lived in the South for quite a few years myself, I definitely appreciate me some Southern Cooking. Your spot on images had me reminiscing and drooling. I’ve always just pictured mint juleps when I thought of Kentucky, so it was awesome to see such a well-rounded, fun itinerary of great things to see and do! Gonna head to some of your other posts now too. And then, I’ll need to eat! STAT. 😉

    1. OMG thank you!! The food is the absolute BEST part of Kentucky! (and the Bourbon of course if you like that sort of thing!) I hope you get to visit one day — you certainly won’t be disappointed!

  27. I have never been here but I am definitely convinced after reading this. Such a great list and variety of things to do in Bowling Green. Your food photos are amazing

    1. It’s a very special city, and not just because I went to school there! The atmosphere and the food…omg the food! It’s just to die for. I hope you get to visit someday 🙂

  28. Oh my heck I have never even heard of this town, but now it is on my list of places to go! The food alone looks amazing, but the dairy farm. I am a sucker for cows and of course ice cream!

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