March 1, 2022

Kentucky’s 25 Trail Towns Setting the Pace for Adventure Tourism

Happy Trails 

It’s a good thing to be a Trail Town.

Kentucky’s Trail Town designation is an asset for any city, particularly those interested in building a draw around adventure tourism. The Kentucky program is the envy of states from Minnesota to Florida, as well as places abroad. 

Designation as a Kentucky Trail Town takes effort, but it includes several benefits. Overseen by the Office of Adventure Tourism in the Kentucky Cabinet for Tourism, Arts, and Heritage, both the Kentucky Trail Town Program and the Cross Kentucky Master Trail Plan offer guidance and assistance to local leaders and trail advocates as they work to develop local and recreational opportunities.

There are currently 25 Kentucky Trail Towns which includes the cities of Berea, Brownsville, Campbellsville, Cave City/Horse Cave, Columbia, Dawson Springs, Elizabethtown, Elkhorn City, Estill Twin Cities (Irvine), Harlan (Tri-Cities), Hazard, Jamestown, Livermore, Livingston, London, Manchester, McKee, Morehead, Morgantown, Munfordville, Olive Hill, Park City, Royalton, Slade and Stearns.

“The Kentucky Trail Town program offers many benefits to local communities including increased economic impact and promotion of outdoor recreation,” said Seth Wheat with the Kentucky Department of Tourism. “Increased access to healthy, outdoor activities for community members and visitors alike, will not only work towards increasing the quality of life for its residents, but serves as a foundation for a local community to pursue projects that work for their specific town.” 

The state helps Trail Town cities promote their local “outdoor action” as part of Kentucky’s hundreds of miles of trails, woods, and waters. The program also works with local leaders on strategies to keep visitors in cities to patronize hotels, restaurants, attractions, entertainment, and other conveniences. 

To become a certified Kentucky Trail Town, destinations make a commitment to share their area’s outdoor opportunities, culture, history, and stories to visitors hungry for adventure. Since its inception in 2012, the Kentucky Trail Town program has identified participating communities across the commonwealth as official gateways to the state’s great outdoors.

A goal for any Trail Town is to capture trail visitors for weekend or overnight stays. When that happens, the visitors can combine their outdoor adventures with activities and events unique to each community. 

Wheat said, “The designation also allows them to share their area’s outdoor opportunities, culture, history and stories with visitors who are ready for their next adventure.” 

Many of these “lifestyle visitors” look not just for the outdoor adventure, but the local experiences through history, art, music or plays and restaurants. A Kentucky Trail Town designation and the state’s assistance program can help communities connect the dots for travelers. Many will want to use facilities for boats, bicycles, horseback or recreational ATV/OHVs in addition to foot trails. This type of recreation and tourism corridor can be a great way to attract new opportunities and revenue not just for a city but a region. People who visit trails do their research and look for great tourism infrastructures. 

Kentucky’s Tourism Department sees the Trail Town program as a major part of its adventure tourism efforts. The benefits of becoming a certified Trail Town are considerable with a detailed listing in the adventure travel section of the Kentucky website with links to the city’s website, signage on the interstates, inclusion in state tourism marketing campaigns, and advice from Fish and Wildlife and other state government departments. And Trail Towns are often good candidates for grants because they have put in the detailed documentation work toward the designation. Grantors look for detail.

Another resource is helping form partnerships so that Trail Towns can qualify for additional types of funding. An example is the grants from Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Human Service for making communities more walkable.

The process of gaining certification as a Trail Town typically takes about a year and a half to two years because it is a grassroots effort unique to every city and is intended to involve the entire community, not just local officials. Applicants must consider what their area already has, or would need to add, to attract visitors who are in the vicinity as they travel along a trail for recreation. The trail could be for hiking, riding bikes, horses, or ATVs, or kayaking or canoeing. A guidebook is a first step that can help cities decide if they want to pursue the designation. 

The first Trail Town was in the City of Dawson Springs. Since then, cities of all sizes, including very small cities, have achieved designation. The City of Livingston, with a population of less than 300, is a Trail Town. Its trail is near the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail and is also along the Rockcastle River in Rockcastle County. Sheltowee Trace runs for more than 260 miles within the nearby Daniel Boone National Forest. From downtown Livingston a hiker can access the forest and be hiking in four minutes. 

Becoming a Kentucky Trail Town can make a positive difference if your city has a goal to feature adventure and outdoor tourism as part of its mix. Seth Wheat at the Kentucky Department of Tourism is happy to talk with city officials about exploring a Trail Town designation at any time.

Contact: Seth Wheat
Kentucky Department of Tourism

Check out the official links for all 25 Kentucky Trail Town cities 

View/download the Kentucky Trail Town Guidebook