Top Free & Paid Birding Watching Destinations In Kentucky

Home » Articles » Birding In Kentucky
Birding In Kentucky

Do you plan to take a trip to Kentucky soon? Or maybe you already live in this exciting bird watching friendly state and are looking for birding in Kentucky locations to escape to. Either way, you’re about to discover the top free bird-watching destinations that I found through research and personal experience. Enjoy seeing so many gorgeous birds in the Bluegrass State.

Feel free to check out our other birding resources for nearby states of West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Also, check out our article on birding scopes less than $300 to equip yourself with a great birdwatching scope. This will give you the ability to see your favorite Kentucky birds up close and personal!

Bird Watching Destinations In Kentucky: Free Destinations

Red River Gorge Geological Area – Free Bird Watching, Permit Required For Camping

The landscape in Daniel Boone National Forest is absolutely stunning, I have to admit. And I know residents and vacationers will love bird watching in this beautiful region. You’ll view too many bird species to count, rock formations, craggy canyons, and spectacular hardwood forests. 

Location:

Daniel Boone National Forest
1700 Bypass Road
Winchester, KY 40391

Phone: 859-474-5093

GPS: 37.8139° N, 83.6279° W

Hours Of Operation:

The Red River Gorge Geological Area is open between 6 AM and 10 PM. If you plan to spend the night backcountry camping, you are required to have a recreation permit to stay between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMNcm0J-KFA 

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Broad-Winged Hawk
  • Swainson’s Warbler
  • Blue-Headed Vireo
  • Wild Turkey
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Red-Breasted Nuthatch
  • Ovenbird
  • Wood Thrush
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk

Hiking Trails:

I’m happy to tell you that there are 5 amazing and very difficult hiking trails to walk upon while visiting the Red River Gorge Geological Area. Each of these trails is either moderately difficult or very hard due to terrain difficulty and distance. As an example, the shortest trail that I’m going to share with you today is 4 miles and the longest trail is 18.6 miles.

The names of the hiking trails are as follows:

  • Rugged Red Half Marathon Trail – moderate difficulty, 13.1 miles, six hours and 15 minutes to complete
  • Silvermine Arch via Rough Trail – hard difficulty, 18.6 miles, 9 ½ hours to complete
  • Cloudsplitter via Sheltowee Connector Trail – moderate difficulty, 4 miles, one hour and 40 minutes to complete
  • Gray’s Arch via Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail – moderate difficulty, 10.1 miles, five hours and 10 minutes to complete
  • Rough, Koomer Ridge, Buck Trails Loop via Sheltowee Trace NTR – hard difficulty, 8.2 miles, four hours and 10 minutes to complete

Falls of the Ohio State Park – Free Admittance, Paid Parking, Donations Welcome

I love this beautiful location because it’s right on the bank of the Ohio River opposite of Louisville, KY. Although much of this area is located in Indiana, there’s also a piece of it in Kentucky, and Kentucky birders have a strong affinity toward this place. You’ll love seeing shorebirds and other amazing birds the next time you visit this wonderful birding area.

Location:

201 West Riverside Dr.
Clarksville, IN 47129

Phone: 812-280-9970

GPS: 38.1632° N, 85.4549° W

Hours Of Operation:

The park hours are as follows: 7 AM to 11 PM.

The interpretive center is open Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM and on Sundays from 1 PM to 5 PM. The center is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Parking costs $2 per vehicle. You do not have to pay a parking fee for you have an Indiana State Park Pass.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EznswdzpheQ 

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Semipalmated Sandpiper
  • American Golden-Plover
  • Black Vulture
  • Double-Crested Cormorant
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Buff-Breasted Sandpiper
  • Ring-Billed Gull
  • Osprey
  • Black-Crowned Night-Heron
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Iceland Gull

Hiking Trails:

Even though there’s plenty of places to walk around while visiting Falls of the Ohio State Park, the named hiking trails aren’t in plentiful supply, according to what I’ve recently discovered. In fact, there is only one hiking trail in the entire area that has an official name and distance, which I’ll share with you right now.

The hiking trail that I’m referring to is:

  • Woodland Loop – even though this is the only hiking trail officially in the area, it’s an easy trail to walk along because the terrain is flat and easy to navigate and it isn’t very long as well. As a matter of fact, I learned that the entire hiking trail is 0.7 miles, which should take the average person about 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

Berea College Forest – Free Admittance

Personally, I really like visiting Berea College Forest whenever the opportunity arises because it always delivers a pleasant and enjoyable birding experience. This is especially true during spring migration, when a plethora of birds flock to the area. There are also some nice winding hiking trails and lots of bird species that I know you’re going to relish.

Location:

2047 Big Hill Rd.
Berea, KY 40403

Phone: 859-756-3315

GPS: 37.5538° N, 84.2407° W

Hours Of Operation:

The forest itself is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. It even remains open on holidays.

The Forestry Outreach Center is open from 10 AM until 4 PM each day. But it’s closed temporarily because of the coronavirus pandemic. Call them to find out when the center reopens.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiTsEApZp7E 

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Yellow-Billed Cuckoo
  • Kentucky Warbler
  • Yellow-Throated Vireo
  • Broad-Winged Hawk
  • Blue-Winged Warbler
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Wild Turkey
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Eastern Towhee

Hiking Trails:

I am happy to tell you that Berea College Forest is riddled with 10 amazingly gorgeous hiking trails for you to enjoy. These trails vary in difficulty and distance, ranging from easy, medium, and hard in the difficulty department.

The names of these hiking trails are as follows:

  • Indian Fort Theatre Trail – easy difficulty, 0.5 miles, 15 minutes to complete
  • Berea College Cross Country Running Trail – easy difficulty, 3.7 miles, one hour and 40 minutes to complete
  • Indian Fort, West Pinnacle and Pinnacles Multi-Use Loop – easy difficulty, 3 miles, one hour and 30 minutes to complete
  • West pinnacle, Robe Mountain, and Basin Mountain Loop – hard difficulty, 7.1 miles, four hours to complete
  • Welch Mountain – moderate difficulty, 4.2 miles, two hours and 10 minutes to complete
  • Robe Mountain and Basin Mountain – moderate difficulty, 6.2 miles, three hours and 30 minutes to complete
  • West Pinnacle Trail – moderate difficulty, 2.9 miles, one hour and 30 minutes to complete
  • East Pinnacle – moderate difficulty, 2.6 miles, one hour and 25 minutes to complete
  • Indian Fort Lookout – moderate difficulty, 2 miles, one hour and 15 minutes to complete
  • East and West Pinnacle – moderate difficulty, 6.6 miles, three hours and 45 minutes to complete

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest – Free Admission, Suggested Parking Donation

I was recently in the mood to reconnect with nature, so I visited a 1400-acre forest with a storied and interesting history named Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. I chose this location because they’ve tallied a list of more than 180 different species of birds who’ve visited this location that’s merely 20 miles south of Louisville. The managed facility has hiking trails, different activities going on throughout the year, and much more, which makes it a great place to visit with family and friends.

Location:

2075 Clermont Rd.
Clermont, KY 40110

Mailing Address:

PO Box 130
2499 Clermont Rd.
Clermont, KY 40110

Phone 502-955-8512

GPS: 37.90006° N, 85.62496° W

Hours Of Operation:

Bernheim Forest is open every day from 7 AM to 9 PM. Guerrilla Hollow opens from 7 AM to 8:30 PM each day. Forest Hill Drive opens from 7 AM to 8 PM on a daily basis.

At the time of this writing the visitor center and education center are both temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please call to find out when they will reopen.

Also, the visitor center and education center are closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day each year.

Finally, the organization asks that you donate $10 per car for parking, but it isn’t mandatory.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GeUQ1E8qGI 

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Broad-Winged Hawk
  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Worm-Eating Warbler
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Golden Eagle
  • Osprey
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Yellow-Throated Vireo
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Henslow’s Sparrow

Hiking Trails:

I am happy to say that I discovered another area of Kentucky with a plentiful supply of hiking trails. And if you enjoy hiking while exploring beautiful forests and viewing gorgeous birds, you’re definitely going to want to visit Bernheim Forest in the near future.

The names of the 12 hiking trails that greatly vary in distance and difficulty include:

  • Knob Top Trail – moderate difficulty, 1.2 miles, 40 minutes to complete
  • Nursery Loop – easy difficulty, 1.3 miles, 35 minutes to complete
  • High Point Loop Trail – easy difficulty, 0.5 miles, 15 minutes to complete
  • Sun and Shade Loop – easy difficulty, 1.1 miles, 30 minutes to complete
  • Two Ponds Loop – easy difficulty, 1 mile, 25 minutes to complete
  • Forest Giants Trail – easy difficulty, 2.1 miles, 50 minutes to complete
  • Rock Run Loop – easy difficulty, 0.5 miles, 15 minutes to complete
  • Iron Ore Hill Loop Trail – moderate difficulty, 1.7 miles, 50 minutes to complete
  • Lake Nevin Loop – easy difficulty, 1.5 miles, 40 minutes to complete
  • Cull Hollow Trail – moderate difficulty, 1.2 miles, 35 minutes to complete
  • Millennium Trail – hard difficulty, 15.4 miles, seven hours and 15 minutes to complete
  • Elm Lick Trail – moderate difficulty, 5 miles, two hours and 30 minutes to complete

Ballard Wildlife Management Area – Free Admission

I recently found out about Ballard Wildlife Management Area, which is about 30 miles west of Paducah, and it consists of 8300 acres of oxbow lakes, fields, scrubby fields, cropland, and hardwood forest. It’s also a great birding area because the wetlands are home to thousands of ducks and geese, and there are walking trails, an elevated observation platform, and much more. It’s the perfect destination to visit for an afternoon of birding with family members and friends.

Location:

864 Wildlife Large Rd.
La Center, KY 42056

Phone: 270-224-2244

GPS: 37.1833° N, 89.0269° W

Hours Of Operation:

Ballard WMA is open from March 16 to October 14 every year from sunrise to sunset. The area remains closed to public access annually between October 15 through March 15.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruYxbDqHUoQ 

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Wood Duck
  • Barred Owl
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Wild Turkey
  • Acadian Flycatcher
  • Royal Parula
  • American Redstart
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black Scoter
  • Common Goldeneye

Hiking Trails:

Unfortunately, the viewing trails at Ballard WMA do not necessarily have a name. But there are definitely some great opportunities for viewing birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles in their natural habitat. 

You also have an opportunity to view nesting birds like bald eagles during the winter, neotropical songbirds during the spring, and migrating waterfowl during the late winter and early spring.

White tailed deer and raccoons are normal mammals on display at Ballard WMA. You’ll also see plenty of wild turkeys, mourning doves, and white pelicans as well.

And if you’re really lucky, you’ll have the chance to get a glimpse of beavers, bobcats, or coyotes on the premises because they are here, but you have to maintain a sharp eye to see them.

Bird Watching Destinations In Kentucky: Paid Destinations

She Flew Birding Tours

Although She Flew Birding Tours isn’t hosting their annual Warbler Grand Tour this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, they are already booking spots for next year’s extravaganza. And you better act fast, because at the time of this writing there are only two available spaces left.

What Is the Warbler Grand Tour?

This beautiful grand tour takes place in Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan every year. The area shows a wide range of people from all over the world because of the migration phenomenon. Thousands of raptors, waders, shorebirds, passerines, and other migrating birds pass through the area for breeding purposes.

This is one of the most important breeding areas in the world, and they call it the Warbler Grand Tour because all 38 Eastern warblers are in attendance during this migratory time of the year. You’ll see Kirtland’s Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, and so many more of your favorites throughout these three states.

Typically, this is a 12-day birding tour and usually takes place in May. As a matter of fact, in 2022, the birding tour is happening from May 5 through May 16 and it costs $2395. This includes pickup and drop-off from the airport, hotel, food, parking, local transportation, expert guides, and so much more.

Location:

Lyons, CO

Phone: 970-232-4539

Kentucky Birdwatching Clubs

Birders in Kentucky are definitely in a wonderful position. Not only is this great state known for having so many wonderful bird watching locations, there is also a plentiful supply of beautiful birds in the region including the American Goldfinch, the Northern Cardinal, Blue Jays, Thrushes, Warblers, Starlings, and more. Become a part of the birding community soon and consider joining one of the birdwatching clubs recommended below.

Beckham Bird Club

Members of the Beckham Bird Club are typically people who love birds and enjoy watching them immensely. If you or anyone you know feels the same about these beautiful avian creatures, you’ll undoubtedly fit right in with the other fantastic people in this club. Sign up today to get to know other like-minded people who enjoy birding as a sport and hobby.

Past and Future Events

At the time of this writing, there aren’t any scheduled field trips hosted by the Beckham Bird Club because of the coronavirus pandemic. And even more unfortunate, their website doesn’t share information about previous events.

But there is good news. On their site under the field trips heading found here, they say their field trips will once again resume in August 2021, so check back often to find out when and where their next field trip will take place.

Membership Fees

  • Student Membership – $10
  • Individual Membership – $15
  • Family Membership – $20
  • Contributing Membership – $30
  • Lifetime Membership – $500

Visit the website here to download and fill out a copy of their membership form. You can either send it in via the web and make an online payment on the same page to sign up for membership right away.

Or if you prefer, you can mail a check payable to the following name and address:

Beckham Bird Club, Inc.
PO Box 5301
Louisville, KY 40255

Central Kentucky Audubon Society

The CKAS is a wonderful organization in central Kentucky that’s perfect to join if you intend to take your birding to the next level. This chapter of the Audubon Society has a mission, and they live up to it by providing educational support about conservation, the environment, and the beautiful birds in this region. Please join this club to get involved with this incredible group of capable birders.

Past and Future Events

  • Annual Picnic – the club’s annual picnic recently took place on June 13 between 5:30 PM and 9 PM. They held it at Masterson Station Park in Lexington, KY, and members got together to enjoy an evening of food, beverages, plus a meeting and elections after the meal. It was BYO, so everybody brought their own food because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Night Hike – this event just took place at McConnell Springs on Friday, June 18 between 8:30 PM and 10 PM. Also located in Lexington Kentucky, members met for a guided night hike and got to see nocturnal animals, owls, and beautiful wildlife in the twilight of the night.
  • Bird Walk – this event is going to take place on Saturday, July 10 from 7:30 AM to 10:30 AM. The group will meet up at the Talon Winery in Lexington and get together for an early morning bird walk. On this hike, you can expect to see target species like the Northern Bobwhite, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Henslow’s Sparrow, and Grasshopper Sparrow among other birds. This is a slow event so you’ll only have to walk less than a mile.

Membership Fees

Membership levels and fees vary at the National Audubon Society. When signing up to join the Central Kentucky chapter, make sure to use the code J51 in the drop-down menu, otherwise you will not sign up correctly. On the NAS main website, their suggested fees are as follows:

  • $20, $50, $75, $100, $250, and $500.

Final Thoughts About Kentucky Birding Resources & Locations

As you can see, there are an abundant amount of resources for birdwatching in Kentucky and this article is just a starting point. Check out these great locations and please let us know of new places as you explore this great state, we’ll add them to this post!

Enjoy these great locations and watching Kentucky birds in their natural habitat, please share this resource with friends, loved ones, and coworkers. If you love birding, then you’re definitely going to love these gorgeous locations scattered throughout the Bluegrass State, Kentucky!