Fort Boonesborough State Park: The Complete Guide

Cabins at Fort Boonesborough State Park in Kentucky

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Fort Boonesborough State Park

Address
4375 Boonesboro Rd, Richmond, KY 40475, USA
Phone +1 859-527-3131

Fort Boonesborough State Park in Madison County, Kentucky, is a small state park on a site with lots of history. In 1775, prominent frontiersman Daniel Boone and his party established Fort Boonesborough there on the banks of the Kentucky River. The small settlement grew into a critical way station for early pioneers who were passing through the rugged wilderness.

In September 1778, Boone and fellow pioneers successfully defended Fort Boonesborough from British and allied Shawnee forces. The “Siege of Boonesborough” is considered by historians to be one of the most decisive victories achieved by pioneers during the Revolutionary War. Archaeologists still make regular discoveries at the site.

Today, Fort Boonesborough State Park is home to a working replica of the original fort and a large campground, and offers recreational access to the Kentucky River. The area was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1996.

Things to Do

Fort Boonesborough State Park isn’t the place to go for hiking—Cumberland Falls State Park or Natural Bridge State Park are better choices for that. Instead, the best thing to do at Fort Boonesborough is to tour the fort and learn a little about the history of the area. If the fort is closed or you’ve already been inside, the grounds of the state park can still be enjoyed.

The Kentucky River Museum is nondescript and easy to miss, but admission is included with fort tickets. The house was occupied by John Walters, the lock operator, and his family in the early 1900s. Old photographs portray the massive undertaking to make the Kentucky River more navigable. The 14 locks and dams were constructed at great cost between 1836 and 1917.

Two playgrounds, three picnic areas, a pool, and miniature golf are available for family fun. A gift shop carries books and handmade items such as soap, candles, and sorghum. The sandy beach along the Kentucky River is perfect for launching a paddle board or kayak. Fishing, birding, and camping are also popular activities within Fort Boonesborough State Park.

Experiencing Living History at Fort Boonesborough

The rectangular replica of Fort Boonesborough is the biggest draw of the state park. Standing within the crude walls and thinking of the many threats settlers in the 1700s faced is memorable and chilling!

Reenactors in costumes do daily demonstrations at Fort Boonesborough to provide a glimpse of what life was like on the frontier. A blacksmith, weaver, candlemakers, and historians are among the storytellers who interact with guests. Archaeological finds on display and interpretive signage enhance the experience.

Best Hikes & Trails

Fort Boonesborough itself is home to two very short, paved trails: the Fort Trail and Pioneer Forage Trail. Roughly 0.25 miles each, these historically significant paths connect different facilities to the fort. If you're looking to explore more of the area, check out these two hikes:

  • Fort Boonesborough Campground Loop Trail: The loop trail around the campground is the longest hike (0.9 miles) in the vicinity. Parts of the trail are narrow and become overgrown in summer.
  • The John Holder Trail: A slightly longer loop (2.8 miles) is available at Lower Howard’s Creek Nature Preserve located five minutes north on Athens-Boonesboro Road. The John Holder Trail is the only publicly accessible trail at the preserve; look for the trailhead beside Hall's on the River, a restaurant with history dating back to 1781.

Fishing

Fishing is possible along the banks of the Kentucky River, but a boat or canoe helps for reaching the best places. Bass, bluegill, and catfish are the most common species. A Kentucky fishing license is required (one-day permits can be purchased online). Fishing poles are available on loan from the campground grocery store.

Boating

Assuming the Kentucky River isn't flooding, as it often does, kayaking and canoeing around Fort Boonesborough are fantastic activities. The towering, limestone cliffs of the nearby Kentucky River Palisades provide some epic scenery. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent at Three Trees Canoe, just outside the state park.

A public boat ramp is available near the north end of the park. Although free to use, the ramp is showing some wear, and a dock isn’t available. You’ll need two people if launching anything larger than a canoe or kayak.

What to Do Nearby

Although outside the state park and maintained by a different organization, a small Civil War site only five minutes away can be explored while on a trip to Fort Boonesborough State Park. The earthworks fort was constructed by Union soldiers to defend the ford and strategic high ground on the Kentucky River.

A moderately-strenuous, uphill walk (1-mile loop) brings you to the remains of the defensive position and a cannon. Enjoy the sweeping views and read the signboards. A recorded audio tour is available by calling (859) 592-9166.

To reach the Civil War fort from Fort Boonesborough, cross over the Boonesborough Road bridge and turn right onto Highway 1924; look for signs on the left.

Where to Camp

  • Fort Boonesborough State Park Campground: The only campground within the state park is large and popular. Facilities include a junior Olympic-size pool, snack bar, WiFi, grocery store, activities building, and more. The 166 standard sites are open year-round; each has water and electric hookups. Sites must be reserved on Fort Boonesborough State Park’s official website.
  • Three Trees Canoe: RV camping is also available 1 mile north of the state park at Three Trees Canoe. Full hookup sites and a boat dock add convenience.

Where to Stay Nearby

Many choices for hotels can be found in nearby Winchester, Richmond, and Lexington, but we personally recommend Blue Heron B&B and Retreat Center. Only 10 minutes away, the Blue Heron is a peaceful choice for accommodation in a “country” setting. The breakfast and occasional goat yoga sessions are big hits with guests.

How to Get There

Fort Boonesborough State Park is located at 4375 Boonesboro Road in Central Kentucky between the towns of Richmond (20 minutes away) and Winchester (15 minutes away). The nearest airport (LEX) is in Lexington, Kentucky.

From Lexington, drive south on Interstate 75. Take exit 95 and follow KY-627 (Boonesborough Road) to the state park. Driving time is around 30 minutes. For a more scenic drive, avoid the interstate and instead take Richmond Road to Athens-Boonesboro Road (KY-418) all the way. 

Accessibility

Only some areas inside Fort Boonesborough, including the first floor of the museum, are ADA accessible. The cabins and blockhouses are constructed as authentically as possible, causing some to be cramped. A paved pathway leads to the doorway of many structures so people can look inside.

The campground at Fort Boonesborough State Park is also accessible; individuals with disabilities receive a 10 percent discount. The campground grocery store and pool are wheelchair accessible, however the miniature golf course is not.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The fort and living history area are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The last tickets are sold at 4 p.m. Fort Boonesborough closes for winter after October 31 and reopens in spring.
  • Entrance to the state park is free, but you’ll need to buy tickets if you wish to tour the fort. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children from ages 6 to 12. Entrance is free for children under 6 years old.
  • The number of historic reenactors and volunteers at the fort can vary day by day. Although weekends are a busier time to visit, you’ll have a better chance seeing demonstrations and workshops.
  • If you want to get even closer to history, the old fort site is marked on maps of Fort Boonesborough State Park—it’s south of the current replica. The original site was much nearer the river, between the road to the boat ramp and picnic shelter #2.
  • Pets are permitted within the park, but dogs must remain leashed while on the trails.
  • With the river floodplain nearby, mosquitoes can be voracious in evenings. Protect yourself and children.
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Fort Boonesborough State Park in Kentucky Has an Exciting History