10 Best Outdoor Festivals in Kentucky

By Trent Jonas

10 Best Outdoor Festivals in Kentucky

With the Mississippi, Ohio and Kentucky Rivers, the Appalachian Mountains and all that lies in between, the Bluegrass State has much to offer those who love the outdoors. And what better way to celebrate the state’s natural beauty than a festival? From paddlesports to catfish celebrations, here are the best outdoor festivals in Kentucky! 

1. Ohio River Paddlefest, Morehead, KY

Taking place every August on the Ohio River between Kentucky and the Buckeye State, Paddlefest is the biggest celebration of paddlesports in the United States. It also includes several races that are part of the Kentucky Waterman Series. Ohio River Paddlefest features a paddler’s party and camping the night before the put in and a finish line festival after the paddle. Rental vessel  kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards—are available for those who need them. St. Elizabeth Healthcare is a major sponsor of this event, as well as Subaru, Great Parks of Hamilton County, Southern Paddlesports LLC, and more.

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2. Summer Motion, Ashland, KY

Every summer (for over three decades), the river city of Ashland hosts its annual Summer Motion festival. In addition to live music, a carnival, art and a car show, there are plenty of other activities to get you outside and moving around. A 5K and a 10K race will take place during the festival, as well as a pickleball tournament. Health screenings and children’s games will also be on hand. Major sponsors include Summit RV, Glocknerof Ashland, Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, and Marathon Petroleum Corp..

3. Riverfest Regatta, Augusta, KY

Every summer, the city of Augusta celebrates its Ohio River heritage with the Riverfest Regatta. Sternwheel river boats will be on hand for exploration and rides. You can also get involved by running a 5K or a 10K or participating in the corn hold tournament. Wine tasting and a beer garden are there to help you cool off afterward.

4. Whippoorwill Festival, Beattyville, KY

The Whippoorwill Festival was launched to promote “earth-friendly” living skills in Appalachia. The family-friendly festival includes workshops that teach traditional, self-reliant mountain living, tent camping and food. Music and dancing cap off the entertainment, and a community campfire serves as the festival’s evening centerpiece. This year’s festival is able to commence thanks to Kentucky Heartwood and Earth Tools Inc..

5. Lebowski Fest, Louisville, KY

Okay, so Lebowski Fest is not entirely and an outdoor festival, and movie watching is a big part of it, but it’s still a unique, quirky weekend of events that you ought to check out. You can participate by dressing as your favorite “Big Lebowski” character or knocking down some pins at the bowling party. Bowling and the after party take place at Executive Strike & Spare and Against the Grain Brewery will be proffering beverages during the festival.

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6. Green River Catfish Festival, Morgantown, KY

Apart from fireworks and food and all the other fine hometown festival fare, Morgantown’s annual Green River Catfish Festival offers up a softball tournament, a basketball tournament, a poker tournament, a road race, a corn hole tournament and a karaoke contest. There’s also a river float and of course, fishing tournaments. Sponsors include Renegade Marina & Outdoor Center, City of Morgantown, and Morgantown Chamber of Commerce,

7. Paddle Palooza, Frankfort, KY

An annual autumn celebration of the Bluegrasss State’s waterways, Paddle Palooza is the biggest group paddle on the Kentucky River. Historically, there have been two different trip opportunities. The first is a family-friendly trip on the Kentucky River and Benson Creek. The second includes a trip through Lock and Dam No. 4. Workshops, educational tents, food and live music will be on handduring the festival. Rentals are available with pre-registration. 

8. NIBROC Festival, Corbin, KY

For more than six decades, the city of Corbin has been hosting its annual NIBROC (“A reflection of Corbin”) Festival. Apart from a parade, vendors, a carnival and a beer garden, participants can join in the fun: There’s a volleyball tournament, a ping pong tournament, a corn hole tournament, a three-on-three basketball tournament, a two-mile race, and of course, the “Fastest Kid in Town” competition. Partnering with this festival is Baptist Health Corbin, Forcht Group of Kentucky, 4ever Graphics & Design, and Eastern Kentucky University.

9. Ballard County Waterfowl Festival, Barlow, KY

Every September, folks flock to Barlow for the annual Ballard County Waterfowl Festival. There are typically bicycle tours and at least one additional cycling event, a fishing event and an archery tournament. Bird dog competitions and helicopter tours of Ballard County occur throughout the weekend. But the featured events are the Southern U.S. Open Calling Contests—for waterfowl, of course. Horizon Lawn and Tractor, Padicah Shooter’s Supply, and Kentucky Lake Outdoors help to make it all possible.

10. Kentucky Dragon Boat Festival, Alexandria, KY

Hosted annually as a fundraiser by Paddling for Cancer Awareness, the Kentucky Dragon Boat Festival takes place every September on Campbell County Lake. Teams of paddlers compete against one another on the water, while merriment ensues on shore. This event is all made possible by Paddling for Cancer Awareness and The Kentucky Thorough-Breasts.

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