Big Bone Lick State Park in Union, Kentucky gives visitors the unique opportunity to view bison completely free! Remains of ancient mammoths, Pleistocene megafauna, have been found in the area making it known as the Big Bone Lick State Historic Site.
With plenty of hiking trails, a family-friendly campground, educational exhibits, a visitor center, and a museum, Big Bone Lick is the perfect Kentucky day trip or weekend getaway.
Directions To Big Bone Lick State Park
Big Bone Lick State Park is located in Boone County, Kentucky. Roughly a half-hour from downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Take the Richmond exit off I 71/75 for plenty of restaurant options. The park is located roughly 10 minutes off the exit with plenty of signs to help guide the way.
Hours: The Park is open year-round from dawn to dusk. The campground closes for the winter and reopens in the spring.
Gift shop & museum open Thurs. – Sun. from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. through winter.
Admission to Big Bone Lick State Park and the museum is completely FREE!
Address: 3380 Beaver Road Union, KY 41091
Big Bone Lick State Park makes the list in our wonderful guide of Short Road Trips From Cincinnati.
Things To Do At Big Bone Lick State Park
Observe The Bison
Take a short gravel trail to visit the bison herd that calls Big Bone Lick home. The bison are always available for viewing even though visitors may have to hunt for them through the wooded areas. A trail goes around the bison area giving multiple focal points on the bison.
Today the bison herd recalls the park’s prehistoric past along with being the only living mammalian link to the Ice Age.
Tip: Bring binoculars as oftentimes the small herd of bison may be difficult to see out in the fields.
Go For A Hike
The park is home to 4.5 miles of hiking trails. Each varies in experience level. Our personal favorite is the Big Bone Creek Trail that runs along the creek. Be sure to Download a Map of the Trails and Park.
Tip: Bring proper footwear, especially if visiting after heavy rain. The trails do flood easily. Kids will love getting in the creek. Bring a change of clothes or rain boots so they can splash around!
- Big Bone Creek Trail: .9 mile, easy.
- Bison Trace Trail: .5 mile, easy.
- Cedar Run Trail: .9 mile, easy.
- Coralberry Trail: 2 miles, moderate.
- Gobblers Trace Trail: .5 mile, moderate.
Go On The Discovery Trail
The Discovery Trail tells the story of the prehistoric happenings that took place around the salt/ sulfur springs during the last Ice Age. The trail begins at the Megafauna diorama pit, directly behind the museum.
The Megafauan Diorama Pit
This Diorama pit features a variety of ice age mammals including a giant sloth, wooly mammoth, and wild bison. Interpretive panels around the diorama describe in more detail the history behind these American land mammals.
Venture further down the trail more informative panels are scattered throughout the trail giving more details about Native American history, and a glimpse into the Pleistocene epoch.
The Discovery Trail will take you by Salt Springs. It is these springs that many believe attracted Mammoths to the area. Along with mammoths many other creatures were drawn to the vegetation and salty earth near the springs. While the Salt Springs acted as a salt lick for it easily became the perfect spot for many animals to become stuck with no escape from the marshy, muddy areas. Thus leading to fossils being found in the area, including fossilized remains of giant mastodons.
Salt Festival At Big Bone Lick State Park
The annual salt festival takes place in October. The festival features demonstrations of pioneer living, frontier skills, traditions, and lifeways. Many local crafters have their goods for sale along with a variety of food options available.
Folk and bluegrass music fill the air, while a storyteller weaves pictures of the past. Get up close with prehistoric Ice Age artifacts, and observe a blacksmith working red-hot iron. These are just a few of the fun demonstrations happening along learning how salt was extracted from the Big Bone River.
Spend Time At The Playgrounds
There are three playgrounds found throughout Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky. The one playground is located on Mastodon Trail. The second play area is located off Bison Circle near the swinging footbridge. Both playgrounds have plenty of parking, a picnic shelter, and restrooms nearby.
The third playground is located in the campground and is for campground guests.
In addition to playgrounds, there are acres of picnic grounds and picnic shelters.
Basketball and Tennis
Basketball and tennis courts are available to all park guests. They can be found behind the playground on Mastodon Trail Dr.
Visit the Museum At Big Bone Lick State Park
Step back in time by visiting the museum located near the Bison Trace Trail. Inspect bones from mammoths, bison, and mastodons. Marvel at how sheer size of a giant ground sloth skeleton before admiring the skull of a mammoth!
Learn Fascinating History At The Big Bone Lick Museum
Big Bone Lick is known as the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology and has played a significant role in the development of science. Native Americans were the first to take notice of the large bones near the springs. Before long, President Thomas Jefferson took notice of the site to the extent that he commissioned Captain William Clark (of Lewis and Clark) to excavate bones from the site for scientific research.
Other big bone lick’s museum exhibits include the history of Big Bone Lick, exhibits on woolly mammoths, giant ground sloths, the mineral springs, and bison.
Don’t forget to swing in the gift shop for some fun swag or snacks.
Orienteering is a woods navigation sport wherein participants use a map and compass or GPS to navigate an established course. The park currently offers two permanent, woodland orienteering courses. A beginners’ course covering 2.7 km and an intermediate course covering 4.5 km, both featuring 10 checkpoints.
Big Bone Lick State Park Campground
Starting mid-March the campground opens up for the season. The spacious campground features 62 campsites with utility hookups and grills. A swimming pool is available seasonally to campground guests only.
Showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities are available at the central service building. The camp store offers a variety of groceries and camping gear to keep campers happy.
Tackle the 18-hole miniature golf course that is located near the entrance to the campground. Mini-golf is open to all visitors of Big Bone State Park, not only campground guests. They are open from March 15 – November 15.