Tourists often think of Kentucky for its two big cities – Louisville and Lexington. You can witness the Kentucky Derby, watch two of men’s college basketball’s premier teams, or swig a shot of bourbon.
But almost halfway between the state’s most popular cities is a small town with some interesting history and quite a few fun things to do, especially on hot summer days that Kentucky is famous for.
Elizabethtown, a city of 30,000 and seat of Hardin County, is a vibrant community that provides its guests with a wealth of cultural landmarks, recreational outdoor activities, green spaces, and a slice of important Civil War history.
Known as E-town to locals and tourists alike, bring your family and enjoy a day or more soaking in the area’s most fun places.
Table of Contents
- Best Historical Things to do in Elizabethtown, KY
- 1. The Cannonball
- 2. Cemetery Hill
- 3. Fort Knox
- 4. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
- 5. Veterans Tribute
- 6. Lincoln Heritage House
- 7. Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln Memorial Cabin
- 8. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site
- 9. Brown-Pusey House
- Best Museums in Elizabethtown, Kentucky
- 10. Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame
- 11. Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum
- Best Fun Things to do in Elizabethtown, Kentucky
- 12. Historic State Theater Complex
- 13. Hardin County Playhouse
- 14. The Loop
- 15. PNC Music Garden
- 16. American Legion Park
- Best Nature Spots in Elizabethtown, Kentucky
- 17. Walking Tours
- 18. Freeman Lake Park
- BONUS! Best Kentucky Bourbon sites near Elizabethtown
- 19. Bourbon’s Backyard
- 20. Museum of Whiskey History
Best Historical Things to do in Elizabethtown, KY
Elizabethtown is proud of its history and military heritage. City leaders have created several places to honor those who have served.
1. The Cannonball
2022 marks the 160th anniversary of the only Civil War battle fought in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Confederate General John Hunt Morgan took on the Union Army here with one goal in mind – destroy the area’s railroad line that fed the North with supplies.
During the daylong battle, a cannonball lodged itself in the brick of the old Depp building without breaking up.
There it remained for 25 years until an 1887 fire ripped through the town square and burned the building down. The cannonball survived, and city fathers later replaced it when new buildings were erected in downtown Elizabethtown.
City tourism officials placed an arrow on the building’s side to help locals and visitors get a better glimpse of this nod to local blue-and-gray history.
2. Cemetery Hill
After taking a selfie in front of the cannonball, take a moment to visit Cemetery Hill and locate several graves of Confederate soldiers who died during that 1862 battle and other skirmishes in nearby towns. E-town established its first cemetery in 1807.
An onsite kiosk helps visitors find gravesites of local soldiers and Civil War combatants. A cannon from that war has been refurbished and stands as a sentry and reminder of those dark days of U.S. history.
3. Fort Knox
Only a few miles from downtown E-town, one thing to do is pay a visit to Fort Knox, one of America’s most famous military installations. This is mostly because of its location as the depository of more than half of the nation’s gold reserves and was the star of the movie Goldfinger.
Built in 1936, the gold depository included an initial shipment of 13,000 metric tons of gold.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury oversees the gold depository, which is well known for its security. During wartime, the depository has also safeguarded the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
In addition, Fort Knox is home to the George S. Patton Museum and Center for Leadership.
Named for the famous World War II general of the 3rd Army, the museum includes a look at the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
4. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
If you’re looking for something to do in Elizabethtown, then visit the Vietnam Veterans Wall and pay tribute. A decade ago, proponents desired to build a permanent replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. on donated land inside Elizabethtown Nature Park.
The idea was to build a 4/5 scale rendition of the one in the National Mall.
After a few years of fundraising, the Wall was completed and dedicated in 2018. It contains more than 58,000 names of men and women who served during the Vietnam Conflict.
This section of the park also includes three additional memorials. The first is dedicated to Prisoners of War and Missing in Action military personnel (POW/MIA).
The second honors Kentucky residents who died or are missing from the Vietnam War. The third remembers dogs who were used during the war effort.
5. Veterans Tribute
In addition to the Vietnam Veterans Wall inside E-Town’s Nature Park is a tribute to five branches of the military (with the current and certainly temporary omission of the United States Space Force); the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force.
Overseers have erected granite monoliths and bronze sculptures on a star to honor the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform.
If you’re a local or had family from Elizabethtown who served, why not purchase a brick or pave stone to honor them, and add to the town’s story.
6. Lincoln Heritage House
This log cabin was the Elizabethtown home of Thomas Lincoln, the father of beloved President Abraham Lincoln.
It’s also the place where Honest Abe’s older sister, Sarah, was born in 1807. Abraham was born two years later. Thomas Lincoln moved his family to Indiana for a short time, then returned to Elizabethtown and the cabin in 1818.
Fire gutted the cabin, now a part of Freeman Park, in 2009. Community volunteers raised the money to rebuild this piece of local history.
The cabin was restored using as much salvaged timber as possible. Docents provide tours of the home during the hours of 1 pm and 4 pm on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month.
7. Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln Memorial Cabin
Sarah Bush Johnston was Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother. Her early 1800s cabin in Elizabethtown has been lovingly recreated with a beautiful flower bed and butterfly garden. It’s also located in Freeman Park.
8. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site
Only a few miles away from E-Town is the actual site where our 16th President was born.
A visitor’s center, hiking trails, and picnic area are located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 31 East and Kentucky Highway 61 in Hodgenville. The movie called “Abraham Lincoln: The Kentucky Years” is shown in the auditorium every half-hour.
See related: Plan your tour of Elizabethtown at GetYourGuide
9. Brown-Pusey House
Built in 1825, Brown-Pusey House is a gateway to the past, present, and future. This historical community facility houses a genealogical library and Pusey Room Museum. Restored in 1923, this old yet warm property was given to the community by Dr. Alfred Brown Pusey, Dr. William Allen Pusey, Mrs. Sallie Cunningham Pusey, and other Hastings family in the same year.
One of Hardin County’s stunning treasures, this stately Georgian home boasts remarkable settings and gorgeous gardens. The spectacular brick facade includes various eye-catching spots throughout, offering you enough opportunities to click stunning pictures.
Overall, this nearly 200-year-old house is a must-visit if you’re in E-town. Take a walk around and admire the history and unmatched beauty of Elizabethtown and Hardin County.
Best Museums in Elizabethtown, Kentucky
A visit to Elizabethtown, Kentucky wouldn’t be complete without a look at vintage cars and at least one All-American sporting spot.
10. Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame
Indiana may be the state where basketball originated, but Kentucky is where it flourished, especially at the high school level. Kentucky is one of the few states that featured a single state tournament for all schools no matter what size.
This was lovingly recreated in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” based on the 1954 Indiana state championship game between tiny Milan High School and Muncie Central. Milan High School is the smallest school ever, with only 161 enrollees, to win a single-class state basketball championship.
In the movie’s final moments, the coach calls a play for the team’s best player, Jimmy Chitwood, to come off the “picket fence” and drill a jump shot to win the championship.
As you walk past the photos and descriptions of Kentucky’s high school basketball lore, you can almost hear the movie’s score swell and smell the popcorn! You can also shoot a free throw.
Many communities, including E-Town, forged their character, identity, and spirit in the basketball gymnasiums of this state. Take a few moments here to relive some real Americana.
11. Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum
The Swope family of car dealerships has created this nod to classic and antique cars from the early 1900s through the 1960s. It’s open six days per week and completely free to the public.
Among this collection of vintage and antique cars, this car museum includes a 1921 Dodge Bradesh, a one-of-a-kind car shipped to India as a hunting vehicle, a 1939 Rolls Royce, a 1956 Thunderbird, a 1953 Jaguar XK 120, and a 1932 LaSalle convertible.
The oldest of its 60 restored autos is the 1910 Brush, a 10-horsepower, single-cylinder, open-air car from Detroit that reached a dizzying(!) top speed of 27 mph.
Enjoy this one-of-a-kind collection at this one-of-a-kind history museum. And if you’re a true vintage car buff, you might be interested in some of the ones the Swope family has for sale. They offer several antique cars to collectors throughout the year.
A day of touring is best ended at a nice accommodation. You might try the Ramada in Elizabethtown to unwind.
See Related: Best Museums in the US You Need to Visit
Best Fun Things to do in Elizabethtown, Kentucky
Elizabethtown offers a growing list of venues and opportunities to catch high-quality performances.
12. Historic State Theater Complex
Considered a cornerstone of downtown revitalization, this art deco theater has been restored to its 1942 grandeur. It also has added amenities, such as a full kitchen and banquet room. Thus it has become a rental facility for large public gatherings.
The 650-seat State Theater hosts a series of events throughout the year, including tribute-band concerts, classic movie showings, and touring comedians.
Located smack dab in the heart of downtown Elizabethtown, families and couples often use the State Theater as the center of a dinner-and-show evening in the town.
Afterward, why not relax at the Elizabethtown Carriage House and its 7.5 acres of natural beauty.
13. Hardin County Playhouse
You can enjoy some local community theater at the Hardin County Playhouse if you time it right. It’s temporarily housed at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College and provides dramas, comedies, and musical theater offerings throughout the year.
Volunteers not only put on the plays, but they are also actively working to raise enough money to build a downtown performing arts venue.
14. The Loop
No walking tour of Elizabethtown is complete without taking in the city’s mural collection. Whether you’re an influencer, or just a wannabe one, you’ll have plenty of Insta-ready places to choose from. They include:
- Elizabethtown Mural, 109 E. Dixie Avenue
- Imagine a World Without Violence, 139 E. Dixie Avenue
- Try a Little Kindness, 14 Public Square
- Blaze Your Own Trail, 16 Public Square
15. PNC Music Garden
Tucked in near the Hardin County Library is a playground experience for kids that marries sight and sound.
The PNC Music Garden offers children colorful music instruments and an art installation that helps them create music among nature. It has become popular for children to see and hear how art, music, and natural surroundings can coexist and thrive in a well-maintained garden.
16. American Legion Park
If you’re searching for a striking place to spend a few recreational hours in the E-town, consider visiting American Legion Park.
This is one of the most popular parks in the region, originally established to honor all Hardin County soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coastguardsmen – again, no doubt the Space Force will eventually be added to the roster.
The park features a golf course, the Funtopia Community Playground, Aquatic Park, a large pavilion, a picnic shelter, and four tennis courts.
Other amenities of the American Legion Park include a splash pad, a lazy river, two waterslides, a whirlpool, and other fun water slides for kids. Surrounded by greenery, this extensive park is an excellent place to spend quality time with family on a sunny day for free. However, you will have to pay a small fee to access the water park for a few hours. Additionally, there are no charges for children (three or under).
Visit this American Legion Park with your loved ones to take in the luxurious view, go ape in the playground and water park, and honor those who gave some, and the some who gave all.
Best Nature Spots in Elizabethtown, Kentucky
Elizabethtown has carved out a niche for itself by honoring its natural beauty, which you can admire on its hiking trails.
17. Walking Tours
Elizabethtown is Kentucky’s first urban trail town, where large swaths of land have been deeded to preserve lakes, trees, streams, and other places for passive recreation. Enthusiasts have carved more than 20 scenic trails out of the local landscape.
Families will enjoy the quarter-mile Prairie Grass Meadow Trail, where wildflowers bloom in the springtime.
The more adventurous will challenge themselves on the 8.5-mile Buffalo Lake Walking Trail and its geographic features, admiring the local wildlife preserve.
18. Freeman Lake Park
Inside the city limits lies this urban oasis of 170 acres; Freeman Lake.
Locals and tourists can easily spend a day of recreational activities at Freeman Lake bird watching, fishing for large-mouth bass, kayaking, paddleboarding, making use of the picnic areas, or enjoying a workout outdoors.
Freeman Lake Park features playgrounds the kids will love, and your furry friends will enjoy running wild in the dog park section.
Experienced hikers will like the 4.7-mile Freeman Lake Park loop with its variety of scenery.
See Related: Best Vacations with Minimal Walking
BONUS! Best Kentucky Bourbon sites near Elizabethtown
Elizabethtown fancies itself as the jumping-off point to numerous nearby whiskey distilleries. None are in Elizabethtown proper, but several are only minutes away.
19. Bourbon’s Backyard
When taste-testing local bourbon brands, we like to stay in the small towns, where single-barrel whiskey is finished in oak, and crafters will be happy to tell their stories.
Try the following distilleries to visit in the area:
- Lux Row, Bardstown
- Green River Distilling Co. (formerly known as O.Z. Tyler), Owensboro
- Wilderness Trail Distillery, Danville
- Boundary Oak Distillery, Radcliff
- Four Roses Distillery/Warehouse, Cox’s Creek
- Second Sight Spirits, Ludlow
- Woodford Reserve, (yes, that Woodford Reserve) Versailles
- Maker’s Mark Distillery, (yes that Maker’s Mark) Loretto
20. Museum of Whiskey History
After visiting a distillery or two, take in some whiskey history at Spalding Hall in Bardstown. It’s now the home of the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, where artifacts and documents trace the history of Kentucky’s favorite spirit from long before Kentucky was a state to the era of Prohibition.
Here you can see vintage whiskey bottles, unique bourbon advertising campaigns, and an authentic moonshine still.
The building was erected in 1826 and housed a seminary, Civil War hospital, and local prep school before the whiskey museum opened.
If you need to rest after an afternoon of taste-testing, we recommend the SpringHill Suites in Elizabethtown.
If you want the lowest possible rate on your hotel room and you’d like to compare locations, compare nightly rates on Kayak for Elizabethtown.
Inside the city limits lies this urban oasis of 170 acres; Freeman Lake. Locals and tourists can easily spend a day of recreational activities at Freeman Lake bird watching, fishing for large-mouth bass, kayaking, paddleboarding, making use of the picnic areas, or enjoying a workout outdoors.
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