Visiting Bernheim Forest in Kentucky with Kids

by Tonya Staab
Published: Updated:

Take the kids to Bernheim Forest in Kentucky for a day of fun and learning in nature. Take a walk on the trails, visit the giants, and more.

One of my favorite places to wander (that is a very short drive from our house) is Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. I especially love seeing how much it changes with each season.

Bernheim Forest hand sculpture near the visitor center
Bernheim Forest hand sculpture.

The first time I visited was in late March, but we just recently took the twins’ there for the first time over summer break. In California, we are used to our forests looking pretty much the same year-round, sure some lose a few leaves in autumn, and there are more wildflowers in bloom in the spring, but the changes in nature in this part of the country truly are something to see, as you’ll see from my photographs below. I can’t wait to go again late in the fall this year to see how much it’s changed once more.

I will continue updating this post as we explore more trails and new things open.

Bernheim Forest trails

Bent Twig trail loop

The Bent Twig Loop is a short hiking trail where you can spot lots of lizards, spider webs, squirrels, birds, butterflies, and if you are lucky you may spot a deer too. It changes so much throughout the seasons so it’s one of my favorites to do with the kids. The photos below were taken in both March and summer.

This trail is located behind the Silos just past the Education Center and is only 1/2 a mile, so it’s perfect for kids.

Green moss on the base of tree trunks.
Moss on the base of tree trunks.
Bent Twig Loop at Bernheim forest with kids.
Bernheim Forest Bent Twig Loop.
Easy trails for kids at Bernheim Forest.
Kid-friendly trails at Bernheim Forest.
The picnic area by the Education Center at Bernheim in Summer.
The picnic area by the education center in summer.

You can see it’s very brown, damp, and mossy back in March, and then so green and lush in summer. Although, the little creek beds along the trail had dried up in the summer.

Sensory garden at Bernheim Forest

The sensory garden is located by the Education and Dragonfly pond. It’s such a wonderful little space to explore.

Silos in the sensory garden during summer.
Silos in the sensory garden during summer.

I’m not sure which season I enjoyed visiting the forest during more. On the one hand, the end of winter is just beautiful in its own way. It’s not green and lush, but you can see all of the new spring growth start and hear the water trickling along the little creek beds. The colors dotted among the bare trees are just beautiful.

A red cardinal on a branch of new growth.
A red cardinal with new growth on the trees.
A lightning bolt on a tree.
A lightning bolt on a tree.
art in nature in the sensory garden at Bernheim.
Art in nature at Bernheim Forest sensory garden.

This tree is located on the other side of the parking lot by the sensory garden.

A tree that looks like it has hands coming off the branches.
A tree that looks like it has hands.

Dragonfly pond

The dragonfly pond is located behind the silos and education center. It’s a tiny pond, but it’s one of our favorites. It is always full of frogs, butterflies, and dragonflies.

A dragonfly at dragonfly pond.
A dragonfly on a plant.
Beetles on a plant growing small purple flowers.
Beetles on a plant with new flower growth.
A black butterfly in a garden on a plant with purple flowers.
A butterfly on a plant with purple flowers.
Two green frogs on the dragonfly pond at Bernheim.
Two frogs on the dragonfly pond.
Two large green frogs on the edge of a pond.
Large green frogs on the edge of a pond.

Lake Nevin

Lake Nevin in Kentucky.
Lake Nevin in Bernheim Forest, Kentucky.

Look at the amazing colors as spring starts to show its colors as we ease into summer.

Pink branches of a bush with new spring growth at Bernheim Forest.
Pink branches with new growth at Bernheim Forest.

Forest giants

The Forest Giants by Danish artist, Thomas Dambo are a must-see when visiting Bernheim.

Little Nis looking at his reflection at Bernheim
Little Nis the forest giant at Bernheim.

You will find Little Nis looking at his reflection at the Olmsted Pond. Follow the path across the Big Prairie and you’ll come across Mama Loumari, and then a little further along the trail to Lake Nevin is Little Elina.

Forest giant footprints at Bernheim Arboretum.
Forest giant footprints at Bernheim.

Special programs and events at Bernheim Forest

There is so much to see and do there that you can’t possibly get around it in a day. Plus, the day we took the kids there was a special explorer’s educational program set up where the kids got to participate in a few fun activities and learn more about the wildlife in the area.

The explorer's education program to learn about native birds at Bernheim research center.
Explorer’s education program at Bernheim Forest.

Olmsted Ponds

And don’t forget to feed the turtles at the Olmsted Ponds while you are there. Mike and I tried in March, but they were all perched up on a big rock ignoring us. When we took the kids during summer break we had 12 vying for our attention, including the tiniest baby turtle. They have a food dispenser at the pond that takes quarters.

The Olmsted Ponds are located by the visitor center. You’ll often see ducks and geese there too. We call it the turtle pond though because there are so many turtles to see.

A bridge across Olmsted Ponds at Bernheim Forest.
A bridge across Olmsted Ponds at Bernheim Forest.
A turtle in the murky water of Olmsted Pond.
A turtle in Olmsted Pond.
Turtle food in a hand from the feeding machine at Olmsted Ponds.
Turtle food to feed the turtles at Olmsted Pond.

Children’s play garden

The children’s play garden is one of the newest additions to Bernheim Forest allowing children to play in nature.

The nature playground for kids at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.
Nature playground for kids at Bernheim

Make sure to check the hours of Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest before visiting, and don’t forget to check their calendar of events too.

Looking for more fun things to do in Kentucky with kids? Check out our favorite places to visit in Kentucky that loved. Don’t forget to look at the fun day we had with the kids painting landscapes at Bernheim Forest too.

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