Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest.
Purchased by German immigrant Isaac W. Bernheim in 1929, the land was dedicated as a gift to the people of his new homeland. Today, over 250,000 visitors enjoy Bernheim each year.
Born in Schmieheim, Germany on November 4, 1848, Bernheim immigrated to the United States in March, 1867 at the age of eighteen with only $4 in his pocket. But like many hard working German immigrants in the 19th century, he thrived in America’s land of opportunity, adopted its values and way of life, and prospered financially.
At first he traveled on horseback, peddling household goods and hardware to German immigrants in New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
After struggling for several years he moved to Paducah, Kentucky, where he worked as a bookkeeper, then started a wholesale whiskey business in 1872, operated in partnership with this brother, Bernard. By 1888, Bernheim had incorporated Bernheim Distillers in Louisville helping to establish the city as a major center of Kentucky bourbon distilling. He sold his business after Prohibition and died in 1945 at the age of 96.
Bernheim was a man of vision. Despite his considerable footprint on Kentucky’s rich history of bourbon, Bernheim’s legacy would be the gift of wild lands set aside so that city dwellers could learn about nature.
At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.
Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees.
Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible.
One of the more popular trails, the 1.3-mile Lake Nevin Loop circles the 32-acre manmade Lake Nevin, a feature of the landscape design created by the Olmsted Brothers in 1948. This mostly flat and gravel-paved trail crosses through many of Bernheim’s beautifully landscaped gardens and connects to several other trails. This trail highlights Lake Nevin’s features, including the cypress-tupelo swamp, bluegrass savanna, and its irrigation duties for Bernheim’s arboretum.
Stop in to the visitor center, Kentucky’s first LEED platinum building for information to help plan your visit. Take time to relax, explore the gift shop, grab a bite at Isaac’s café, and learn about sustainable design.
Each month Bernheim sponsors special events for visitors. These include nature hikes, workshops, plant and animal study programs for children and adults, and gardening and landscaping tours in the Arboretum.
Learn about wildlife and nature at Bernheim’s Education Center. Stop in to view their art gallery, explore exhibits, and enjoy the Wildlife Viewing Room where you can watch birds, small mammals, and bees interact with their natural environment.
Experience Bernheim from atop the oldest structure, the historic fire tower. A volunteer naturalist will lead you 961 feet up the flights of stairs for one of the best views in the state. The incredible scenery will leave you amazed as you take in the knobby landscape that surrounds Bernheim.
Hang out in the tree-tops in our Canopy Tree Walk. This short boardwalk extends into the forest canopy, suspending visitors an astonishing 75 feet above the forest floor.
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is located in Clermont (near Jim Beam Distillery), 30 miles south of Louisville. Take exit 112 from Interstate 65, and drive east for about one mile on KY-245, then turn right into the entrance.
The arboretum is free to all Monday-Friday; weekends and holidays, $5 per vehicle.
Where to Stay: Grandma’s RV Camping, Shepherdsville (I-65 at Exit 116); distance to Bernheim Forest is 7 miles
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.