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Small town life might be laid back, but in Campbellsville KY, there’s still plenty to do. Explore Civil War history, eat some yummy food at a Mexican restaurant that also serves the best steaks in town. Get outdoors for a kayaking adventure on the Green River. Or just take a leisurely stroll down Main Street. This Campbellsville native says all of those things are worth a family vacation trip to get a flavor of small town life in the South.
John Mellencamp describes small town life perfectly in his song, “Small Town.” “I cannot forget where it is I come from…” Campbellsville, KY epitomizes small town life and I love returning to where I come from. The town was once known for attracting 5,000+ people from surrounding counties to work at the world’s largest Fruit of the Loom factory. Now the area attracts more than 6,000 students to Campbellsville University, a Christian college that acquires more real estate every year.
Exploring Campbellsville KY
Located in the heart of central Kentucky, Campbellsville, Kentucky is my home town. It’s where my relatives live. It’s the place my kids and I return for family reunions and to see cousins and grandparents. And to slow down. We live a fast-paced life in the United States and to intensify the pace, we live near New York City.
We hit the road south as often as we can. People are friendly and polite (even during Covid-19) and they love their pickup trucks. I felt right at home driving around Taylor County in the Silverado pickup truck GMC loaned me for my last trip. (More on that later.)
And people here know each other. We just mention my dad, who owned K&M Auto Repair for 40 years, and whoever we are talking to knows him or has passed his shop dozens of times on their way to Greensburg in neighboring Green County.
Some of our favorite things to do in Campbellsville:
Stroll Along Main Street
Main Street was where kids cruised the strip and met up with friends. The cruisers are gone, but downtown Campbellsville is still quaint and geared to shopping and dining.
Stop in to Dixie Pawn & Gun and tell Dobby that Marilyn’s niece sent you. The store always has something interesting to check out. Across the street is Bourbon Boutique. It’s a bourbon bar, which still seems odd to me since it was illegal to sell liquor in the city of Campbellsville when I lived there. In fact, it stayed illegal right up until 2016!
Where and What to Eat in Campbellsville
Chocolate and Coconut Pie
Don’t judge a restaurant by its bowling pins. Philips Lanes bowling alley is a Campbellsville staple, dating back to, well, before me. It has bowling leagues and a game room. But it also had a restaurant that serves a delicious steak and best of all, homemade pie. Philips Lanes is the best place to grab a piece of homemade chocolate or coconut pie. The burgers are good, too, and the low prices will drown out the sound of bowling pins in the background.
Druther’s sausage biscuit
Fast food abounds in Campbellsville, but we make sure to eat breakfast at Druther’s at least once because of the price and the food.
For $1.59, I can get a sausage egg biscuit. For an extra 10 cents, I can add a slice of tomato or cheese. Yes, those are 2020 prices! I’ve been gone too long. The breakfast staple near my home in CT is a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich and that starts at $3.50. It’s still a good deal, but not as good as Druthers.
I lived in Los Angeles and before that, went to school in Tucson, AZ. So I know how to spot authentic Mexican food.
Poncho’s in Campbellsville KY does a fantastic job delivering fresh, homemade Mexican food. I love to heap the guacamole on my roasted veggie California Fajitas. Try the ranchera if you can handle the serrano chiles. And, if you have meat-and-potatoes-loving family members, Poncho’s also does a great steak. My uncle raves about them.
Friends back East are always surprised to hear me talk about the authentic Mexican food to be found in Kentucky. The Mexican community continues to grow and thrive in the small towns. There are several Mexican restaurants in town and in surrounding towns like Lebanon, Elizabethtown and Columbia.
Attend a Local Game
Campbellsville High School (“city kids” from in town) and Taylor County High School (“country kids” from the county) are rivals. The games — Basketball, football, soccer, cheerleading and even archery — are competitive and fun. They are a town highlight on weekend nights.
This is the heart of the Bible Belt, so the teams pray before every game and you could see In God We Trust on the marquee at the Middle School.
Hike Historic Sites
Green River Lake State Park has 3 main trails that range from .6 miles to 6.5 miles. I have hiked them all and recommend starting with a hike to The Point. It’s easy and flat (after you climb that first hill). And the reward is well worth the effort: a gorgeous view of the lake.
Campbellsville is not in the mountains but there are some nice hills that will get your heart rate up. My cousin who is new to hiking and I did the Salsman Trail and the beauty of it made up for any soreness she felt the next day!
Another favorite of mine are the two hikes at Tebbs Bend (more on this must-visit historic Civil War site in a minute).
Lodging at Green River Lake
Green River Lake is 5 miles from downtown and offers just under 13 square miles of lake life: boating, fishing, boat rentals, cabin rentals and camping at Green River State Park. Tim Horton’s (as in Tim Horton Coffee Company) runs the non-profit Camp Kenthaten, which is right on the lake. It is free for at-risk youth from Canada.
Green River is the longest river within Kentucky — 370+ miles and feeds into Green River Lake. You can rent kayaks and life jackets for a half or full day excursion from Green River Paddle Trail and access the river from points.
A friend and I did the half day excursion and it was gorgeous — green, quiet and fun. We looked for blue herons, turkeys, deer and fish. This is a great activity to do with kids of all ages- including young adult kids. The river is not deep and the current is manageable.
Check here for other options for hotel stays near Green River Lake in Campbellsville, including vacation rentals.
Tebbs Bend-Green River Bridge
Betty Jane Gorin, a Campbellsville native (and my history teacher), wrote the “most detailed account” of the Battle at Tebbs Bend in her book, “Morgan is Coming! Confederate Raiders in the Heartland of Kentucky.” She includes 15 maps, 233 photos and will even sign the book for you when you order a copy through her website.
A 3 mile self-drive tour off HWY 55 commemorates a bloody, and important battle that Confederate General John Hunt Morgan was confident he would win against an untried and much smaller group of Union soldiers from Michigan. Even though Morgan’s regiment outnumbered the Union soldiers 10 to 1, he lost the battle after a very intense four hours.
Encourage your family to read the letters from the soldiers before visiting the site. “…we got close to the battle and then we had to sit down right away to shoot every Rebel in sight. (like a hunter who is lying in wait to shoot a deer.) ” ~Civil War Letters of Johannes Van Lente, ed. Janice Van Lente Catlin.
And get your camera ready for beautiful views along the way and of both bridges. A new bridge was built in 2016 and the old bridge became a pedestrian walkway, placed in a field to the side of the river.
Atkins-Griffin Log House Confederate Hospital
Located at the Green River Lake Visitor’s Center, near the Tebbs Bend Battlefield tour, the Atkins-Griffin Log Hospital is a museum with Confederate and Union uniforms, letters photos and even blood stains on the floor.
Admission is free.
Kentucky’s outdoor classroom preserves the buildings and farmland native to Kentucky life. The Plow Day spring and fall heritage festivals celebrate that history and agriculture with music, theatre, and demos of farm life.
Wow, That’s a Nice Truck!
Trucks are a part of life in Kentucky. But I live in Connecticut so I was surprised when several conversations started with “Wow, that’s a nice truck!” Then they would guess the price of the of the Silverado I was driving – usually around $70,000, and I would shock them with the correct sticker price ($59,000).
I also loved telling them the gas mileage I got was better in the truck than in our sedan that we drive at home — averaging around 23 MPG — even though the engine size was more than I needed. I had to get used to its power when I punched the gas pedal to pass a tractor or slower driver.
The technology is everything you expect in a luxury vehicle: Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, head-up display and more. This truck could easily be my family car and it is the family car for so many of my friends in KY. It’s quiet, comfortable and a pleasure to drive.
There is storage space under the seats and more than one passenger remarked on the roomy backseat. The Durabed (truck bed) was able to handle a lot – multiple loads of furniture, clothes and toys that we hauled to the dump and GoodWill.
Everything I do in KY is a 90 minute drive away so I was on the road a lot — a mix of curvy roads and highways. The only difference I felt in driving the Silverado versus a luxury car is the view from above. It makes me feel safe to be in a vehicle that has height and weight.
If it were my truck, I would add running boards and, if possible, the multi-faceted tailgate from the GMC Sierra. My 5-foot tall aunt would literally disappear from sight after she opened the passenger door to exit the cab.
Getting to Campbellsville
Campbellsville KY is a an easy day trip from 4 major cities in Kentucky: Louisville to the north (90 minutes), Lexington to the east (90 minutes), Nashville to the south (2 hours) and Bowling Green to the southwest (90 minutes).