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Find a Herd of Bison at Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky

Tonya Prater, Owner

Northern Kentucky is full of interesting, off-beat attractions, including Cumberland Falls, the Rabbit Hash General Store, and Big Bone Lick State Park

Three people walking along a wooded trail.

Big Bone Lick State Park has become a favorite stop for my family when we’re traveling through Northern Kentucky via I-75.  

While the park is currently open, the Visitor Center/Museum, playground, and campgrounds may not be so you’ll want to call ahead to verify their current hours, etc. 

How did Big Bone Lick State Park get its Name?

What kind of a name is Big Bone Lick? A pretty interesting one!

As it turns out, sulfur springs in the area created a salt lick, which attracted mammoths and other animals to the site. Many of the animals became stuck in the marshy area surrounding the salt lick, ultimately creating a huge deposit of fossils. So, some pretty “big bones” were found at this “lick,” hence the name! Big Bone Lick State Park claims to be the “birthplace of American paleontology.”

Inside the visitor center at Big Bone Lick State park.

The State Park has acquired many accolades over the years: The National Register of Historic Places, a National Natural Landmark, and an official Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Site.

What will you find at Big Bone Lick?

Today, there is a visitor’s center and natural history museum with a 1,000-pound mastodon skull. Outside, there are several walking trails with interpretive exhibits and a modern campground with a pool and mini-golf course.

The Big Bone Lick Bison Herd


One of the coolest features of the park is the bison herd that is maintained here.

In a nod to the last wild bison of Kentucky, which disappeared around 1800, a small herd of bison is kept at Big Bone Lick State Park. Local native legend claims that many of the fossils and bones found here are from white buffalo that once roamed the area.

The Bison Trace Trail is just 0.5 miles from the visitor’s center, and it’s usually fairly easy to spot the bison. If you have time, there are other trails at Big Bone Lick State Park to check out. 

If you have a pair of binoculars, it doesn’t hurt to bring them along, as sometimes the bison can be a bit farther from the trail. The trail leading to the back pasture can be pretty muddy during the spring and rainy season so dress accordingly. 

If you visit during the day and the visitor center is open, make sure to ask what time feeding time is for the bison.

bison as seen from a distance

It may save you from walking to the back pasture.  

If you visit in the spring, you just might catch some new members of the bison herd.

Each October, Big Bone Lick State Historic Site hosts the annual Salt Festival, with pioneer-era demonstrations, plus music, food, and crafts.

a collage of bison photos

This park is a great place to stop, stretch your legs and enjoy a picnic lunch when traveling through the area. It’s an easy drive from I-75 when traveling through Kentucky.

Where to Find Big Bone Lick State Historic Site

Address: 3380 Beaver Rd, Union, KY 41091
Phone: 859-384-3522
Hours: Park Grounds are open year-round from dawn to dusk. The museum and visitor center are open April 1 – October 31: Open daily, 8:30 am – 4:00 pm, November 1 – March 31: Open Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm, and the 2nd Saturday of each month from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Cost: Free to visit

Are you interested in more fun things to see and do in Kentucky? You’ll find a horse cemetery in Lexington, Cumberland Falls a short distance from I-75, and the first KFC right off the interstate.  

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