Big Bone Lick is a unique state park where the prehistoric past is enshrined, containing the remains of some of America’s early animal inhabitants. Once covered with swamps, the land that makes up Big Bone Lick had a combination of minerals and water that animals found difficult to resist.
For centuries great beasts of the Pleistocene era came to the swampy land in what is now known as northern Kentucky to feed. Animals that frequented Big Bone Lick included bison, both the ancient and the modern variety; primitive horses, giant mammoths and mastodons, the enormous stag-moose, and the ground sloth. The earliest peoples, from the Pre-Paleo Period (13,000 BC) down to the Late Woodland Period (AD 1000), found a seemingly endless supply of wild game to hunt in and around the mineral and salt springs and Big Bone Lick became a killing ground for thousands of years. Over the millennia, the bones gradually accumulated and were frequently covered by flooding sediments, preserving them for modern archaeologists and paleontologists to recover in the future.
Late Prehistoric Indians, and later the settlers from the east coast marveled at the “big bones” that lay scattered about the lick. Word of these intriguing remains became part of Indian lore until in 1739 a French Canadian explorer and soldier, Charles LeMoyne, second Baron DeLongueil discovered the site. In 1744 Robert Smith, an Indian trader, visited the area and removed fossils from their swampy bed. Kentucky explorer, John Findlay, noted the bones at the lick in 1752, and Robert McAfee described Big Bone Lick in his 1773 journal. The ancient bones found in Kentucky soon became the talk of the scientific world and several fledgling sciences had their humble beginnings based on evidence and data that first emerged from the site. No less than five Ice Age mammals were first described to science based upon their initial discovery at Big Bone Lick.
The Big Bone Lick museum features exhibits that tell of the park’s momentous historic and prehistoric past. Displays include Ordovician fossils, Ice Age mammal bones, Native American artifacts, the salt making era, and ongoing current research. The museum is open daily 8:30 am - 4:00 pm from April 1 - October 31, and from and 9:00 am - 3:00 pm Monday - Friday, November 1 - March 31.
Big Bone Lick also offers a spacious campground featuring 62 campsites with utility hookups and grills. A central service building offers showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities. Camping is available from April 1-October 31.