Big Bone Lick State Park

Big Bone Lick State Park

Location in Kentucky

Type Kentucky state park
Location Boone County, Kentucky
Nearest city Union, Kentucky
Coordinates 38°53′13″N 84°44′52″W / 38.88694°N 84.74778°W / 38.88694; -84.74778Coordinates: 38°53′13″N 84°44′52″W / 38.88694°N 84.74778°W / 38.88694; -84.74778
Area 525 acres (212 ha) [1]
Elevation 469 feet (143 m) [2]
Created 1960 [1][3]
Operated by Kentucky Department of Parks
Open Year-round
NRHP Reference # 72001585 [4]
Added to NRHP June 13, 1972
Designated 2009

Big Bone Lick State Park is located at Big Bone in Boone County, Kentucky. The name of the park comes from the Pleistocene megafauna fossils found there. Mammoths are believed to have been drawn to this location by a salt lick deposited around sulphur springs.[5] Ancestors of the sloth, bison, and horse[6] also grazed the vegetation and salty earth around the springs that the animals relied on for their diet. The area near the springs was very soft and marshy causing many animals to become stuck with no way to escape.[1] It bills itself as "the birthplace of American paleontology," a term which dates from the 1807 expedition by William Clark undertaken at the direction of President Thomas Jefferson.[7] In Nicholas Cresswell's journal, dated 1774 to 1777, he records a visit in 1775 to what was then called "Elephant Bone Lick." In this account, Cresswell describes finding several bones of "prodigious size," as well as tusk fragments, and teeth — one weighing approximately 10 pounds. While he assumed the bones were from ancient elephants, the local native traditions claimed the bones to be those of white buffaloes that had been poisoned by the salty water.[8]

In 2002, the National Park Service designated Big Bone Lick State Park as an official Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Site.[9] The park was also listed in 1972 on the National Register of Historic Places and was further listed as a National Natural Landmark in February 2009.

Activities and amenities

The visitors center (opened 2004) features indoor and outdoor exhibits of fossils, American art, and a 1,000 pound mastodon skull as well as a gift shop.

The park features several nature trails, including a Discovery Trail that includes a boardwalk around a marsh bog diorama with recreations of a woolly mammoth, a mastodon, a ground sloth, bison, and scavengers feeding on carcasses and skeletal remains. The Discovery Trail winds through several habitats, including grassland, wetland and savanna, and is accessible to the physically challenged.

A small bison herd is also maintained on-site.

The park has picnicking facilities and a 62-site campground.


  1. 1 2 3 "History". Big Bone Lick State Historic Site. Kentucky Department of Parks. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  2. "Big Bone Lick State Park". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  3. Kleber, John E., ed. (1992). "Big Bone Lick". The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Associate editors: Thomas D. Clark, Lowell H. Harrison, and James C. Klotter. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1772-0.
  4. National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  5. Hunter, David (Oct 1, 2003). Shifra Stein's Day Trips from Cincinnati: Getaways Less Than Two Hours Away. Globe Pequot. p. 138. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
  6. "Quaternary Period". Kentucky Geological Survey. University of Kentucky. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  7. Vaccariello, Linda (Nov 2009). "And On the Sixth Day, God Created Paleontologists". Cincinnati Magazine. p. 86. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
  8. MacVeagh, L. (1924) The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell 1774 - 1777, New York, p. 88.
  9. David Wecker (2002-10-19). "Big Bone Lick: Books, awards and festival give pride of Boone County its due". The Kentucky Post. E. W. Scripps Company. Archived from the original on 2006-05-11. Retrieved 2007-02-05.
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