Kentucky State Arboretum

Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest

Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest


Adopted on July 15, 1994.

The Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest was adopted on July 15, 1994 as the official state arboretum of the Commonwealth of Kentucky

Kentucky State Arboretum:
Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest

Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest connects people and nature by:

  • Providing ample opportunities for quiet, personal experiences with the outdoors,
  • Fostering curiosity and the love of learning with imaginative, inter-disciplinary, outdoor-oriented horticultural and natural history programs and exhibits, as well as nature-inspired art and cultural activities, and by
  • Increasing understanding of the natural world through progressive, inter-disciplinary research in horticulture, natural areas management, and habitat restoration.

The goal in all of Bernheim's activities is to help realize its mission of strengthening the bond between people and nature by finding new ways to connect nature with people's everyday lives. We believe that if people recognize and benefit from the many values found in nature, quality of life will be improved, and thus they will be motivated to protect the natural world for both its practical and its intrinsic value.

Isaac W. Bernheim established Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in 1929. I. W. Bernheim (1848-1945) was a German immigrant who settled in Kentucky. From a humble beginning as a peddler, he became successful in the whiskey distilling business where he established the I.W. Harper brand. Grateful for his good fortune, he gave Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest to the people of Kentucky as a gift.

The arboretum at Bernheim is a place of tranquil beauty that has long been sought out by people from near and far. In 1931, the Frederick Law Olmsted firm of Brookline, MA, began work on a major site plan for the landscape arboretum at Bernheim. They created an original landscape design that was adopted in 1935.

Following the Olmsted plan, workers built three small lakes and a road through the arboretum before any of the collections were planted. The entrance road began at State Highway 245 (formerly called "Poor Farm Road") and led to the fire tower, a distance of 3.1 miles. Originally dirt, it was blacktopped in 1948 in preparation for the public's arrival. The Cedar Lakes and Mac's Lake were created in 1939. Lake Nevin, a 32-acre fishing lake near what is now the main entrance, was impounded in 1949 and named in honor of Mr. Hugh L. Nevin, President of the Board of Trustees for many years.

Bernheim first opened to the public in July 1950. Several thousand people visited the first year to see a small nature museum; animal, game and turtle pens; a labeled nature trail and a waterfowl refuge. Twenty-five miles of trails led to such places as Wolf Pen Hollow, Wildcat Hollow, Spiceland Flat and Rice Orchard Ridge. Fishing and picnicking were popular leisure activities.

The arboretum collections have been growing and developing since the early 1930's. Some of the earliest collections at Bernheim, the large conifers and old pecan trees in the Pines Picnic area, are remnants of old forestry plantings from the 1930's. Virginia pines were transplanted to the area in the mid-1960's.

The beech, ginkgo and nut sections began in the 1950's. The renowned American holly collection was significantly expanded in 1976. It has become the largest collection of American hollies in North America, probably the world.

Today, an active plant evaluation program will provide new varieties for the arboretum.


Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
P.O. Box 130

From Louisville
Bernheim is located about 25 miles south of downtown Louisville, Ky just off I-65 at mile marker 112. At the exit, turn left onto St. Rt. 245 and proceed to our entrance which is on your right about 1 mile down the road.

From Lexington
Take the Bluegrass Parkway west exiting at the first Bardstown exit. Drive toward Bardstown and turn right onto St. Rt. 245. Bernheim's entrance is about 18 miles up St. Rt. 245.

Kentucky Law

The law designating the 'Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest'  as the official Kentucky state arboretum is found in the Kentucky Revised Statutes, Title 1, Chapter 2, Section 2.096.


2.096 State arboretum.
The Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest shall be designated as
the official state arboretum of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Effective: July 15, 1994
History: Created 1994 Ky. Acts ch. 17, sec. 1, effective July 15, 1994.

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