Can You Camp at the Kentucky Derby?

You finally get to go to the Kentucky Derby to witness the fastest two minutes in worldwide sports! But instead of catching a flight and staying in some high price hotel, you’re taking your RV to the Kentucky Derby instead. But, now you’re wondering. “Can you actually camp at the Kentucky Derby just like a NASCAR race?” Well, you’re in for a big surprise that may or may not win you the roses!

Camping at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville Kentucky - Always On Liberty

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Can You Camp at the Kentucky Derby?

Tent and RV Camping Near Louisville for the Kentucky Derby & Thunder Over Louisville!

RVs Driving to Louisville Kentucky on Map

Let’s get this out there before you shoot the messenger. While camping right at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby would be a camping dream, that’s a hard NO!

Unlike NASCAR races where you can camp in the infield, there is no camping at the Kentucky Derby. Not even for the most luxurious million dollar motorhomes!

However, having lived in the Louisville area for 7 Kentucky Derby races, we’ve got the straight scoop on where all the best places to camp in Louisville are so you can attend the world famous horse race. But also, so you can attend Thunder Over Louisville and delve into some of Louisville’s finest bourbon distilleries!

So, if you’ve already scored your derby tickets or or are looking to attend the world-renowned Kentucky Derby with your RV or tent camp, you’ve come to the right place!

We’ll lay out all of the best camping in the Louisville area that will put you close to downtown just minutes to Churchill Downs.

But, you’ll need to be quick to make your reservations! Because campsites fill up as faster than the winning horse on race day!

✰ READ MORE Thunder Over Louisville Info Guide – Know Before You Go!

When is the Kentucky Derby?

Horses Out the Gates at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville Kentucky

The annual Kentucky Derby is traditionally held on the first Saturday in May.

There’s two exceptional years when the Kentucky Derby didn’t happen; during World War II and during the global pandemic of 2020 that was actually held in September instead of the traditional May date.

Kentucky Derby Add Ons

There are a few important things to keep in mind before making plans to camp near Louisville leading up to the Kentucky Derby or Thunder Over Louisville.

Kentucky Derby Weather

Ladies Cheering in Big Hats at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville Kentucky

Having lived near Louisville, Kentucky for 7 years, I can tell you about the weather in Louisville come Derby time. The Kentucky Derby is one of those events you can’t even speculate about the weather until it gets closer to the race date.

Temperatures in early May average in the 70s. However, due to the crazy Ohio Valley Springtime weather, don’t be surprised if those temperatures dip down in the 30s or heat up into the 90s.

According to KentuckyDerby.com, The Kentucky Derby is a rain or shine event. So, plan accordingly. You’ll definitely want to check the weather forecast the day before and day of the big race! Bring the appropriate attire dictated by the weather; albeit a fancy raincoat or big hat and shades!

But also, camping in Kentucky this time of year can be a little harrowing if you’re not prepared.

So, just be expecting of all types of weather; including potential tornados. It’s best to formulate the best emergency plan for your RV. And as always, keep your bug out bag packed and ready to go in case you need to evacuate.

✰ READ MORE   How to Protect Your RV from High Winds & Storm Damage

Things to do near Louisville, Kentucky

There are tons of cool stuff to do in the city of Louisville! In fact, you may want to check in a couple days before Derby Day or check out a couple days after the race to enjoy the River City.

Since you’ll already be taking in all of the race festivities downtown, I highly encourage you to at least try to get a tour of Churchill Downs and visit the Kentucky Derby Museum.

Both give you a great perspective of how the hopeful winners are trained and taken care of. As well, you just have to see the impeccable gardens below the twin spires and paddocks, as well as the famous track where the run for the roses takes place.

If you’re going to be in Louisville for a few more days, of course you should explore at least a few well known bourbon distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and take in any one of the fascinating sightseeing tours in Louisville. By the way, while you’re trip planning, you’ll definitely want to check out our Best Things to Do in Louisville Kentucky *Complete Guide*

So, saddle up buttercup! It’s time to run for the roses and check out these best places to camp near Louisville, Kentucky; with or without an RV!

Places to Camp in Louisville, Kentucky

RV Campground Ahead Sign

Kentucky Expo Center

937 Phillips Lane • Louisville, KY 40209

The closest camping to the Kentucky Derby is at the Kentucky Expo Center. Although we never camped there, we’ve read several reviews that were all over the place in regards to if this is an ideal place for you to park your RV.

The Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) provides convenient RV parking. The RV lot offers 20 and 30 amp electrical service, water, disposal station, restrooms and showers and is located near the west wing, parallel to Lot “L.”

That said, unless you can score one of the very few 50 amp campsites, it’s really nothing but dry camping in a parking lot.

Also note, getting water or emptying your tanks at the dump station may be a challenge, especially during Derby week. My suggestion is to arrive with a full fresh water tank as well as empty waste tanks.

But, the best thing about camping here is its’ super close proximity to Churchill Downs. It’s just a 5 minute drive or 1.5 miles down Central Avenue to get to the race. Of course, on Derby day, expect your commute to be much longer.

Also you may want to think twice when bringing your pets; especially in the heat. The parking lot can get a bit hot that time of the year.

Tent camping is not permitted except pop-up tents on wheels. To camp at the Kentucky Expo Center (scroll down to RV Camping), make sure you click on View Details. To make a reservation, you will need to submit an RV reservation request form

✰ RELATED ✰ Must Visit Bourbon Distilleries in Louisville Kentucky

Louisville South KOA Holiday

2433 Highway 44 East • Shepherdsville, KY 40165

Louisville South KOA Holiday welcomes RVs of every size and type with their 90-foot pull-through and 50amp full hookup RV sites.

Now, if you’re not bringing your RV to Louisville to watch the Kentucky Derby, you still can enjoy a comfortable stay in one of their camping cabins or fully furnished deluxe cabins. If you’re bringing your dog, they also have pet-friendly cabins as well as a dog park.

If tent camping is more your gallop, Louisville South KOA also has grassy tent sites with water, electric, patio with fire pits and a picnic bench.

Louisville KOA offers amenities such as propane, laundry facility, Wi-Fi, camp store with camping supplies, firewood and ice, swimming pool, dog park, outdoor movies, fishing, nature trails and bike rentals!

✰ RELATED ✰ Galveston Island KOA Holiday RV Resort – Island RV Camping in Texas!

My Old Kentucky Home State Park

501 E. Stephen Foster Avenue • Bardstown, KY 40004

Less than an hour outside of Louisville, camping at My Old Kentucky Home State Park is an option if you wish to stay out of the city. Having camped there ourselves, I have to say, it’s one of the best places to camp near Louisville because of its’ quieter location. 

This state park is a seasonal campground operating from mid-March to mid-November. It has 39 campsites with water and electric hookups, dump station and bathhouse with showers and restrooms. There’s a nearby laundry facility and grocery store.

Why we love My Old Kentucky Home State Park so much is it features the 1818 mansion that Stephen Foster sings about in his ballad, “My Old Kentucky Home”. It’s Kentucky’s longest-running outdoor performance venue that showcases Stephen Foster’s music and choreography in period costumes.

Plus, it’s right in Bardstown where the community teems with spirit, small-town charm and southern hospitality. Most notable, the town’s famous for being the Bourbon Capital of the World.

Lake Shelby Campground

1433 Burks Branch Road • Shelbyville, KY 40065

Just 40 minutes outside of Louisville, Lake Shelby Campground is a year-round county recreation park in Shelby County, Kentucky.

It offers 10 RV sites and 20 primitive tent sites along the small lakefront. It has 1 full-hookup RV site and 9 RV sites with electric and water only. The park does have a bathhouse equipped with showers and flush toilets. They also have a 20-acre lake where campers can fish, kayak and canoe!

Charlestown State Park Campground

3000 State Park Drive • Charlestown, IN 47111

Louisville is situated right on the Ohio River that divides Kentucky from Indiana. In the Hoosier State, Charlestown State Park is just a quick 25 minute jaunt across the bridge to all the happenings of the Kentucky Derby!

The year-round state park campground has nearly 200 spacious campsites; 60 Full Hookup and 132 electric only campsites. RV and Camp amenities include dump station, water fill stations, bathhouse with flush toilets and showers. It also has an onsite playground for the kids as well as hiking trails that are accessible right from the campground.

Speaking of hiking, the scenic state park offers incredible trails that provide perfect birdwatching opportunities! You’ll surely want to bring your binoculars!

You can make your reservations through the Indiana Central Reservation System.

Taylorsville Lake State Park

1320 Park Road • Mount Eden, KY 40046

While a little off the beaten path, Taylorsville Lake State Park Campground is still within reasonable driving distance to Churchill Downs. A little less than an hour’s drive, you can enjoy the finer points of rural Kentucky yet still be close to the city. In fact, this is another of our favorite camping spots near Louisville.

It has 44 water and electric campsites and 10 equestrian-only water and electric RV campsites. As well, there’s 15 primitive tent sites. Bathhouses and laundry are available at the campground as well as separate dump station.

For recreation, campers can enjoy the park’s 1,200-acres, 16 miles of amazing multi-use trails for horse, hiking and mountain biking.

Also, the state park sits on 3,050-acre Taylorsville Lake where boaters, water skiers and anglers share the water recreation area. You can rent a fishing boat or a pontoon boat as well as fuel up, buy food, ice and stock up on fishing gear at the marina.

Oh, and if you have your own kayaks oar canoes, bring ’em!

✰ RELATED ✰ Taylorsville Lake State Park Campground Review

U.S. Army Camp Carlson Recreation Area

9210 US 60 • Muldraugh, KY 40155

If you qualify to stay at military campgrounds, you can camp at U.S. Army’s Camp Carlson Recreation Area just outside of Louisville in Muldraugh.

Though Camp Carlson is managed by the U.S. Army, the campground is not located on Fort Knox Army Post. The 65-acre Rec Area is situated with a 25-acre fishing lake.

There are 56 full-hookup, big rig friendly RV sites. There’s also a dump station, bathhouse and laundry facility is onsite.

There’s also tent camping sites available from April 1st through September 30th; just in time for the Kentucky Derby! Camp Carlson also has 10 fully-furnished cabin rentals available. Just be aware, pets are not permitted inside the cabins.

Just an FYI, based on our experience, WiFi and cellular signals may be a bit of a challenge due to it’s location.

✰ RELATED ✰ Who Can Stay at Military Campgrounds or FamCamps?

Elks Lodge

If you’re a current card-carrying member of the Brotherhood Protective Order of Elks (BPOE), you may be able to dry camp (fully contained RVs only) at the respective Elks Lodges in Louisville. And of course, a donation is strongly encouraged for your stay.

Elks Lodge #2052 – 904 Ormsby LaneLyndon (Louisville) – (502) 426-2069 for reservations or info.

Elks Lodge #82824 Klondike LaneLouisville – (502) 491-8335 for reservations or info.

Plan your RV adventure to Louisville!

If you’re bringing your RV to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Over Louisville or to explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, it’s important to plan so you get the best possible experience on the road and off.

Anytime we plan our camping trips, we use RV LIFE Trip Wizard to get us safely to our camping destinations utilizing RV-friendly routes specific to your RV and travel preferences.

Learn more and sign up for the FREE 7-Day Trial.

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Wrapping up 

RVs in Line to Get into Campground

The Kentucky Derby surely is an event you should definitely plan on attending! But nothing says you have to stay in some ritzy hotel or expensive AirB&B to attend the Kentucky Derby. The option of camping near Louisville is just as good…if not better!

Just remember, commute times from each camping area in and near Louisville will double or even triple on race day. So, set your departure times accordingly to arrive in time to place your bets!

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