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36 Hours in Paducah, KY

We read the New York Time’s 36 Hours whenever we visit a new city. Their consistently solid restaurant and activity recommendations always leave us full of good food and worn out in the best way. We decided to make a 36 hours in Paducah post because that’s exactly how we felt after we explored this fun Kentucky town. Plus, it’s the first fuel stop in the longest stretch (200+ miles) with no marinas on the Great Loop so it gets quite a lot of boat traffic...and the NYT hasn't gotten here yet.

Map of the Great Loop route from Hoppies to Paducah

Friday


4 pm: Pull into the Paducah Transient Dock

The city of Paducah built a sturdy, flood-proof transient and fuel dock walking steps from downtown in 2017. The $8 million docks are part of the $12.8 million project to develop Paducah's waterfront, and make it more accessible and usable by its visitors and residents. While amenities are limited, it is a welcome stop after the 2-3 day voyage (with no marinas) from the St. Louis area. Many boaters arrive in the afternoon after cruising through the Olmstead Lock, but arrival can vary depending on the commercial traffic at the lock. For us, we lucked out and pulled in right in time to kick off the weekend. Space is limited, so we were lucky to have made our reservation via Dockwa ahead of time to secure our spot.


Great Loop boats at the Paducah transient dock

5 pm: Run the Greenway Trail

After 3 days of long cruising, where we weren't able to get off the boat, we definitely were ready to stretch our legs. Lucky for us, Paducah has a beautiful paved trail along the river’s edge. You can bike it, run it, or walk it (we did a little of all 3 during our stay). You even get the chance to see a waste water treatment plant up close!


7 pm: Dinner at The Freight House

The Freight House burger in Paducah, KY

Freight House is owned by Top Chef 2nd place winner, Chef Sara Bradley, who moved back to her hometown to encourage agriculture sustainability in the Western Kentucky region. We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar (we didn’t have reservations) but the restaurant, while a relatively large space, manages to pull off making you feel like you’re in someone’s cozy farmhouse dining room, so we didn’t feel like we were missing out on anything. The cocktails are great (they rotate by season) and we had the best burger of the loop so far. (And we’ve had our fair share of burgers.)



Saturday


9 AM: Coffee and pastries from Kirchhoff’s Bakery

Kate’s family owned a bakery for three generations, so we’re always on the hunt for local baked goods. Kirchoff’s has been around since 1873 spanning 5 generations, and the quality of their breads prove they’ve been doing this for a while. We got a pumpkin scone and breakfast focaccia (they were hidden in the bottom but Tim got a tip from a local and she wasn’t wrong). And of course, we got a loaf of bread to go. Etcetera Coffee is conveniently right next door (literally you don’t even have to go outside the buildings are connected) for a morning caffeine fix.



10 AM: Walk through the Farmers Market (if it’s Saturday Morning)

Even though growing season was pretty much over when we rolled through in mid-October, we still picked up some juicy apples and crisp onions. A lot of crafts for sale, and well, we never pass up a farmers market on the loop.


11 AM: Stroll through Paducah’s Flood Wall Murals

Paducah seemed to have the most documented history on display of any towns we’ve been to on this trip. What’s most impressive is they have over 50 murals covering the floodwalls that surround the city showcasing a different era with a description of Paducah’s history. And in case you want more information, they even have walking ambassadors whose main jobs are to tell you all about Paducah!


12 PM: Grab a hearty sandwich at Kirchoff’s Deli

We went back to Kirchoff’s for lunch because their adjoining deli has some of the best sandwiches in the town, and that’s what we were craving. Even though it’s in the same building as the bakery, it still feels like a different restaurant. But, if looking to try something different, we heard Gold Rush Cafe is pretty good too.


1 PM: Explore Paducah's River Discovery Center

We find ourselves trying to soak up as much information about the waterways we’re cruising through. So when we found out Paducah had a whole museum dedicated to its waterways, we didn't think twice about heading in. Plus, Tim heard they had a towboat operator simulator so it didn’t take much convincing. Learning about the history of what life was like on the rivers throughout the 20th and 21st centuries really puts into perspective how different and alike our journey is from the skippers that traveled before us. We picked up a copy of the recently released, Holding Back the River, which provides current context on the Army Corps of Engineers' environmental and political challenges with controlling our inland waterways.


2:30 PM: Admire incredible talent at the National Quilt Museum

This has been ranked as the #1 stop on the Great Loop. And it did not disappoint. It’s an art gallery, but except paintings, everything is made out of fabric. Depending on how long it takes you to go through an art gallery, that’s how long you should expect to spend here.


Bird quilt at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah Kentucky


5 PM: Drinks and pizza at Dry Ground Brewing Co and Mellow Mushroom
Fire pit at Dry Ground Brewing in Paducah Kentucky

Were so glad we hopped on our bikes to make the 3-mile trek to Dry Ground Brewing Co. They had a fire pit, the air was cool and crisp, and we couldn’t have welcomed fall a better way. Their building is the old Coca-Cola bottling factory, built in 1939 after the original factory flooded in 1937. The site was chosen after the factory’s owner, Mr. Carson, floated to the first area of “dry ground” he came across during that wet period--a whole 31 blocks from the river. We weren’t planning to eat dinner here, but after a few beers and a warm fire, bringing over pizza from Mellow Mushroom next door was one of the best ideas we had next to deciding to do the Great Loop. Back up is Paducah Beer Werks downtown followed by Doe's Eat Place (we heard from others was pretty good).



7 PM: See a show at the Market House Theater

We did not do this but heard others really enjoyed Market House Theater, about to enter their 58th season in 2022. In October, they were offering ghost tours via carriage rides around the city that seemed pretty fun.


9 PM: Have a nightcap at a bourbon bar

Since we were in Kentucky, we wanted to get the full bourbon experience, so stopped by for a drink at Barrel & Bond, which has over 1600 bourbon and whiskeys on its menu. Trendy cocktail bar and decent spot to enjoy what Kentucky does best.

Barrel and Bond bar in Paducah Kentucky

Sunday


8 AM: Fuel up and pump-out

It’s a solid cruise to Lake Barkley, so most of us cruising the Great Loop tend to take off around first light. Since we didn't make it to the fuel dock before we pulled in, we did this in the morning, and lucky for us, Paducah's city staff were available to open the pumps for us at 7:30 am.


Barge in the fog on the Ohio river cruising the Great Loop outside Paducah Kentucky