Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is a horse race that gives travelers a chance to experience fanfare and equestrian competition in Louisville, Kentucky every May. Load up your RV and camp near Churchill Downs.

Event information

Often referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby is a legendary horse race that takes place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky every May. While the main event may only last for 120 breathless seconds, the Kentucky Derby includes two weeks of fanfare surrounding the event.

Associated happenings include both official and unofficial galas and parties plus live concerts, art installations, and equestrian-related sporting events. In many ways, attending the Kentucky Derby isn’t so much about the horse race itself but about the general spirit of merriment that takes over Louisville before and after the event.

Whether you wish to wager a bet, sip mint juleps around town, or you just want an excuse to wear your most elaborate hat, the Kentucky Derby is the sort of annual event that everyone should experience once in a lifetime. Serving as one leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby is a sister event to Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

RV campers planning a trip to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby can book tickets for the race, hit up a few local celebrations after the crowds depart Churchill Downs, and then head out and explore Louisville and the surrounding area. Kentucky in the springtime boasts sunny southern weather.

RV campers can visit McNeely Lake Park, E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park, Falls of the Ohio State Park, and other nearby sites.

Tickets

Tickets to the Kentucky Derby are available online in advance. They typically go on sale the winter before the event and go up in price as the race gets closer. Depending on when you buy them, general admission seats for the race can cost anywhere from $65 to $85. You can also purchase tickets to other races and events, opt for box seating for larger groups, or purchase two-day packages for approximately $999 that include lodging, transportation, and access to lounges at Churchill Downs.

Transportation

Driving

During any other month, it’s easy to get around Louisville. Around the time of the Kentucky Derby, however, is a different story. Numerous road closures will be in effect in the days surrounding the main race and parking is very limited. Driving an RV to the Kentucky Derby is not recommended. You’re better off leaving your RV parked at your campground or nearby and finding another way to Churchill Downs.

Parking areas

All parking at Churchill Downs requires a pass during the week of the Kentucky Derby. These are only available for designated guests. Some event attendees seek out parking in neighborhoods surrounding Churchill Downs and walk to the event, but this is also limited and most likely will not be able to accommodate the length of larger RVs.

Public Transportation

As this event is challenging to get to by car or RV, a number or alternate transportation options are available. You can utilize city taxis, which have designated pick up and drop off spots during the Kentucky Derby. Guests often use rideshare apps, book a private shuttle, or go all out and splurge on a limo.

Where to stay

Onsite

There is no RV camping at this event. Due to the difficulty of parking at the Kentucky Derby, RV campers will want to book Louisville RV campsites in advance. The Kentucky Derby is an incredibly popular affair. All lodging types including hotels, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds are likely to book up quickly, and rates may increase as the event approaches.

Nearby

The Louisville South KOA Holiday is located 19 miles from Churchill Downs. This is one great option for RV camping in the Louisville area. You will also find a smattering of RV parks throughout town. Many of these are focused on long-term residents, but it’s possible to find a spot for a few days if you ask. You can also look for RV camping in nearby wilderness areas such as Hoosier National Forest two hours to the west. Keep in mind that the closer you camp, the easier it will be to get to Louisville on Derby Day.

Getting around

Churchill Downs, located in the southern portion of Louisville, is an expansive venue with capacity for approximately 170,000 people—and quite a few horses too, of course. Plan on getting around on foot at the event and in the celebrations that follow. Scooters and bicycles are not allowed inside, but assistance for individuals with disabilities is available. If you need ADA access, contact the event organizers at least one week before Derby Day.

What to pack

Clothing

The Kentucky Derby may be a sporting event, but it’s also an opportunity for fashionistas to shine. Pack your Kentucky Derby best, which typically means something fancy and pastel. For women, it’s all about extravagant hats. For men, it’s all about bow ties. Longtime Kentucky Derby attendees recommend that women pack a pair of flats to change into when high heels become unbearable.

Pack outfits for any parties you plan to attend (theme parties usually fit the same dress code as the race itself) and have more casual attire for around the campground. Bring light clothes for during the day and layers for at night.

Gear

Minimize the need to run to the store by thoroughly packing your RV gear. Have all necessary camping items, including flashlights, camp chairs, cookware, and fuel (if allowed). For the Kentucky Derby, bring a small bag with your wallet and phone. Keep in mind that outside alcohol, canopies, chairs, coolers, umbrellas, weapons, and selfie sticks are not allowed at Churchill Downs. In past years, guests have been allowed to bring a seat cushion as long as it is no larger than 15x15.

Health & Safety

This is an outside event that takes place in the typically sunny state of Kentucky. You’re going to want to pack sunscreen and a reusable water bottle. Bring bug spray for the campground, plus prescriptions and toiletries. Be aware that if you bring prescriptions or over-the-counter medicine to Churchill Downs, you may be asked about it during a security screening.

Where to eat

Cooking

Individual campground rules regarding cooking may vary, so check with your camp host before purchasing firewood or fuel in advance. Local laws may require firewood to be obtained close to your campsite. Stock up on groceries and camping supplies before you park your RV to avoid having to navigate the crazy traffic of Louisville during the Kentucky Derby. You will find a number of stores in the area.

Restaurants

It’s not the Kentucky Derby if you’re not drinking a mint julep at some point. Expect an endless array of options if you’re looking for somewhere to sip the signature drink. Louisville is known as a culinary destination. Expect all of the best southern food you can eat served in both fine dining and no-frills restaurants.

Vendors

The Kentucky Derby brings an estimated 150,000 people to Churchill Downs. In other words, if you want food or drinks, expect a long line. Drinking and dining options are typically centered around Woodford Reserve (the official bourbon of the event), plus signature southern dishes. Bring cash to speed up the process.

Safety

Security

This nationally-viewed event draws a generous security and police presence. Expect screenings upon entry and security throughout town. Lock your RV or vehicle before heading to the Kentucky Derby, and be mindful of strict security rules which prohibit anything that could be seen as a weapon. For a full list of restricted items, check the Kentucky Derby website.

Weather

This is an outdoor event, which means that Derby-goers are subject to whatever the skies have in store. Historically, the Kentucky Derby brings sunshine and temperatures in the high 70s. Rain is possible, however, so bring a raincoat just in case. Nighttime temperatures tend to hover in the high 50s. The area is also known for its high humidity, which may come as a surprise to RV campers traveling from drier climates.

Medical

Medical services will be on-site at the Kentucky Derby, but the issue can be in finding said services in the midst of a crowd. If you encounter an emergency, look for a nearby employee (identifiable by their red or yellow attire) or contact guest services via text message or phone call to get help. Hospitals and pharmacies are very close by, but you may experience a delay in reaching these facilities as a result of crowds, traffic, and road closures.