Kentucky Atlas and Gazetteer

Map of Kentucky Counties
Select a county from the map for more information or see the counties summary. Relief and physiographic maps are also available.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky is located in the central United States, bounded by the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers on the west; the Ohio River on the north; the Big Sandy River, Pine Mountain, and Cumberland Mountain on the east; and the state of Tennessee on the south.

Kentucky in the United States     Kentucky Flag

In 2020 it had a population of 4,505,836 in a land area of 39,486 square miles, a mean of 114 people per square mile.

The capital of Kentucky is Frankfort in Franklin county in the central part of the state. Kentucky is divided into 120 counties which contain numerous incorporated cities. Lexington and Fayette county and Louisville and Jefferson county have merged city-county governments. They are also the largest cities in the state.

Several statistical areas – metropolitan and micropolitan areas – are defined within or extend into Kentucky.

Kentucky is also divided into fifteen multi-county Area Development Districts.

Kentucky has an extensive system of State Parks and Nature Preserves and has several National Parks and reserves.

Once part of Virginia, the land that is now Kentucky was formed into Kentucky county, Virginia in 1776. Four years later it was divided into the Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln counties of Virginia. It became the fifteenth of the United States in 1792. The name Kentucky is of Native American origin and has been attributed to several languages with several possible meanings from “land of tomorrow” to “cane and turkey lands” to “meadow lands.” This last may come from the Iroquois name for the Shawnee town Eskippathiki. The name Kentucky referred originally to the Kentucky River and from that came the name of the region.

The use of “commonwealth” in the name Commonwealth of Kentucky doesn’t have any particular significance – it means the same thing as “state” and was commonly used in the eighteenth century. Kentucky probably used it since it was formed from Virginia, which had used it earlier. Pennsylvania and Massachusetts also use commonwealth. The colonial use of commonwealth probably derives from the Commonwealth period in England and sometimes was used to distinguish royal colonies from the proprietary colonies. The term is now also used to designate autonomous areas associated with the United States, such as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.


Kentucky can be divided into three parts – the eastern mountains, the interior, and the Mississippi plains in the west. These large areas can be divided into several physiographic regions. The eastern end of the state is known as the Eastern Coal Field. The Appalachian Mountains extend into the state here and the highest point in Kentucky, Big Black Mountain, 4,145 feet above sea level, is here in Harlan county. The western end of this region is known as the Cumberland Plateau which extends west to the Pottsville Escarpment and the eastern Knobs, which divide eastern Kentucky from the rolling hills of the Bluegrass.

The Bluegrass is ringed by the knobs on the east, south, and west and by the Ohio river on the north. The largest cities, Louisville and Lexington, are located here. The Inner Bluegrass is centered around Lexington and is known for its rich soils, a result of the limestone which lies near the surface in many places and can be dramatically seen in the Palisades along the Kentucky river.

To the south and west of the Bluegrass is the Pennyrile (or Pennyroyal). It extends west to the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers (now Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake) and includes a large karst area that includes Mammoth Cave. Surrounded by the Pennyrile and the Ohio river is the Western Coal Field, part of a large coal-bearing region that extends into Indiana and Illinois. West of the lakes is the Jackson Purchase, which is bordered by the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and consists mainly of flat, alluvial lands. The lowest point in Kentucky, in southwestern Fulton county, 250 feet above sea level, is here.

Generalized Geologic Map of Kentucky
Generalized Geologic Map of Kentucky (Kentucky Geological Survey, 1979)

The Kentucky Geological Survey has more information about the geology of Kentucky.

More Kentucky facts are available along with a list of selected place names.

Martin County Adair County Allen County Anderson County Ballard County Barren County Bath County Bell County Boone County Bourbon County Boyd County Boyle County Bracken County Breathitt County Breckinridge County Bullitt County Butler County Caldwell County Calloway County Campbell County Carlisle County Carroll County Carter County Casey County Christian County Clark County Clay County Clinton County Crittendon County Cumberland County Edmonson County Elliott County Estill County Fayette County Fleming County Floyd County Franklin County Gallatin County Fulton County Garrard County Grant County Graves County Grayson County Green County Greenup County Hancock County Hardin County Harlan County Harrison County Hart County Henderson County Henry County Hopkins County Jackson County Jefferson County Jessamine County Johnson County Kenton County Knott County Knox County LaRue County Laurel County Lawrence County Lee County Leslie County Letcher County Lewis County Lincoln County Livingston County Logan County Lyon County McCracken County McCreary County McLean County Madison County Magoffin County Marion County Marshall County Mason County Meade County Menifee County Mercer County Metcalfe County Monroe County Montgomery County Morgan County Muhlenberg County Nelson County Nicholas County Ohio County Oldham County Owen County Owsley County Pendleton County Perry County Pike County Powell County Pulaski County Robertson County Rockcastle County Rowan County Russell County Scott County Shelby County Simpson County Spencer County Taylor County Todd County Trigg County Trimble County Union County Warren County Washington County Wayne County Webster County Whitley County Wolfe County Woodford County Daviess County Hickman County State of West Virginia State of Ohio Commonwealth of Virginia State of Tennessee State of Missouri State of Illinois State of Indiana

© 2024 David C. Elbon