With 150,000 or so attendees all heading to the same place at the same time, getting to the Kentucky Derby is a whole ordeal. Luckily, this ain't our first rodeo - er, horse race. Here's is the complete local's guide to getting to Churchill Downs for the Derby (and safely home again)!

Getting to the Kentucky Derby, a 2025 Transit Guide for Churchill Downs (by a local)

Ahh, Derby Season, the most exciting time of the year in Louisville. We’ve got a detailed guide full of Kentucky Derby tips, a guide to hotels near Churchill Downs, AND a guide to what to wear to the Kentucky Derby. But this post addresses one of the most complicated logistical quandaries facing Kentucky Derby attendees.

No, I don’t mean understanding wagers and betting – and frankly, we can’t help you there anyway (we’re strictly a pick-them-based-off-name-and-jersey team here). I’m talking about how to get to and from Churchill Downs on Derby Day!

With 150,000 or so attendees all heading to the same place at the same time, it’s a whole ordeal. Luckily, this ain’t our first rodeo. Er, horse race.

The city has set up a fantastic public transit solution to help move the crowds on buses, including a fleet of chartered bus shuttles running to and from the Kentucky Exposition Center’s massive parking lots. We’ve also got lots of tricks to get to and from Louisville from out of town, avoid taking transit altogether, and a few options for where to stash your car while you’re at the track.

Here’s is the complete local’s guide to getting to the Kentucky Derby (and safely home again)!

Psst: Coming to Louisville for the Derby? These posts will help you plan your trip:

2025 Kentucky Derby Tickets & Parking Passes

Need to pick up a ticket for Derby, the Oaks, Thurby, or Dawn at the Downs, or a parking pass for Churchill Downs? Before you pay full price, we highly recommend looking on VividSeats and StubHub, where you can usually find reduced price tickets, single-day tickets, and even parking passes to help you save money (so you can spend more on betting and Mint Juleps, obviously)!

Oh, and make sure to check out our other local’s guides to the Kentucky Derby:

See also
The 19 Best Louisville Tours (by a local tour guide)
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Entrance to Churchill Downs with horse statue and flowers in Louisville Kentucky

Where is the Kentucky Derby Held?

The Kentucky Derby is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Churchill Downs is located fairly close to the airport on the southern end of Louisville, and if you’re trying to spend as little time getting from place to place as possible, you can book a hotel near Churchill Downs.

However, we don’t recommend staying close to the racetrack because there’s pretty much nothing else there – see our guide to where to stay for the Kentucky Derby for more details.

Also, even if you are staying close to the racetrack, there are no hotel shuttles to Churchill Downs, so you’re on your own to figure out your transportation – along with about 150,000 other people.

Yeah, it’s quite the logistical challenge.

If you’re driving in or lucky enough to snag one of the few available rental cars, be sure to budget a parking pass into your trip (and buy it early) – they are not cheap. Or, check your ticket – higher priced tickets include free parking and shuttles to and from the Kentucky Exposition Center.

But there are several ways to get to and from the Kentucky Derby – and not driving also means you don’t have to worry about how many Mint Juleps you can safely enjoy! Below, we’ll break down every option.

  • Note that Churchill Downs has three entrance gates: the Paddock Gate, Clubhouse Gate and Infield Gate. Shuttle buses all dropped off at the Paddock Gate, and that is the closest entrance to L&N Stadium as well, which is the rideshare dropoff. (For Dawn at the Dawns, we also recommend parking near the Paddock Gate.)
Kentucky Derby mint juleps at churchill downs
Not driving means you can do more of this!

Getting to Churchill Downs from Out of Town

Coming from out of town? Check out Rally, a bus rideshare specifically for the Kentucky Derby with 60 pick-up locations.

You can bus in from Lexington or Bardstown – two of our favorite spots to base yourself for a Bourbon Trail itinerary during your trip – or even as far away as Indianapolis, Cincinnatti and Nashville.

Your rideshare will drop you off and pick you up from Churchill Downs, no night at a hotel needed.

See also
The Best Hotels Near Churchill Downs and Where to Stay for the Kentucky Derby (a local’s guide)

Getting to the Kentucky Derby By Bus

Your cheapest transit option is to take TARC to and from Churchill Downs: a one-way adult cash fare is only $1.75, and buses run all day.

To get to Churchill Downs, you’ll want to hop on Routes 4, 6, or 29.

  • Route #4 covers parts of downtown, the University of Louisville, Old Louisville, and neighborhoods near Iroquois Park.
  • Route #6 provides service in downtown, Iroquois Park neighborhoods and the area near Auburndale.
  • Route #29 connects Shively, U of L/Old Louisville, the Highlands, Schnitzelburg, and St. Matthews.

To plot your route, use Google Maps and select “transit.”

After the races, due to detours, buses pick up passengers at different stops than where they were dropped off. So … definitely bookmark this page with route details now, while you’re still sober.

If you’re willing to bus into Churchill Downs, we recommend staying in downtown on Whiskey Row or 4th street, Old Louisville, or the Highlands. We’ve included our recommendations for each neighborhood in detail below!

Horse Statue at Churchill Downs in Louisville Kentucky

Getting to the Kentucky Derby By Taxi or Ride-Share

Churchill Downs has specific procedures for attendees arriving by taxi or a ride-sharing service.

In 2024, they changed the rideshare drop-off location to the L&N Stadium on the University of Louisville campus (formerly Papa Johns Stadium). That’s about a 10 minute walk away from the track down a sunny stretch of road, including one large-ish hill on top of an overpass, so plan accordingly.

If you’re taking a taxi, Uber or Lyft into Churchill Downs, we recommend staying in NuLu, Clifton, Germantown, or Butchertown. Each is within a few miles of to the downtown core, with plenty of cool places to eat and things to do within the neighborhood itself. We’ve got a few suggestions for these neighborhoods in the summary at the bottom of the post.

See also
What to Wear to the Kentucky Derby: The Ultimate Guide

Getting to the Kentucky Derby By Car

If you plan on driving yourself to Churchill Downs for either the Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks, you have two options.

  • The first option is to purchase a parking pass to park in the onsite Churchill Downs parking lots. These go on sale on November 1, 6 months before the Derby. The earlier you buy, the less you’ll pay, as these will sell out quickly.
  • The second option is to park at the Kentucky Expo Center. In 2024, this is where Churchill Downs set up the majority of their parking, and most tickets included a free shuttle from the Expo Center into Churchill Downs. This made parking fairly straightforward and simple. This option also has the least amount of walking – you’ll just walk across the parking lot into a waiting charter bus shuttle, drive for 10 comfortable, air-conditioned minutes, and walk almost right into the Churchill Downs entrance. Check whether your ticket has Expo Center parking included, and take advantage of it if it does!

If you’re a gambler – and I bet you are, since you’re going to the Derby – you might try your luck at finding parking in the surrounding neighborhoods or via private lots. Many locals make a buck off their proximity to the track by renting out space on their lawn or in their driveway. Arrive early to snag one of these, and be very careful when you cross the road to get to the track, as you’re venturing off of the officially-sanctioned and marked off routes!

If you’re driving in, you have the luxury of staying anywhere you like, including the East End where hotels are typically much cheaper! That said, you’ll be driving everywhere. We only recommend staying in the East End if you aren’t planning on doing much else during your stay or don’t particularly care about staying in a cool neighborhood. Check out our where to stay near Churchill Downs guide, or our more general where to stay in Louisville guide, for more tips.

As you’re driving to the track, note that there are also all kinds of complicated road closures and such – maps, schedules, and more information are all available online, and are subject to change each year.

See also
Kentucky Derby Tips: The Ultimate First-Timer’s Derby Guide (by a local)

Getting to Churchill Downs by Scooter

Louisville has two eletric scooter companies operating in town: Bird and Lime. Picking up a scooter is as easy as downloading the app and setting up your account, then finding the nearest scooter. Scan the scooter to unlock it and whiz to your location! It costs about $1 to unloack a scooter and 15 cents per minute after that.

You’ll only want to take a scooter for short distances that connect to Churchill Downs via surface streets, such as from Old Louisville, Shelby Park, or Schnitzelburg (each about 3 miles away down nice wide streets) or Downtown (4 miles away).

Further than that and you risk your scooter running out of battery, leaving you fabulously dressed on the side of the road somewhere, which is just a waste of a good outfit.

We suggest using Google Maps to plot your route – pick the Bike option, so you’ll be taking mostly wide, bike-friendly streets and bike lines. You’ll also see nearby Bird/Lime scooters in Google Maps once you’ve downloaded the apps!

You’ll be going about 15 MPH and must say on streets rather than sidewalks, so it’s very important that you wear a helmet (and please, do not drive a scooter if you’ve had too much to drink.) Worried that a helmet will clash with your Derby Day outfit? Fear not – helmets are totally on theme, especially with a cute equestrian helmet cover. You’ll look like a jockey!

See also
How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby (By A Local)

One Last Option: Shuttle from Derby City Gaming

In 2024, Derby City Gaming opened its doors for the first time. And in a bid to encourage visitors to come and spend money on cigars and sports betting, the parent company – Churchill Downs – set up a free shuttle to and from the Kentucky Derby.

If they offer that option again in 2025, it could make this a good option to get to and from the track for folks staying downtown, since Derby City Gaming is right smack in the middle of downtown Louisville, on Market Street.

However, they haven’t officially announced that as an option in 2025 – and if they do, it may well only be available for high rollers. Stay tuned.

Have a question about the Kentucky Derby? Drop us a comment below!

Psst: Coming to Louisville for the Derby? These other posts will help you plan your trip:

Need some more suggestions for your trip? Take a look at these other posts:

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  1. I am sorry to report that this did not end up being very accurate this year (2024) based on our experience. It was horrible getting out with shuttles that took well over an hour in line being our only seeming option. Did plans change?

    1. Yeahhh, the shuttles were a new addition this year (and a bit of a last minute change) and I think they are still working out the kinks. Not sure what they’ll do next year, but I’m guessing the shuttles will make an appearance. I’ve updated our post with our experiences in 2024 and hopefully we will get more of a heads up on 2025!

  2. When do parking passes generally go on sale? We have tickets to event, but checking for parking passes and no information is listed on sites. Wondering if they are sold out already? It’s March 2nd from reference.

    1. Parking passes go on sale on November 1, and yes, I’d estimate they’d be all sold out by March!

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