The Bluegrass State captures the United States with its bourbon industry, horse races, and historic sites. Here are a few ways to experience the best the state has to offer.
No one ever accused Kentucky of being boring. From the lively role it played in the Civil War to its rich history of bourbon-making to the all-American horseraces that bring throngs of fancy hat-sporting fans to the area each year, there’s plenty that draws people to the Bluegrass State, the 15th to join the Union. Here are a few things not to be missed when you plan a visit.
1. Hit the trail—the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
When the Kentucky Bourbon Trail launched in 1999, it featured eight bourbon distilleries. Today it includes 17, six of which are in Louisville. In 2018, more than 1 million thirsty visitors explored the history of this iconic American industry. You can schedule a tour at each distillery, get a stamp on your “passport” when you leave, and if you hit them all, mail in you can exchange your passport for a t-shirt. Last year marked the unveiling of a visitors center at the Frazier History Museum in downtown Louisville.
2. Explore Horse Country
When you think about major American sporting events, you think about the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals. But none of those are associated with a single place—a single venue, in fact—like another major event: the Kentucky Derby. A glimpse into the lives of thoroughbreds is reason alone to visit Bluegrass State. Head to the horse farms in the Lexington area (AKA: “Horse Country”) where activities range from tours of the gorgeous farms, a riding lesson, and visiting the stables of Kentucky Derby champions.
3. Step back in Time
America’s Civil War history runs wide and deep in Kentucky, and there are enough sites and monuments to events and people of the time to warrant a days-long road trip. The 36 attractions on Kentucky’s Civil War Heritage Trail include museums like the Underground Railroad Museum and the Women of the Civil War Museum; historic homes like Mary Todd Lincoln’s house and Henry Clay’s estate; as well as battlefields, state parks, cemeteries, and forts.
4. Soak Up Water Sports
Rafting, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and just plain floating are just a few of the things to do in the 119 miles of Kentucky Wild Rivers. The nine rivers that fall under the designation are protected from construction and other man-made intrusions. Among the many, many places to explore the state’s waterways are Russell Fork River, a rafter’s delight that includes a gorgeous gorge and is rated Class IV through Class VI rapids, and the man-made Fish Trap Lake, a haven for boating, fishing, and hiking. Just be on the lookout for deer!
5. A New Take on an Ancient Landmark
It seems that everywhere you travel these days, you can spot engaging public art and vibrant murals. But local artists lend unique character to their home turf in a variety of ways, and Chester Fryer in Munford, about 75 miles south of Louisville, that meant collecting nearly every large rock he could find within 1000 acres and recreating Stonehenge on his estate. What he didn’t use to build his masterpiece he employed in other projects around the property: the Garden of Gethsemane, Rock Park, and Rock Gardens. You can check out the structures from dusk to dawn daily, but note that it’s essentially in someone’s yard, so no touching or climbing allowed.