Home of the most famous horse race in the world and one of the best bourbons, Kentucky is a certainly a state that should be on your radar if it isn’t already. From the gorgeous and historic Churchill Downs racecourse to the iconic taste of Jim Beam, making time to visit Kentucky is certainly something you should be doing.
We are delighted to introduce Michelle Weigold from The Great Wide Somewhere, who has graciously offered to share her top reasons for visiting ‘The Bluegrass State’. Given that it’s her hometown state, we are fairly confident that we have an expert on board to share her top reasons for visiting Kentucky.
If you are not familiar with what Kentucky has to offer before reading this post, by the time you have followed Michelle’s recommendations, we are sure that you will be ready to book a trip to Louisville or another part of the state sooner rather than later.
The Kentucky Stereotype vs Reality
When most people think of Kentucky, usually the first thing they envision is horse races, big hats, and maybe some barefoot, overall-clad children running around a coal mine in the hollers of the Appalachians. While these images (however stereotypical) do represent portions of the beautiful bluegrass state, there is so much more than merely banjos and moonshine in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky!
As a born and raised Kentucky girl with a penchant for exploration, here are my top five epic reasons as to why you should visit my old Kentucky home.
Rolling Hills, Horses, Bluegrass, and Basketball
If you want to see the Kentucky that most people envision, take a drive near the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. The rolling bluegrass fields, white picket fences, and horses happily basking in the sun will make you feel like a character in a storybook.
Towns like Lexington (“The Horse Capital of the World”) provide ample opportunities for views and experiences of the horse industry. Take a drive down Lexington’s Old Frankfort Pike, and see grand horse farms and old southern mansions. Spend a day at the scenic Keeneland race track, admire the athletic beauty of these animals, and learn the art of betting.
Take a stroll across the campus of the University of Kentucky, and get a small taste of the state’s great appetite for basketball too. If you want to experience horses, history, and bluegrass- Lexington is the place to do it!
The Bourbon Trail
A simple truth: If you want true bourbon whiskey, you come to Kentucky. If you want to sample and try its many varieties and note its subtle differences, spend some time on the bourbon trail. The trail is a network of nine distilleries scattered throughout central Kentucky, providing guests the opportunity to visit these beautiful places, sip some bourbon, and get stamps on their “passport”.
Most of the stops offer tours, and the chance to learn the history as well as about the distilling process, all while enjoying gorgeous views. Particularly scenic stops include Makers Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Heaven Hill.
Most people outside of Kentucky have no idea that the state is actually home to the world’s longest network of caves. Yes, you read that right- not just America’s longest cave network – the WORLD’S!
Stretching out over 400 miles of epic passageways, this National Park is mysterious, awe-inspiring, and truly fascinating. Visit the park to go on an underground cavern tour, try your hand at spelunking, or to admire the stalagmites and stalactites, all while dodging those pesky bats!
The Red River Gorge
Located in the mountainous central part of the state, The Red River Gorge is a canyon system near the Red River. It is a protected geological area attracting thousands of campers, rock climbers, and adventure seekers each year.
Natural Bridge State Park is adjacent to this area and is one of the most beautiful hikes in the American south. Part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, this part of the state offers stunning hikes, dramatic cliff-side views, pristine forest, and is a rock climber’s heaven!
Small Towns and Kentucky Hospitality
Kentucky is home to many small towns that epitomize the American south. Walk through any little “map dot” town and you can usually find an old town hall, ‘mom and pop’ restaurants, charming old barns slowly fading away, and friendly locals ready to serve you up some sweet tea and chicken.
Small towns like Rabbit Hash in Northern Kentucky (where a dog is the town mayor and the general store opened its doors in 1820), or Augusta and its picturesque Victorian homes, can give you a little taste as to what you can find in any small town you stumble upon.
The extremely charming and beautiful little city of Bardstown was recently named “the most beautiful small town in America”, and is the site of the official “Old Kentucky Home” – the inspiration behind the great state anthem.
Visit Kentucky – Our Thoughts
I honestly can’t believe that we haven’t explored more of Kentucky given the close proximity to Arkansas. However, our time visiting Louisville was amazing so we are excited to head back and explore more of what Kentucky has to offer. The stereotypical reasons for visiting Louisville were certainly attractive enough for us to head there.
The stereotypical reasons for visiting Louisville were certainly attractive enough for us to head there. After driving back from Cincinnati, Ohio we took an awesome guided tour of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
I can just imagine the atmosphere inside this venue when the Derby is taking place. Our tour was awesome and we can highly recommend this to anyone, regardless of your interest in horse racing.
We spent a little more time in Louisville on our next visit when we headed to Valhalla for the 2014 US PGA Championship. We spent a day exploring downtown including the infamous Louisville Slugger Museum which provided a great deal of insight into the history of baseball and of course, the iconic bat that we are all familiar with.
But as you can see from Michelle’s review, there is so much to see in Kentucky than just visiting Louisville.
Who is ready to tackle the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky with us? After reading about all the bourbon spots around the state and the number of samplings you could experience, we are certainly ready to head back to Kentucky and find out exactly why this is such a popular spot for bourbon connoisseurs.
Meanwhile for horse racing aficionados, taking a trip to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby is surely the ultimate experience.
Have you visited Kentucky and if so, what are your must-see attractions around the state? Do you prefer to relax with your favorite bourbon or perhaps get out and explore the natural features of the state (Mammoth Cave and Red River Gorge for example)?