There's something about a themed weekend that many find appealing. Rather than wander aimlessly, you construct a tour whose sites are tied together by a common thread.
There are numerous themed drives already set up for you. For instance, U.S. 23, in eastern Kentucky, has been named the "Country Music Highway," because each county it passes through is the birthplace of at least one well-known country singer. Or you could drive the Duncan Hines Scenic Byway, in and around Bowling Green.
What's even more fun is when you develop your own themed tour. Poet Robert Frost once noted that firewood warms you twice: once when you chop it and again when you burn it. You have the fun of planning it, and then the fun of making the trip. And often enough, the fun of talking about it afterward.
Virtually any topic you're interested in can be formed into a themed tour. History, geography, or crafts: you name it, there are enough sites in Kentucky on almost any subject to fill a weekend of travel. It might take a bit of research, and creative use of a road map. But that makes it even more fun.
History? We can't think of another state that has more to see of its own history than the Bluegrass State. There are, for instance, 51 recognized sites for Kentucky listed in The Civil War Trust's Official Guide to the Civil War Discovery Trail. This includes battlefields, museums, parks, antebellum plantations, underground railroad stations, cemeteries, and other destinations.
There are, to be sure, pre-arranged tours such as the Battle of Tebbs Bend and the Battle of Mill Springs. But maybe you'd rather design your own. Perhaps follow the routes used by John Hunt Morgan on his raids? Or explore the beginning of the end by visiting all the sites from the Battle of Richmond to Mill Springs?
Go back earlier than the Civil War, and there's even more to see. You could, for instance, follow the route of Boone's Trace from Cumberland Gap to Fort Boonesborough. Or maybe link together the locations of several refuge forts to see what there is to see at places like Old Fort Harrod, Fort Boonesborough, and Logan's Station.
Geography and physical features are a great way of linking things together. Using a river, for instance, joins disparate sites in a natural manner. After all, explorers and settlers used rivers for exactly that purpose.
Our two greatest rivers are the Ohio and Mississippi, and merely following them are the easiest such tours to construct. The Ohio River, in fact, divides itself into three or four nice weekend drives. These would roughly be Ashland to Covington; Covington to Louisville; Louisville to Owensboro; and Owensboro to Wickliffe. From Wickliffe to the Tennessee border, the Mississippi makes a nice weekend tour of its own.
However, Kentucky has more moving water than any other state except Alaska. So picking another of our streams might be more fun. Green River, for instance, rises and flows its entire length within our borders--the only major river that does, incidentally. Or you might trace out some of the tributaries of the Kentucky River. Or the Cumberland.
One really nice aspect of following a river is that you're sure to "discover" some great sites and destinations none of your friends know about. Maybe a small, little-known museum? Or an old country store? Or a bed and breakfast that hasn't made it into the guidebooks yet?
Or just pick a highway and follow it wherever it goes. We have, in the past, taken you along U.S. 68 exactly like that. But it doesn't have to be a well-known road. You could instead choose Kentucky 32, for instance, which weaves its way through the northeastern part of the state, from Georgetown to Louisa. Or maybe Kentucky 100, as it plays hopscotch with the Tennessee border between Tompkinsville and Russellville. Or maybe Kentucky 121 as it cuts its diagonal slash across the far western counties.
You know those "off-the-beaten-path" type books? This is one of the methods used by their authors to find those out-of-the-way places. No reason you can't use the same technique for your own travels.
Crafts is another themed trip. By following Kentucky 119 and the Daniel Boone Parkway, you can construct at least one loop drive that takes you to many crafts locales. You can visit Morris Fork Crafts, Marie Steward Crafts Shop, Rainbow Hollow (where the work of nearly 200 mountain craftspeople is showcased), the Pine Mountain-Letcher County Crafts Co-Op, and Oven Fork Mercantile, among others.
Even the buildings that house many of these craftsplaces are worth seeing. Oven Fork Mercantile, for instance, is in a restored 1930s general store and post office. Rainbow Hollow houses its crafts in several old buildings called the Pioneer Village, which includes an 1816 log cabin.
Day Trips & Short Stops
Famous women captives
Early American literature is filled with captivity stories, tales about men and women who were captured by hostile natives, but who either escaped or were rescued.
The three greatest such stories each have a Kentucky connection. What's more, all have sites that make great day trips.
In the early 1750s, Mary Ingles was taken by the Shawnee from her home in Draper Meadows (now part of West Virginia). Later, while on a salt-making expedition to what is now Big Bone Lick State Park, she escaped with another woman prisoner and walked back home, covering more than 700 miles.
What brought them to the area were the salt springs, the same springs that had attracted animals since prehistoric times. You can see all this at Big Bone Lick State Park, 3380 Beaver Road, Union, KY 41091, (859) 384-3522.
The capture and rescue of the Boone and Callaway girls is the most famous captivity story of all. While playing on a Sunday afternoon, the girls were taken after they canoed across the Kentucky River, despite parental instructions not to. The men of Fort Boonesborough took out after them (Daniel Boone himself was barefoot at the start of the chase). Eventually they caught up with the party, and rescued the girls.
This has served as the basis for fictional accounts of life on the frontier. James Fennimore Cooper, for instance, used it as the basis for his captivity scenes in the book Last of the Mohicans.
You can see what life was like at the time by visiting the restored refuge fort at Fort Boonesborough State Park, 4375 Boonesborough Road, Richmond, KY 40475, (859) 527-3131.
Finally, there is the tale of Jenny Wiley. Taken from her home in what is now West Virginia, she was carried with the Indian party more than 180 miles. She escaped and made her way back to what is now Paintsville, where she eventually settled.
For more information, contact: Paintsville Tourism Commission, P.O. Box 809, Paintsville, KY 41240, (800) 542-5790.
Exploring Beaver Creek
Kentucky has two declared wilderness areas: Clifty Wilderness, abutting the Red River Gorge, and Beaver Creek Wilderness, in the Somerset Ranger District of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Of the two, Beaver Creek gets less visitation, and is perhaps more scenic.
Although not designated a "pocket wilderness," the 4,791 acres of the Beaver Creek Wilderness is deserving of this distinction. For starters, the wilderness is totally enclosed within four walls of sandstone cliff lines. In addition, it's nested in the Beaver Creek Wildlife Management Area. Thus, it is pocketed within a pocket.
Beaver Creek has been under U.S. Forest Service management since the 1930s, but didn't achieve wilderness status until 1975, so there are many indications of man's habitation and use. Prehistoric Indians sought shelter in caves and rock houses, and signs of that occupancy remain. Stone fencing, exotic shrubs, and old gravesites provide evidence of more modern use, as do the remains of the Bauer Coal Mining settlement of the early 1900s.
Nature is slowly erasing these signs, and Beaver Creek is as close to true wilderness as it is possible to get. This includes the trails, many of which are mere traces, all but unmarked by signs and blazes. This is by intent, to provide visitors a feel for what it was like for Indians and early explorers who first trod this land.
Access to the Beaver Creek Wilderness is limited to a few forest roads. Travel into the wilderness itself is recommended for experienced hikers with trail-finding skills. But for them, there are more than 12 miles of formal trails. There is only one formal loop--the Three Forks of Beaver Loop--but you can construct your own loops by combining trails. For instance, you can use parts of Bowman Ridge, Middle Ridge, and the Beaver Creek Wilderness trails to make a loop of about four moderate to difficult miles.
Relatively little known is the trout-stocking program on Beaver Creek. Fish are stocked every two years, and receive little fishing pressure. So if you're up to backpacking your tackle in, you can enjoy a wilderness-like fishery. Best bet is the mile of water below the three forks.
For trail maps and details, contact: Somerset Ranger District, Daniel Boone National Forest, 135 Realty Lane, Somerset, KY 42501, (606) 679-2010.