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Bluegrass Staycation

From camping to wineries and beyond, explore all Kentucky has to offer

Yuko-en on the Elkhorn, Georgetown.
Yuko-en on the Elkhorn, Georgetown.
Kustom Cars on view at the National Corvette Museum. Photo: Wesley K.H. Teo
Kustom Cars on view at the National Corvette Museum. Photo: Wesley K.H. Teo
The Great American Dollhouse Museum, Danville.
River Discovery Center, Paducah.
Mary Todd Lincoln House, Lexington.
Wild Lights Asian Lantern Festival is only one reason to visit the Louisville Zoo. Photo: Louisville Zoo
The vineyard at Purple Toad Winery in Paducah. Photo: Purple Toad
Berlina Stamper listens to performers at the Vine Grove Bluegrass Festival. Photo: Joe Imel

Kentucky offers such a variety of intriguing travel destinations that it may be difficult to settle on just one for your next staycation. Whether you’re a solo traveler looking to catch your favorite sound at a music festival, a couple planning a romantic wine-tasting weekend or a family on a budget, the commonwealth has a trip for you.

CAMPING

Green River Lake State Park, Campbellsville

Less screen time. More family time. If your summer goal is to get the kids off their phones and into nature, plan a camping trip to Green River Lake State Park. Once they’re zipping along the 8,200-acre lake on a rented Jet Ski or bonding with their playful mount on a horseback ride, they won’t miss their devices. Even too-cool-for-school teens are likely to kick it by the campfire with the family if lured by s’mores.

With 28 miles of hiking and biking trails, a miniature golf course, playground, and basketball and volleyball courts, you’ll never hear, “I’m bored!”

The park has 167 RV campsites with water and electricity, and 60 primitive campsites. 

www.parks.ky.gov; then click on
“Find Your Park”

(270) 465-8255

179 Park Office Road, Campbellsville

Big Bone Lick State Historic Site, Union

Forget the deer and racoons. At Big Bone Lick State Historic Site, campers are in a land of fascinating prehistoric creatures, namely mammoths and mastodons. 

The Boone County site gets its name from an abundance of Ice Age fossils, remnants of creatures that were likely drawn to the area by a salt lick.

The recently updated museum has an array of fossils on exhibit and a replica of Harlan’s ground sloth, a fascinating creature that stood over 10 feet tall. In the present day, the site is home to a bison herd.

Park interpreter Claire Kolkmeyer says Big Bone Lick is great for kids because it’s both fun and educational: “They have a chance to walk among Ice Age giants while learning about the Pleistocene Epoch and more through museum exhibits and hands-on interpretive programs.”

www.parks.ky.gov; then click on “Find Your Park”

(859) 384-3522

3380 Beaver Road, Union

A.J. Jolly Park and Campground, Alexandria

If glamping (glamorous camping) is more your style, rent one of the two new lake-view yurts at A.J. Jolly Park. These round, tent-like structures are basically tiny houses with hardwood floors. Campers have their outdoor fun in this 1,000-acre oasis without the hassle of pitching a tent or driving a behemoth RV.

After you’ve reeled in a catch or returned from a nature hike, your creature comforts await. Hey, there’s no shame in forgoing the whole “roughing it” thing in favor of sleeping on a comfy futon and enjoying conveniences like a microwave and a small fridge. You have to hoof it to the bathhouse, but it’s just steps away.

www.jollyparkcdc.com

(859) 635-4423

1565 Race Track Road, Alexandria

Lake Barkley State Resort Park, Cadiz

Lake Barkley is an angler’s paradise, so don’t let your summer vacation be the one that got away. Boat out to a peaceful cove and you’re sure to get a nibble. The water is teeming with bluegill, catfish, crappie and largemouth bass.

Nothing is as satisfying as eating fish you caught yourself, so fry up your catch at your camp.

The park has 79 campsites, 50 with electricity. All accommodate RVs but also can be used for tents.

When it’s time to turn in, you’ll be lulled to sleep by the rhythmic thrumming of crickets and the soft hooting of barred owls. 

www.parks.ky.gov; then click on “Find Your Park”

(270) 924-1131

3500 State Park Road, Cadiz

MUSIC FESTIVALS

Vine Grove Bluegrass Festival, Vine Grove

The Travelin’ McCourys, a Nashville band with bluegrass in its blood, is the headliner for the 21st annual Vine Grove Bluegrass Festival in Optimist Park September 24-26. Brothers Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) are sons of bluegrass patriarch Del McCoury, and they’re masters at tweaking the twangy, fast-pickin’ music they grew up with to produce a contemporary sound.

They are entertaining, but the festival is about so much more than the bands, especially for campers. Impromptu jam sessions and clogging with strangers are part of the fun.

Festival organizer Jason Basham says many of the same bluegrass lovers come together at the park campground every year.

“It’s like a big family reunion,” Basham says. “They have fish fries, bean suppers and cookouts.”

www.vinegrovebluegrass.com
(270) 877-5636

300 Knox Ave., Vine Grove

ROMP Fest, Owensboro

ROMP Fest, hosted by the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, celebrates the “roots and branches” of bluegrass with an incredible lineup of bluegrass, newgrass, Americana and folk bands at Yellow Creek Park, June 24-27. 

Headliners are Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, The Devil Makes Three and Sam Bush. 

On June 25, the festival is broadcast on Chris Thile’s American Public Media show, Live from Here, heard by 2.6 million listeners on nearly 600 radio stations around the country. Thile, a talented mandolinist, is no stranger to the festival. He played many times with his band, The Punch Brothers.

www.rompfest.com

5710 State Route 144, Owensboro

W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival, Henderson

If you want a spot near the stage at the 30th annual W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival, June 17-20, you’d better come early. Unfold your lawn chair at Audubon Mill Park, a scenic spot overlooking the Ohio River, and settle in to hear a lineup of 18 top-notch bands from around the country. Gravelly vocals recounting soulful tales of broken hearts and hard times reverberate throughout the night.

W.C. Handy, an Alabama native, lived in Henderson for several years, and the free festival celebrates the trailblazing songwriter known as the “Father of the Blues” and his influence on future generations of musicians.

“W.C. Handy made possible so much of what we listen to today—blues, rock ’n’ roll, R&B, even modern country and contemporary gospel,” says festival organizer Steve Gold. “We are proud to be part of preserving that legacy.”

www.handyblues.org

123 N. Water St., Henderson

Fort Harrod Jazz Festival, Fort Harrod

This jazz festival at Old Fort Harrod State Park attracts cool cats from far and wide. Headliner Adrian Crutchfield, former saxophonist to music legend Prince, sprinkles his jazz with a little pop and hip-hop, giving the sound multigenerational appeal. Seventeen bands perform at the free event over three days, September 18-20. 

“The festival features some of the finest regional and national jazz ensembles, showcasing the diversity of jazz styles ranging from Swing and Latin to Dixieland and more,” says festival chairman Sam Carr.

ftharrodjazzfest.com

(859) 734-2365

100 South College St., Harrodsburg

WINERIES

Farmer and Frenchman Winery, Henderson

When Hubert Mussat, a Parisian restaurateur of Italian heritage, married Henderson County native Katy Groves, they united two beautiful but very different cultures, resulting in the birth of their “baby,” Farmer and Frenchman. 

The bucolic charm of his wife’s family farmland captured Mussat’s heart just as she had. It was love at first sight, and he knew the scenic spot was destined to become a winery and restaurant. 

Wine lovers come from miles around to sample varietals bottled under the F&F Select label, including a popular, surprisingly dry French-style Riesling. Taste five wines for $6. 

Wine is meant to be paired with food, and the rustic cafe serves Italian dishes from Mussat’s family recipes.

www.farmerandfrenchman.com
(270) 748-1856
12522 U.S. Highway 41, Robards

Equus Run Vineyards, Midway

Horse country and wine country make a lovely pairing at Equus Run Vineyards. Visit the winery—open seven days a week—to taste six samples for $7 or have a glass of wine on the grounds. Take a self-guided tour or, if you’re visiting with a group of eight or more, call ahead to schedule a private tasting and tour.

Situated on 35 acres in the middle of the Bluegrass, the winery boasts attractions that go beyond the grapes. Enjoy the picnic garden, try your hand at fishing or get out on the putting green.

Planning a summer visit? Check the winery’s website and Facebook page for the most up-to-date concerts at the Vineyard schedule. Local musicians and more showcase their talents in the stone terraced amphitheater. Kentucky natives Exile perform July 18 and general admission tickets are available.

www.equusrunvineyards.com
(859) 846-9463

1280 Moores Mill Road, Midway

Bluegrass Vineyard, Smiths Grove

If the thought of sweet wine makes you wrinkle your discerning nose, a tasting at Bluegrass Vineyard may persuade you to reconsider.

Like many Kentucky wineries, this one produces several wines made with fruit other than grapes. Most of it is grown on the property or comes from within a 15-mile radius. 

Owner and winemaker Drew Rogers says, “Our claim to fame is we use almost all Kentucky fruit. Most (Kentucky) wineries import their juice from somewhere else.” 

The unpretentious peach and strawberry wines are the best of summer in a glass.

www.bluegrassvineyard.com
(270) 392-8717

5016 Smiths Grove Scottsville Road Smiths Grove

Purple Toad Winery, Paducah

Wine tasters staring at bottles emblazoned with a smiling, bug-eyed toad are going to wonder about the winery name and logo, so here’s what we heard through the grapevine. Before modern wine production, winemakers were “purple-toed” from stomping grapes. It’s a clever play on words, and the award-winning wines are just as sassy.

The largest winery in Kentucky, Purple Toad produces vintages that span the sweet to dry spectrum, but gourmet sweet wines are its specialty. Black and Bruised, a red wine made from Concord grapes and blackberries, is a bestseller. 

Enjoy a peaceful stroll through vineyards nestled in a pastoral setting, then tour the wine production facility.

www.purpletoadwinery.com
(270) 554-0010

4275 Old U.S. Highway 45 S., Paducah

Forest Edge Winery, Shepherdsville 

You may wonder why somebody would open a winery at the gateway of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but Forest Edge Winery owner Brance Gould says he’s not bucking the bourbon trend, he’s just getting back to Kentucky’s roots as a wine producing state.

“Kentucky was wine country before it was ever bourbon country,” 

Gould says. “We have a rich wine heritage in Kentucky.”

Many of Forest Edge’s accolades-worthy vintages are produced from grapes imported from California and Washington State, while others contain Kentucky fruit.

Taste six wines for $5. Make sure to sample the Zoey Rose, an award-winning semisweet Concord and Niagara blend.

By the way, that thing tickling your leg is just Ava the Wine Kitty saying hello. 

www.forestedgewine.com
(502) 531-9610

1910 Clermont Road, Shepherdsville

FAMILY

Louisville Zoo, Louisville

Wild Lights Asian Lantern Festival at the Louisville Zoo is an ideal way to introduce kids to the rich, centuries-old traditions of China. With 65 larger-than-life displays made from more than 2,000 silk-covered lanterns, the wow factor is huge. Stroll through an enchanted land of illuminated butterflies, pandas and koi. The 130-foot-long water dragon and the two-story shark tunnel are especially Instagrammable. 

The displays were crafted by Chinese artisans from Sichuan, the province where lantern festivals originated during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907).

The festival closes April 25. If you miss it, there’s still a menagerie to see: the official state zoo exhibits more than 1,100 animals on its 130 acres of natural settings.

www.louisvillezoo.org

www.wildlights louisville.com

(502) 459-2181

1100 Trevilian Way, Louisville

The Great American Dollhouse Museum, Danville

At this unique dollhouse museum, children peer closely at the intricate miniatures inside Copper Creek Mining Company, a recent multicase addition to Copper Hollow, a fictional 1910 Kentucky mining town.

Each diorama is a snapshot of town life. A weary coal miner’s wife points him to the bathtub on the porch of their ramshackle house. At the company store, the mule has broken free. A coal pony is being led out of a mining tunnel with his load. 

“It’s particularly beloved by the many Kentuckians whose families grew up in the coal industry,” says museum director Lori Kagan-Moore. “A frequent comment is ‘My grandfather lived in a coal town, and it looked just like that.’”

Many dollhouses depict romanticized versions of life, but this attraction tells the story of America and all its social classes.

www.thedollhousemuseum.com
(859) 236-1883

344 Swope Drive, Danville

National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green

This museum showcases the iconic Chevrolet sports car that’s been coveted by generations of speed demons.

The big news now is Car-toon Creatures, Kustom Kars and Corvettes: The Art & Influence of Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth. The exhibit features cars built by the flamboyant 1960s hot rod idol and cartoonist and is on view through the end of the year.

Meet the Beatnik Bandit, the Mysterion and the Iron Orchid, fanciful show rods that capture the essence of Roth’s genius.

Roth created cartoon characters, most notably the repulsive Rat Fink, for hot rod magazines, and his Monster Hot Rod Art is woven throughout the exhibit.

www.corvettemuseum.org
(270) 781-7973

350 Corvette Drive, Bowling Green 

River Discovery Center, Paducah

A U.S. Coast Guard vessel flies across rough waters on a rescue mission, bumping through the murky waves beneath a dim sky. Another boat materializes out of the fog, getting a bit too close for comfort, but the captain smoothly steers around it and carries on.

The “captain” is 6 years old. 

This boat simulator at the River Discovery Center enables visitors to navigate a Coast Guard vessel, a towboat or a speedboat through a number of scenarios using state-of-the-art audio-visual technology, and it’s popular with all ages.

Paducah is at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers, and the center educates visitors on the importance of regional inland waterways.

www.riverdiscoverycenter.org
(270) 575-9958

117 S. Water St., Paducah

BUDGET TRAVEL

Breaks Interstate Park

If you’re a thrill-seeker who has always wanted to try rock climbing, now is your chance. Breaks Interstate Park, on the border of southeastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia, now offers guided climbs. With 300 routes in 10 climbing zones, it’s easy to find an experience that’s right for you, even if you’re a beginner. 

When you’ve reached the top of a sandstone cliff, sit back on the rope and take in a breathtaking view of the park’s most famous geological feature, a 5-mile long, 1,650-foot-deep canyon sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of the South.” 

“The rock quality, climbing variety and ease of access are unbeaten by any climbing destination in the eastern half of the country,” says Program Director Brad Mathisen. “All of this is enhanced by the majestic setting.”

It’s $60 for a half day of climbing and rappelling.

www.breakspark.com

(276) 865-4413

State Route 80, Elkhorn City

Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown

The price of the Connoisseur Tasting at Heaven Hill Heritage Center won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. For $20, you’ll sample a selection of premium or limited release bourbons in the inviting Bourbon Heritage Center. 

The products available for tasting change, but you may get to try Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, a top-tier bourbon. The nose has notes of maple and vanilla, but the finish is earthy, with a lingering woodsy flavor. You’ll likely move on to Henry McKenna Single Barrel bourbon, aged for a minimum of 10 years, and, for the grand finale, sip something from the William Heavenhill line, bourbons that really let the master distiller’s abilities shine.

www.heavenhilldistillery.com
(502) 337-1000
1311 Gilkey Run Road, Bardstown

Maker’s Mark, Loretto

You don’t need deep pockets to learn about Kentucky’s bourbon-making heritage. Only $15 will get you a one-hour tour of Maker’s Mark distillery, a National Historic Landmark on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. 

Learn about mash and the combination of grains used to make bourbon. Tour the warehouse where it’s aged, then settle in for a tasting.

www.makersmark.com
(270) 865-2099

3350 Burks Spring Road, Loretto

Yuko-en on the Elkhorn, Georgetown

It doesn’t cost a cent to stroll beneath a spring canopy of Japanese cherry trees in this 6-acre Japanese garden, an oasis that symbolizes the friendship between Georgetown and sister city, Tahara, Japan. 

Designed to encourage harmony with nature, this verdant spot on Elkhorn Creek is ideal for meditation and reflection. 

Visitors meander around a koi pond teeming with fish the color of a brilliant sunset, or relax by a soothing waterfall. 

Yuko-en trustee Arlene Wilson says visitors come to the garden to unwind.

“According to custom, you leave your worldly stresses and cares behind when you pass through the Tokugawa Gate at the entrance,” she says.

www.yukoen.com

(502) 603-9454

700 U.S. Highway 25, Georgetown

Mary Todd Lincoln House, Lexington

A tour of the Mary Todd Lincoln House can make you richer—in your knowledge of United States history, that is. Abraham Lincoln’s well-educated wife, Mary, was the daughter of a wealthy, slave-owning family, and she grew up in this elegant, Federal-style house that still retains some of the original furnishings. 

The museum highlights Mary Todd’s girlhood, but it also chronicles the story of a tragic first lady whose family was as divided as the country itself over the Civil War and a mother who saw three of her four children die young.

Following Lincoln’s assassination, Mary Todd went into perpetual mourning, much like Queen Victoria. Artifacts from this period include clothing, a purse and a fan. 

www.mtlhouse.org

(859) 233-9999
578 West Main St., Lexington

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