Traveling the Bluegrass is as easy as A, B, C
A is for Adrenaline, Altitude and ATVing
Pack your sense of adventure and helmet to the southeastern corner of the state and Kentucky’s highest peak for a Black Mountain Offroad Adventure Area tour in Harlan County. Kick it in high gear over 150 miles of rugged trail wrought from old strip mining and logging roads.
B is for Bourbon
B is for Kentucky’s beverage of renown—bourbon—and the spaces and places that have cultivated superlative bourbon experiences, including the spirit’s epicenter in Bardstown, Bourbon Capital of the World and an official gateway to the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, is set to open its expanded and rebranded visitor’s center in June. New on the bourbon landscape is Log Still Distillery, being resurrected in nearby New Haven with a tasting center, farm-to-table restaurant, fishing lake, amphitheater, event space, train depot and more. It’s rustic-meets-refined Homestead Bed and Breakfast at Dant Crossing is already open.
C is for Corvette Museum
America’s coolest car is celebrated at Bowling Green’s National Corvette Museum, where a third of the exhibits underwent major renovations and upgrades in 2020. A highlight: the immersive and interactive E. Pierce Marshall Memorial Performance Gallery with its 180-degree projection video featuring racetrack champs and engineering marvels, including one-off prototypes and experimental mid- and rear-engine Corvettes in the Design & Engineering Gallery. Unearth the obscure story of the entombed Corvette at a re-created brick “tomb” and dig into new culinary delights at the reimagined Corvette Bistro.
D is for Dioramas
D gets an A as a “Best in Kentucky” museum showcasing a dozen dioramas of our 16th president. The Lincoln Museum is pure edutainment with its series of life-size dioramas, plus period artifacts, collection of wax figures highlighting major Lincoln life events and recently acquired cabin constructed entirely from pennies—11,368 of them, to be exact. It is located in the Hodgenville Downtown Historic District, 3 miles from the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park.
E is for Elk Tour
Have an urge to watch elk in action? Head to Prestonsburg and Jenny Wiley State Resort Park for an elk tour. Guided morning and evening tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays from September through early spring; elk tour packages are available that include accommodations and meals. The park is in a 16-county elk zone that Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources estimates has some 10,000 to 14,000 elk—the largest population east of the Mississippi River.
F is for Fresh-air Farm Fun
Choose from 13 different immersive farm tours in Oldham County, Farm Tour Capital of Kentucky: alpacas, horses and other animals; gardens and grasslands; fiber art; and foodie experiences—everything from bourbon and beer to honey mead and wine. Want to pair your wine with some cheese? Cheesemaking is a tour topic at Harvest Home Dairy & Cheese, among others.
Georgetown is home to numerous Kentucky Proud-member farms, including specialty cut flower farm Gray Arbor, unveiling two CSAs (community-supported agriculture) this spring. The Bouquet Club (May through October) features monthly fresh-cut bouquets; the Farm Club (May through December) has the bouquets plus Bounty Boxes filled with area farm goodies: herbal blends, lavender bundles and honey.
G is for Glampground
Glam it up at Williamstown’s new Camp Bespoke, the first glampground of its kind in Kentucky. Snuggle down amid fine linens in a 40-foot former shipping container turned deluxe cabin, or in a cottage or a Native American-style luxury tipi. All have an en suite bathroom with stand-up shower, plus kitchenette, electricity, Wi-Fi, heating and air conditioning, deck and firepit. Primitive tent sites also are available and if you don’t have your own tent and supplies, you can rent them. Curated experience packages are in the works.
H is for Horses
In Kentucky, H is always for horses, and the 2021 season at Lexington’s Kentucky Horse Park brings a new look at the role of African Americans. At the International Museum of the Horse, The Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry presents an interactive website with photos, documents, artifacts and oral histories of African Americans who have worked in equine industries. Returning to the park are live equine presentations that include the Hall of Champions Show, Parade of Breeds, Draft Horse Demonstration and the Kentucky Derby Winner Nightcap.
I is for Interesting
A 20-foot-tall fork—the kind you eat with. A stegosaurus lumbering about with 150 of his chums. A giant chain—yeah, you read that right. A reclining 29-foot-long, 14-foot-high expectant mama whose tummy is made out of bourbon barrel staves. A behemoth ark that could have been built by Noah himself. No one can accuse Kentucky of being boring, not with such interesting attractions: Franklin’s Fork in the Road sculpture; Cave City’s Dinosaur World; General Leonidas Polk’s giant chain and anchor at Columbus- Belmont State Park—a Civil War site that is also a National Trail of Tears land and water route; the Forest Giants of Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont; and Williamstown’s Ark Encounter.
J is for Josephine Sculpture Park
J is for Kentucky’s only sculpture park, the Josephine Sculpture Park, which over the past year has installed seven new sculptures to its 30-acre sweep of native meadows. These include “Of Few Words,” created by the park’s 2020 Fellowship Artist in Residence Kiah Celeste. Take a self-guided tour of the 70 contemporary works from artists from around the world—feel free to add your own graffiti to GRAPHOLOGYHENGE while you’re at it. The admission-free park near Frankfort is open daily from dawn to dusk.
K is for Kentucky History
K is for key sites that tell important chapters in Kentucky’s history: the settlement Daniel Boone established in 1775, with its reconstructed working fort with cabins, blockhouses and furnishings at Fort Boonesborough State Park in Richmond; the log cabins, including frontier jailhouse, that make up Danville’s Constitution Square Historic Site—birthplace of Kentucky statehood; and Hopkinsville’s Trail of Tears Commemorative Park, one of the few places to experience the tragedy of the forced removal of the Cherokee people.
L is for Lakes
L is for languid, lazy days spent at or on one of Kentucky’s lakes. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the shores of beautiful Cave Run Lake. Rent a pontoon, fishing boat or other pleasure craft and sail into the sunset on Kentucky Lake. From playing in the water to building sandcastles to grilling up a cookout, Lake Barkley is made for old-fashioned family getaways. On Lake Cumberland, vacay on the water aboard a luxury houseboat tricked out with everything—including the kitchen sink.
M is for Music and Musicians
Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, the Judds, Rosemary Clooney, Boots Randolph—Kentucky Music and Musicians can be summed up in one word: legendary. Follow their footprints across the state, from Lynn’s Butcher Holler Homeplace to Clooney’s Augusta house museum to Monroe’s Jerusalem Ridge birthplace. Jam to the tunes of Kentucky’s music luminaries on the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway. See the instruments they played at Owensboro’s Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum—including the fiddle belonging to Monroe’s Uncle Pen, John Hartford’s banjos and Josh Graves’ guitar. Check out the artists’ show clothes at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Mt. Vernon. Among the 50 or so costumes are the dress Loretta Lynn wore for her 2002 induction ceremony and Merle Travis’ so-called Nudie Suit (it’s not what you think!) that bears his signature.
N is for Camp Nelson National Monument
N is for Nicholasville and its Camp Nelson National Monument commemorating and interpreting the recruitment and training center for African American soldiers during the Civil War. It was a place of refuge for the soldiers’ wives and families and a beacon of hope for freedom and opportunity. Learn about civilian life at the Oliver Perry House and camp life at the reconstructed Union Army barracks. Explore earthworks and fortifications that protected Camp Nelson and visit the final resting place of 1,615 Union dead.
O is for Outdoor Fun
Kentucky is truly a playground for outdoors lovers, with opportunities all over the state for hiking, biking, paddling, picnicking, camping, caving and more. Grab climbing harness and helmet for world-class rock climbing at Red River Gorge Geological Area and scale the crags at Miller-Fork Recreation Preserve or the Motherlode in the Bald Rock Recreation Preserve. Take a safari through the Elk and Bison Prairie at Land Between The Lakes and spot songbirds, wild turkey and egrets in addition to the elk and bison. (Best viewing: May, and September through November).
P is for Pottery, Paintings and Photography
Pottery, paintings, photography, glassworks, metalworks, mixed media and more—Kentucky is deservedly famous for its handcrafting culture and traditions. Find exquisite treasures at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, where a mind-blowing array of artworks by over 850 artists are for sale. (See page 65.) More handcrafted items are showcased at Hindman’s Appalachian Artisan Center: jewelry, quilts, furniture, dulcimers—all steeped in the rich heritage of this 54-county eastern Kentucky region.
Q is for Quilts
Q is for the quilts at the National Quilt Museum, celebrating its 30th year in 2021 with outstanding displays. Sew Many Quilts, through June 8, invites visitors to walk through the past three decades of quilting. Quarantine Quilts: Creativity in the Midst of Chaos, June 4-August 31, features 30 quilts from artists around the globe. Here is the only place to see Never Forget quilts commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, presented in partnership with the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and Ground Zero in New York City.
R is for Railroads
R is for scenic railroads that whisk us off to adventures through Kentucky forests and backcountry and into history relating to the state’s logging, coal mining and railroading past. In Stearns, the Big South Fork Scenic Railway rolls through Appalachia’s rugged beauty to the restored Barthell Coal Camp. Travel by train through the Rolling Fork River Valley with New Haven’s Kentucky Railway Museum, then check out the rolling stock on exhibit. Board Versailles’ Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and pass cornfields and thoroughbred horse farms before descending to the geologic marvel known as the Palisades of the Kentucky River, plus photo ops at the historic Young’s High Bridge.
S is for State Parks
If national parks are “America’s best idea,” state parks run a close second, especially in Kentucky where the collection of 45 resort and recreational parks and state historic sites show off Mother Nature’s best assets. Miles of pristine hiking trails, beautiful beaches, sparkling lakes, nationally recognized golf courses, boating, birding, caving, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, restaurants dishing up deliciousness with Kentucky Proud ingredients, family fun, wooded cabin settings . . . Are you ready to pick a park and pack up for a road trip?
T is for Tasty Trails
Tasty culinary trails are a signature Kentucky experience. With its pit-cooked mutton sauced up with “dips,” the Western Kentucky BBQ Trail, winding from Louisville to Paducah, remains a food lover’s experience waiting to happen. In the eastern part of the state, the Bon Appetit Appalachian Trail serves up Kentucky mountain culture through dishes built on the principles of foraging, farming and finding creative ways to use whatever ingredients are on hand. And in between the two? The Beer Cheese Trail, a culinary excursion of the zesty variety, with a piquant pairing of two foodie faves.
U is for Underground
2021 has been declared the International Year of Caves and Karst by the International Union of Speleology—a great time to explore underground. Lucky for Kentucky, we have lots of caves and some are real jewels, like Park City’s Historic Diamond Caverns and Cave City’s Crystal Onyx Cave. In Olive Hill, some 20 caves are hidden beneath the lush rolling landscape at Carter Caves State Resort Park. And there’s the Big One—the one to whom all other caves bow: Mammoth Cave, the longest (and dare we say, most fascinating) known cave system in the world.
V is for Shaker Village
V is for a village with 3,000-plus acres of outdoor space that give Kentuckians a scenic place to hike, go horseback riding, take a historic tour and more. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is an antidote to a pandemic in more ways than one. Even more experiences are coming to the Village this spring, including new baby animals, guided hikes and other on-site programming and new virtual historic programs. Overnight packages, like Experience Horse Country and Bourbon in the Bluegrass, are available as well.
W is for Waterfalls
W is for waterfall, wow and welcoming the world to Corbin and Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and the magnificent Cumberland Falls through more virtual programming. Visitors get a preview of the park before they arrive for a deeper experience. And one of these experiences is witnessing the moonbow. “Cumberland Falls creates just the right amount of mist that, when it is struck by enough moonlight, a moonbow is born,” explains Park Ranger Joe Mounce. Check the park’s website for 2021 moonbow dates.
X is for Xylophone
It’s 1910 in the rural neighborhood of Alma’s Farm Road. While Father writes his Sunday sermon downstairs, his daughters entertain themselves in their bedroom above with—you guessed it—a xylophone. This is the level of detail visitors get at Danville’s Great American Dollhouse Museum, the only museum of its kind to focus on American social history in miniature—and what a rich history director Lori Kagan-Moore shares through an engaging timeline from Native American and Colonial eras through the 20th century.
Y is for Yew Dell
Y is for an internationally recognized center of gardening, plants and education in a breathtaking and historical setting with woodland hiking trails, turreted castle and of course display gardens—secret, serpentine, sunken rock and more. Crestwood’s Yew Dell Botanical Gardens is ever abloom with education programs, community events and activities, including Big Bloom, with over 17,000 flowering tulips and hyacinths in April and May. New are online sales of plants grown in the garden’s nursery program and a variety of virtual workshops. (See schedule on website.)
Z is for Zenith, Zip and Zow
Return to Harlan County and Kentucky’s highest peak for a truly amazing experience. Black Mountain Thunder Zipline has 11 lines, hurls zip liners along for a two-hour, 2-mile tour that shoots up to 500 feet high and races along at speeds up to 60 miles an hour. Both the scenery and the adventure are breathtaking.