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2021 Best in Kentucky Winners!

What does your best day look like?

Kentucky Living readers have lots of ideas of what their best looks like: crawling through caves; digging into plates of barbecue; pointing out bongos and chuckwallas to their little ones; slow-sipping tutored tastings of bourbon, wine or craft beer; chomping into saucy slices of pizza—even sneaking off with a significant other for a romantic wine weekend.

Read about these bests. Then choose yours.

PLACE FOR ADVENTURE

WINNER

Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave

The sheer scope of activities above ground at the world’s longest known cave system shouldn’t surprise visitors—hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, camping, canoeing and kayaking—yet it never ceases to do just that, according to Molly Schroer, management analyst at Mammoth Cave National Park.

“The park offers the chance to get outside, find an adventure and explore the dark, cool cave, lush green rolling hills and scenic river valleys of southcentral Kentucky,” says Schroer.

SECOND PLACE

Red River Gorge Geological Area, Stanton

THIRD PLACE

Cumberland Falls at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Corbin

Mammoth Cave National Park won first place in the Place for Adventure category. Shown here is Park Superintendent Barclay C. Trimble. Photo: Wade Harris
Red River Gorge Geological Area won second place in the Place for Adventure category. Shown here is District Manager Jonathan Kazmierski. Photo: John Witt
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park won third place in the Place for Adventure category. Photo: Clay Cook

GOLF COURSE

WINNER

Barren River Lake State Resort Park Golf Course, Lucas

With manicured playing conditions and beautiful scenery that wraps around the lake and park, plus a challenging golf course that is both fun and rewarding, this is a course you simply cannot play only once.

SECOND PLACE

Larue County Golf Course, Hodgenville

THIRD PLACE

The Bridges Golf Course Of Henderson, Henderson

Barren River Lake won first place in the Golf Course category. Shown here is Park Manager Danny Sallee. Photo: Wade Harris
LaRue County Golf Course won second place in the Golf Course category. Shown here is Tim Thompson. Photo: Wade Harris
The Bridges Golf Course won third place in the Golf Course category. Photo: The Bridges Golf Course of Henderson

PUBLIC HUNTING/FISHING AREA

WINNER

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Golden Pond

It’s hard to resist the siren song of hundreds of miles of undeveloped shoreline, more than 500 miles of trails, dozens of elk and bison ambling freely about the prairie and night sky explorations in a 40-foot domed theater. All of this is spread over a 170,000-acre playground bordered by the beauty of two lakes: Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

SECOND PLACE

Green River Lake, Campbellsville

THIRD PLACE

Barren River Lake at Barren River Lake State Resort Park, Lucas

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area won first place in the Public Hunting/Fishing category. Shown here is Andy Radomski. Photo: Cyndi Whelan
Green River Lake State Park won second place in the Public Hunting/Fishing category. Shown here is Park Manager Wesley Lanham. Photo: Monica Pickerill
Barren River Lake won third place for the Public Hunting/Fishing category. Shown in the photo is Park Manager Danny Sallee. Photo: Wade Harris

HOUSEBOATING LAKE

WINNER

Lake Cumberland, Russell County

In the Houseboat Capital of the World, expect a mind-blowing array of houseboat rentals and amenities, an abundance of water activities, miles of pristine shoreline, irresistible tie-up spots where visitors stake their claim year after year, and the chance to create lasting memories and kindle new friendships. Yeah. Lake Cumberland lends itself naturally to families playing and slaying adventures together.

SECOND PLACE

Green River Lake, Campbellsville

THIRD PLACE

Barren River Lake at Barren River Lake State Resort Park, Lucas

Lake Cumberland won first place in the Houseboating Lake category. Shown here is Resource Manager Jonathan Friedman. Photo: Cyndi Whelan
Lake Cumberland won first place in the Houseboating Lake category. Shown here is Danielle Wilson with tourism in Russell County. Photo: Cyndi Whelan
Green River Lake State Park won second place in the Houseboating Lake category. Shown here is Park Manager Wesley Lanham. Photo: Monica Pickerill
Barren River Lake won third place for the Houseboating Lake category. Shown in the photo is Park Manager Danny Sallee. Photo: Wade Harris

CAMPING SPOT

WINNER

Green River Lake at Green River Lake State Park, Campbellsville

The entire campground unfolds along this scenic lake, gifting campers with an ever-changing collage of amazing views, morning, noon and night. A fun, family and friendly atmosphere prevails, and the outdoor recreational options are in full force—swimming, water skiing, boating, fishing, biking, hiking, horseback riding, basketball, volleyball and minigolf—but so are quieter pursuits, like lazing on the shoreline and soaking up that view.

SECOND PLACE

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave

THIRD PLACE

Red River Gorge Geological Area, Stanton

MADE IN KENTUCKY PRODUCT

WINNER

The Sweet Shoppe and Dessert Cafe, Hodgenville

Birthday cake, classic chocolate, apple pie, tiger butter, Creamsicle, cookies and cream, sea salt chocolate, praline. So hard to choose. The shop has over 20 flavors of homemade gourmet fudge, among a bounty of other sweet treats, and every single pound tempts the taste buds. Find the fudge on the square in downtown Hodgenville and at festivals all over the state.

SECOND PLACE

Elijah Craig Bourbon, Bardstown

THIRD PLACE

Ale-8-One, Winchester

FARMERS MARKET

WINNER

Hardin County Farmers’ Market, Elizabethtown

Step right up! This market is grower-only, meaning the produce is all local—plentiful, too. The farmers are friendly, helpful and perhaps, most importantly, knowledgeable about the fruits and veggies and other goodies piled in their booths that may land on your plate later.

SECOND PLACE

Lexington Farmers Market, Lexington

THIRD PLACE

Henderson Farmers Market, Henderson

ARTS & CRAFTS FAIR

WINNER

Bardstown Arts, Crafts & Antique Fair, Bardstown

More than 20,000 shoppers come from all over to browse and buy the unique craft and woodworking treasures displayed in tented booths during this fall festival.

SECOND PLACE

Glendale Crossing Festival, Glendale

THIRD PLACE

St. James Court Art Show, Louisville

LONG WEEKEND GETAWAY

WINNER

Cumberland Falls at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Corbin

Here’s what keeps bringing ’em back for more: the natural beauty and wonder of a park nestled in the middle of the Daniel Boone National Forest, the waterfall and the moonbow phenomenon, hiking the Eagle Falls Trail and other paths crisscrossing forested landscapes. Indoors, there are the delicious down-home meals made with Kentucky Proud ingredients at the Riverview Restaurant.

SECOND PLACE

Red River Gorge Geological Area, Stanton

THIRD PLACE

Farmer & Frenchman Winery, Henderson

KID-FRIENDLY ATTRACTION

WINNER

Louisville Zoo, Louisville

Two-toed sloths, red-tailed monkeys, white-scaled alligators: see animals from around the world, from the Amazon River to the Arctic wilderness. Romp in the Billabong Playabout or take a spin on the antique carousel. Get drenched at Splash Park at Glacier Run or challenge yourself on the Sky Trail Ropes Course. Climb between the humps for a camel ride. And don’t forget to stop and smell the sweetbay magnolia.

SECOND PLACE

Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo, Horse Cave

THIRD PLACE

Hinton’s Orchard & Farm Market, Hodgenville

HISTORIC SITE

WINNER

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, Hodgenville

Make a pilgrimage to learn about the legacy of America’s 16th president, the place where he walked, worked, played and wandered during his earliest years. Although the Symbolic Birth Cabin is not the original cabin used by the Lincoln family, it dates from the 1840s and comes from the local area, situated on land where Lincoln lived for his first seven years.

SECOND PLACE

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Bardstown

THIRD PLACE

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg

DAY TRIP

WINNER

Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave

National Park, International Biosphere Reserve. UNESCO World Heritage Site. A timeline that tracks back 325 million years when prehistoric seas of the Mississippian Era deposited layers of limestone in a place that would eventually become the 15th state. The longest known cave system on earth. Kentucky’s oldest tour attraction. Is there anything Mammoth Cave can’t do—or be?

SECOND PLACE

Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience, Bardstown

THIRD PLACE

Red River Gorge Geological Area, Stanton

FARM TOURIST ATTRACTION

WINNER

Hinton’s Orchard & Farm Market, Hodgenville

Four seasons of reasons to browse and carouse at the farm: the flowers, herbs and veggie plants in spring; the bounty of summer with sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, blackberries, watermelons and those oh-so juicy tree-ripened peaches; fall’s pumpkins, mums, apples and Farmland play area with hayrides, barrel train and corn maze; and winter’s selection of custom gift and fruit baskets, live wreaths and precut Christmas trees ready to take home and trim.

SECOND PLACE

Dennison’s Roadside Market, Horse Cave

THIRD PLACE

Cates Farm, Henderson

KENTUCKY MUSICIAN/BAND

WINNER

JD Shelburne, Taylorsville

Taylorsville’s favorite son has said he feels he was “born to play music, write songs and entertain people.” And does he ever! Shelburne has logged over 2,500 performances to date. He has opened for Miranda Lambert and Montgomery Gentry, among other national acts; appeared on CMT; and sung the state song at the Kentucky Derby. His newest album, Straight From Kentucky, was released earlier this year.

SECOND PLACE

Tyler Childers, Lawrence County

THIRD PLACE

Black Stone Cherry, Edmonton

PLACE FOR LIVE MUSIC

WINNER

Joel Ray’s Lincoln Jamboree, Hodgenville

This country music show has gained a reputation for extraordinary talent at a reasonable price in a family atmosphere that includes a restaurant, campground and gift shop with jams, jellies, souvenirs and Kentucky-made items.

Says manager Jay Henderson, “It’s the kind of place that encourages you to sit and watch the show, forgetting all your problems and taking you back to a time when the world was a simpler place.”

SECOND PLACE

Paramount Arts Center, Ashland

THIRD PLACE

Bush’s Saloon & Dance Hall, Glasgow

MUSEUM

WINNER

Lincoln Museum, Hodgenville

Travel just 3 miles from the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park and you can learn about young Abe’s formative frontier days, the chores he did and the people who influenced him during his “Cabin Years.” The exhibit is among the life-size dioramas, wax figures, funeral train exhibit and more at one of Kentucky’s favorite museums, located in the Downtown Hodgenville National Historic District.

SECOND PLACE

Speed Art Museum, Louisville

THIRD PLACE

Audubon Museum and Nature Center at the John James Audubon State Park, Henderson

EVENT OR FESTIVAL

WINNER

Lincoln Days Celebration, Hodgenville

Pioneer games, rail splitting, twinning with Lincoln, live music, classic car show and more take place at this two-day event that has been going on for half a century. Held in the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, the festival also includes one of oldest, continuously held art shows in the state.

SECOND PLACE

Marion County Country Ham Days, Lebanon

THIRD PLACE

W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival, Henderson


WINERY

WINNER

Purple Toad Winery, Paducah

With inspiration from a trip to California’s Napa Valley in 1998, this winery has been in business for 23 years and is among the top 300 largest wineries in the country—pretty amazing when you consider there are more than 8,700 wineries in the U.S. according to Wine Business Monthly. Over 50 different wines, from dry to sweet, are made here, including bestseller Black and Bruised. Tours and tastings are offered anytime the winery is open. 

SECOND PLACE

Farmer & Frenchman Winery, Henderson

THIRD PLACE

Jesters Winery & Café, Lebanon

DISTILLERY

WINNER

Maker’s Mark Distillery, Loretto


This is where the magic happens—in a distillery that operates the same way it did nearly 70 years ago, from using the old letterpress to hand rotating each barrel to hand-dipping every single bottle. And you can do this, too: dip a bottle, that is, in that Maker’s Mark red wax known the world over. Book a tour to learn about the bourbon, history and traditions that concludes with a guided tasting.

SECOND PLACE

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Louisville

THIRD PLACE

Jim Beam American Stillhouse, Clermont

CRAFT BEER

WINNER

Country Boy Brewing, Georgetown, Lexington

This brewery’s claims to fame? Minimally processed beers, from light lagers to bold and flavorful stouts, made with the best ingredients available. A welcoming and laidback environment in the taprooms created by the Country Boy staff and culture. A place to watch a game, relax over a meal or play a trivia game. This is a brewery that knows what an outing to catch up with friends over an amazing pint of beer should look like.

SECOND PLACE

Henderson Brewing Co., Henderson

THIRD PLACE

Scout & Scholar Brewing Company, Bardstown

BARBECUE

WINNER

Arrowhead BBQ, Hodgenville

So much to love: award-winning desserts, made-from-scratch sides like macaroni and cheese and sweet potato casserole, a special-recipe barbecue sauce, meats smoked fresh daily and a smoker loaded down and cooking low and slow over fruitwood. Get a full slab of ribs, smoked chicken leg quarters and anything else on the menu by drive-thru or delivery.

SECOND PLACE

J&B Barbecue & Catering, Henderson

THIRD PLACE

Red State BBQ, Lexington

HAMBURGER

WINNER

Laha’s Red Castle, Hodgenville

“It’s the flavor of our burgers that keeps people coming back,” says owner Anita Laha of Laha’s distinctively delicious taste.

Some of the credit goes to the grill that’s been a fixture in the restaurant since the early 1950s. Some of it goes to experience: This family business has been around since 1934, with the third and fourth generations carrying on the tradition.

SECOND PLACE

Metzger’s Tavern, Henderson

THIRD PLACE

Kayla’s Fill-Up Station, Hodgenville

PIZZA

WINNER

Hometown Pizza, La Grange

You don’t grow to 18 locations without doing a lot right. Nearly 40 years ago, founders Mike and Mary Jane Foster had a vision: to “serve a variety of delicious pizza creations in a unique and relaxing atmosphere.” From the chicken artichoke pizza to the Colossus cheese, their original recipes are a hit.

SECOND PLACE

Pizza Zone, Buffalo

THIRD PLACE

Rockhouse on the River, Henderson

DOWN-HOME RESTAURANT

WINNER

The Lighthouse Restaurant, Sulphur Well

It’s not grandma’s kitchen, but it sure does feel like it, with heaping helpings of made-from-scratch, family-style meals like fried chicken, catfish, pinto beans and cornbread, and homemade pies. You just know one of the ingredients is love in this comfy atmosphere that feels like home.

SECOND PLACE

Kayla’s Fill-Up Station, Hodgenville

THIRD PLACE

Hometown Roots, Henderson

SWEET SPOT

WINNER

The Sweet Shoppe and Dessert Cafe, Hodgenville

You can smell the sweet, sugary aroma of fudge and baked goods being prepared even before entering the building: caramel and gourmet apples, chocolate-dipped strawberries, cupcakes, cookies and turtle candy, plus two dozen flavors of Blue Bell and Velvet ice cream and other goodies to satisfy the sweet tooth.

SECOND PLACE

2nd Street Treats, Henderson 

THIRD PLACE

Tipton’s Traditions Bakery Inc., Ashland

HALL OF FAME

The 2021 Inductees into the Best in Kentucky Hall of Fame

The Sweet Shoppe and Dessert Café: Sweet Spot

Maker’s Mark Distillery: Distillery

Previous years’ inductees

Lake Cumberland: Boating Lake or River; Fishing Spot; Houseboating Lake

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park: Historic Landmark

The Whistle Stop Restaurant: Nonfranchise Restaurant

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn: Barbecue

Red River Gorge Geological Area: Extreme Adventure/Sport Location

Cumberland Falls at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park: Scenic View

Churchill Downs: Iconic Kentucky Landmark

Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site: Civil War Site

General Burnside Island State Park: Golf Course

Somernites Cruise: Car Show Cruise-In

Jericho Woods: Kentucky Musician/Band

Ale-8-One: Made In Kentucky Product

My Old Kentucky Home: Historic Site

Country Boy Brewing: Craft Brew

Berea Craft Festival: Arts & Crafts Fair

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