When people think of Kentucky, they think of bluegrass, bourbon, and beautiful horses. The Bluegrass Region of the state can claim all of these, and so much more! Bluegrass Region stretches from Meade County and Shepherdsville to the beginnings of Appalachia and the Ohio state line. It is the historical population center of the state, having Louisville, Lexington, and Northern Kentucky all within its geographical boundaries. It is here we have the first suggestions of the Appalachian foothills toward the east. Industry, education, and culture have enriched this area, gifting it with great stories from the past, as well as plenty of potential for more in the future.
A quick drive down some of Kentucky's scenic highways leads to Bardstown: the bourbon capital of the world. 95% of the world's bourbon is made and stored in Kentucky--in fact, there are more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky than there are people--and a large part of that supply is in Bardstown. Be sure to visit the visitors center and available tours, but also head downtown to see a variety of boutiques, shops, and eateries.
Tourism for those 21+ extends beyond the boundaries of Bardstown. Distilleries, wineries, and breweries are spread all across the Bluegrass. With only a few exceptions, every distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour is in the Bluegrass Region. Check out the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail website for more information, but also remember there are numerous, smaller distilleries which may not be featured on the site. Though the state is most celebrated for its native spirit, Kentucky is also the birthplace of the commercial wine industry as the first successful commercial vineyard for wine grapes was located in the Bluegrass in the late 18th to early 19th century. While Kentucky currently produces only 0.3% of all wine made in the U.S., the network of vineyards and wineries in the state continues to grow stronger. While not a formalized "Kentucky Wine Trail," the Kentucky Grape and Wine Council has resources on Kentucky wine, including on the industry itself and locations, at the official Kentucky Wine website. Finally, there is a rapidly growing craft beer industry in Kentucky. With festivals across the state at various times in the year and breweries across the state, there are many, many options to suit a wide variety of tastes and interests. Start your journey here, and explore the various options available.
Historically significant in several ways, Danville, Kentucky is another place to see in the Bluegrass. It has been the site of many firsts, having been the first capital of Kentucky, original site of the first college in Kentucky, home to the first state-supported school for the deaf, and location of the first successful laparotomy. The town is proud of its identity, commemorating its history while continuing to write its story. In nearby Perryville, the Perryville Battlefield Historic Site is one of the best-preserved Civil War sites in the nation, and it was the site of the final Confederate attempt to take control of Kentucky when the Union successfully defeated them in battle. The Ephraim McDowell House Museum tells the story of how Dr. McDowell made medical history while also showcasing the medical tools and technology of the era. For those interested in cultural experiences, the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College is a place to remember as it features acts which range from Vince Gill, to The Wizard of Oz, to Celtic Woman, to the occasional U.S. Vice Presidential Debate. The Centre College campus is also lovely. A small, private, liberal arts college in the center of the Bluegrass, the historic college is nationally recognized for its academic quality and rigor, as well as for its impressive study abroad program. For a bite to eat and the satisfaction of helping the community, check out Grace Cafe, a pay-what-you-can community restaurant which thrives on volunteer support and aims to fight hunger and malnutrition in the Danville Community while supporting area farmers by locally-sourcing as much food as they can. To satisfy your sweet tooth, be sure to visit Burke's Bakery, but note that they only accept cash/check as payment.
The second-largest city in Kentucky, Lexington is the self-proclaimed "Horse Capital of the World." More than 80% of Kentucky Derby-winning horses have ties to the area, and Calumet Farm, located close to Blue Grass Airport and the Kentucky Castle, holds the record for raising Kentucky Derby and American Triple Crown Winners. Connections to the horse are apparent throughout Lexington at a depth otherwise unmatched around the nation--perhaps even the world. In Lexington and the surrounding area, there are numerous opportunities to get a tour of the farms which have produced some of the greatest horses in the world. Additionally, Lexington is home to the University of Kentucky, one of the flagship universities of the state. They are well-celebrated for their Wildcats basketball team, as well as several academic programs, such as those relating to business, education, and medicine. While Rupp Arena is most known for being home to UK basketball, it is also a major concert and event center in the area. Be sure to stop by one of the local eateries--like Bad Wolf Burgers or Tolly-Ho--for good food and great memories. Downtown is also host to several events, like the once-monthly Night Market and an ever-evolving schedule at the historic Kentucky Theatre. There's always something to do in Lexington, so be sure to plan a day to explore Kentucky's second-largest city!
Throughout the region, there is stunning natural beauty. Gentle, rolling hills are filled with bubbling brooks and streams, allowing for healthy farmland and quality bourbon. These wending waters make their ways to the Ohio River directly or to the Kentucky River, which is a tributary of the Ohio River. Following the Kentucky River southeastward provides some of the most stunning views of the region. If you're a passenger travelling I-75 south from Lexington, be sure to enjoy the view from the Clay's Ferry Bridge as you cross from Fayette into Madison County. Alternatively, if you have the time, you can take the Valley View Ferry across the Kentucky River to experience beautiful scenery on one of the longest-operating river ferry crossings in the country. For other historic crossings with marvelous views, be sure to check out High Bridge in Jessamine County.
Bluegrass country is a gateway to eastern Kentucky and Appalachia, its culture and beauty. On its eastern edge is the Daniel Boone National Forest. The rugged landscape is a dream for hikers, photographers, nature enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to be immersed in largely-untouched beauty. The Red River Gorge Geological Area is the most acclaimed area of the forest due to the many natural wonders there (as well as for providing the background picture featured on Ale-8). This majestic Kentucky canyon features tall cliffs and the scenic Red River, great for a day of canoeing or rock climbing. Within the gorge is one of Kentucky's many renowned state parks: Natural Bridge State Resort Park. Here, adventurers can explore the park paths to take in one of the largest concentrations of natural bridges east of the Rocky Mountains. While exploring the edge of Appalachia, make reservations to tour the Ale-8-One factory and see Kentucky's beloved native soft drink being made.
Across horse country, there are a multitude of beautiful sights and fun activities to suit a wide range of interests. Go ahead and grab an Ale-8, hop in your car, and see how much the area has to offer!