Variety Of Attractions Just a
Short Drive from Home
How about bourbon?
A history buff?
Are you into art?
Want to just get in the car and go someplace with views and vistas that will break your heart with their beauty?
Well, look no farther than Kentucky. It has all that, and more.
And the best thing about Kentucky? It's an easy drive away.
"Our feeder areas are Ohio, Illinois and Michigan,"
says Mike Mangeot, the state's tourism director. "It's easy to get here
from Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus; they're big for us."
Yeah, we know what you're thinking. If you're going
on vacation, you want to visit someplace like California, or maybe
Florida, where the Duck and the Mouse hang out. Trouble with those
destinations is you'll probably need to rob a bank or win the lottery to
"There's no better value around than traveling to Kentucky," says Mangeot when asked, "Why Kentucky?"
"Of course, you always run the risk of when you say
that, that people will think inexpensive and equate that to not good.
But that's not true. Kentucky can accommodate any interest you might
have. Viewed as a family vacation getaway, we have so many options."
From Caves to Waterfalls
Particularly, Mangeot says, for outdoor enthusiasts.
In addition to the longest cave system in the world "”
367 miles "” at Mammoth Cave National Park, the state also features
Cumberland Falls State Park, home to some of the country's most
beautiful waterfalls. Also, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National
Forest and the Appalachian Mountains. Which means if you've got a good
pair of hiking boots and strong legs, you can spend days exploring and
camping among some of the most beautiful country in the United States.
"Often people will say, "¢I didn't know that about
Kentucky, I never knew how beautiful it is,' " says Mangeot. "The great
thing about that is we have a chance to show people what Kentucky has to
offer. It's wonderful to change people's perception."
If you want a little high-flying outdoor excitement,
you can embark on an adrenaline-fueled, sweaty-palm tour of several
distinctive zipline locations across the state. You haven't really lived
until you've hung from a 1-inch steel line and zoomed through a canopy
of trees with your feet dangling high above the ground. The experience
is as close to flying that you'll find and one not to be missed.
Neither is a visit to coal country. Though vilified
now as environmentally unfriendly, coal was once the fuel that powered
If you want to know what daily life for an immigrant
miner was like, you can take a tour of Lynch's Portal 31, which
produced 120 million tons of coal between 1917 and 1963. Among the
attractions is a rail car ride into the mine where you can get a
firsthand experience of what it was like to work underground.
For something a little more, ahem, adult, there's
the Bourbon Trail, which spotlights Bluegrass hospitality "” read liquor "”
at its best. Scotch for the Scots, vodka for the Russians, but here in
America? It's bourbon, baby. And there's no finer bourbon to be found
than in Kentucky.
The whiskey takes its name from Bourbon County, once
the major shipping pipeline for spirits headed down the Ohio and
Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. Barrels shipped from Bourbon County
ports were stamped with the county's name, and bourbon and whiskey soon
became synonymous. More than 95 percent of the world's bourbon is still
distilled and aged in Kentucky. Distillers throughout the state have
been at it for 200 years so they know what they're doing, with secret
recipes and well-honed processes that have been passed down through
The Bourbon Trail Tour features seven of these
distilleries where you can see how it all comes together and, of course,
grab a taste or 10 of some of the world's finest bourbon.
"The one thing that's just exploded is bourbon
country and the Bourbon Trail," says Mangeot. "The investment the
distilleries have made for a visitor experience is just phenomenal.
"It's very hands-on and when I say hands -on, you
can go into a distillery and actually put some of the corn in the still.
You can do two or three distilleries in a day, or cover them all in a
weekend. Just coming down and seeing that, that truly is an amazing
If drinking isn't your thing, and you're into
historical sites, visit the birthplaces of our 16th president, Abraham
Lincoln (www.nps.gov/abli/index.htm), and his Confederate counterpart,
Jefferson Davis. (www.kentuckytourism.com)
"Most people know Abraham Lincoln was born here, or
maybe not since he is so closely associated with Illinois," says
Mangeot. "But what people don't know is that Jefferson Davis was also
"No other state can say it has the birthplaces of the presidents of both the Union and the Confederacy."
Indeed, Kentucky has a varied, rich and bloody Civil War history.
Though it was a slave state, it refused to secede
from the Union and as a result, was considered a "must-have" state by
both sides of the conflict. As such, it is abundant with sites that
speak to our divided past. (www.kentuckycivilwartrails.org or
Of course, Kentucky is best known for its horse
farms that produce some of the finest thoroughbreds in the world. Its
state motto, Unbridled Spirit, speaks to that tradition.
The Bluegrass Region is home to 450 such farms,
covering some of the most beautiful country you'll ever lay eyes on. You
can spend days touring the farms as well as Keeneland Race Course,
which is on the National Registry as a Historic Landmark.
(www.kentuckytourism.com or www.keeneland.com)
And then there's that little race held the first Saturday in May every year known as the Kentucky Derby.
Located at historic Churchill Downs in Louisville,
the Kentucky Derby Museum captures the traditions and excitement of the
greatest two minutes in sports. Highlights include interactive, horse
racing-related exhibits, a 360-degree high-definition video
presentation, and a walking tour of Churchill Downs.
After all that touring, and hiking and zipping,
you're bound to be a little hungry. If it's fine dining you want,
Kentucky's got that, too.
"We have a very good food culture here," Mangeot
says. "Louisville was called one of the "” and this isn't my word, but
the word that a magazine used to describe it "”one of the foodiest cities
in the country. You can have a meal here that will rival any you'll
Horses. Food. Bourbon. Why would you go anyplace other than Kentucky for vacation?
"We always say, if we can get people to Kentucky they'll remember it for the rest of their lives," says Mangeot.