Bluegrass Beckons
Kentucky Offers
Variety Of Attractions Just a
Short Drive from Home
Love horses?
How about bourbon?
A history buff?
Are you into art?
Nature? Food?

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."

Real Value
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 afford them.

"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. (www.louisvillemegacavern.com)

Neither is a visit to coal country. Though vilified now as environmentally unfriendly, coal was once the fuel that powered the nation.

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. (www.portal31.org)

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 generations.

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. (www.kybourbontrail.com)

"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 experience."

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 born here.

"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 www.undergroundrailroadconductor.com)

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. (www.derbymuseum.org)

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 find anywhere."

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.