The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

The craftsmanship and history behind America’s bourbon distilleries that reside along the bourbon trail

Good morning and Happy National Bourbon Day. Might as well use the occasion to clear up a few things about America’s classic spirit.

  • All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. For example, whiskey that’s made in Scotland is called scotch
  • Among other requirements, bourbon must be distilled from a mash that’s at least 51 percent corn along with malt and rye
  • Kentucky produces 95% of all bourbon

Got it?

The fact that bourbon distilleries give away free samples of their product on their distillery tours isn’t the only reason I visit these landmarks—it’s the history!

Kentucky is an often overlooked and beautiful tourist destination that offers way more than just bourbon. There are also thoroughbred horses, a ton of civil war historical landmarks, and renowned hiking and rock climbing destinations. But you’ve come here for one thing, to learn about the bourbon trail, so the bourbon trail we will cover.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail now consists of 18 whiskey distilleries. Some of them are new kids on the block and others have been around since bourbon’s inception. In fact, if you visit every distillery on the trail, you’ll probably hear more than one say it’s the oldest. This is because there are no definite records of how generic “whiskey” became bourbon. So distilleries are known to take liberties to be seen as the oldest and sell more bottles of bourbon at the end of their tours.

The bottom line is, if you’re a fan of bourbon, it doesn’t matter which distillery is the oldest. Each distillery on the bourbon trail (new or old) makes a fantastic product. Each one brings its own unique aspect to the buttery-brown spirit.

Whispering Hills RV Park at Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Very few people visit every distillery on the trail since it encompasses nine different cities/towns—some 70 miles apart. I’ve mapped out a bourbon trail itinerary that includes the distilleries we’ve visited during our several visits to the Bluegrass State. This guide will help you choose the ones you want to visit the most. There are some important logistics to note before we get into our guide.

Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base

It’s up to you where you stay during your trip but I suggest you set up camp near Louisville and Lexington. Being the two largest cities in Kentucky they provide the most options when it comes to campgrounds, food, outdoor recreation, and other non-bourbon-related offerings. Two excellent options for RV camping are Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville (20 miles south of Louisville) and Whistling Hills RV Park at Georgetown (20 miles north of Lexington). We’ve also stayed at My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground in Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Transportation

If you’re planning on trying the samples at the end of the distillery tours (and why would you not?), you’ll want to make sure you have a designated driver. Kentucky doesn’t mess around with driving drunk and the last thing you want is a DUI. Alternately, check out local tour companies with different bourbon trail tour packages.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours

When planning your trip, keep in mind that you don’t have to go on every tour that each distillery offers. In fact, to be able to get in as many distilleries as possible, I’d suggest you don’t. Each distillery tour takes about an hour. In peak season (spring/summer), they can take even longer due to the high volume of visitors and COVID protocol.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can get a good idea of any distillery’s history by strolling the grounds open to visitors and visiting the gift shop. If you decide to use a tour company for transportation, they can tell you everything you need to know about each distillery. We suggest saving the tours (and saving money) for your favorite distilleries. Now, break out your favorite whiskey glass, pour your favorite bourbon, and you’re ready to learn about Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

Note: Many of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail have limited tour schedules or have canceled tours altogether, due to the pandemic. Check each distillery’s website for tour availability and safety guidelines.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Louisville (Shepherdsville)

Jim Beam

Leaving Shepherdsville and heading southeast to Bardstown your first stop is in Clermont at the home of one of the world’s most noted whiskeys—the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Although it’s now owned by Japanese mega-conglomerate Suntory, the seven-generation family-owned company’s rich history is still evident. The Jim Beam name dates back to before Kentucky was even a state. Their German immigrant ancestors settled on the land to grow corn that would soon after be used to make their original-recipe whiskey. You would be remiss to pass up on one of its most influential brands.

Heaven Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heaven Hill

Continue your journey to historic Bardstown—the Bourbon Capital of the World and an Official Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Heaven Hill is the world’s largest family-owned spirits producer making brands such as Elijah Craig, Larceny, Henry McKenna, Fighting Cock, and Evan Williams. The Heaven Hill distillery has been family-owned and operated since 1935 making it fairly young for a distillery of its size. With some help from a notable Kentucky distilling family member, Earl Beam (Master-Distiller from 1946-1975), Heaven Hill got its operations off the ground. Heaven Hill produces more than 400,000 barrels annually and has won multiple world spirit awards. At the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center you can choose from their tour options and enjoy your samples in their barrel-shaped tasting room.

Old Talbot Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wind down in Bardstown as you peruse the shops and start planning your nightcap destination. Take a stroll through the past at the newly renovated Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. Don’t miss an opportunity to dine on classic Kentucky fare in the Old Talbott Tavern (fried green tomatoes is recommended), have a nightcap in the “world’s oldest Bourbon bar”, and even spend the night if you feel so inclined.

Barton 1792 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barton 1792

The sprawling Barton 1792 is an old-school distillery with an old-school charm. The tour is informal, the buildings unadorned. The distillery’s flagship brand pays tribute to the year Kentucky gained statehood. Rye recipe bourbon, 1792 is handcrafted in small batches, aged 8 years, and bottled at 93.7 Proof. It is very high in rye, so it’s going to give you a lot of spicy flavor upfront. Buttery on your tongue and oh so smooth as it goes down the back of your throat. It has a long finish. Our glasses seemed to empty themselves. Can you tell it’s one of my favorite bourbons?

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willett

We moved on to Willett Distillery, where Johnny Drum, Willett, Noah’s Mill, and other small-batch bourbons are made. Production here is 20 barrels a day, compared to Beam’s 5,000 or so. Entering the fermenting room, we noted seven uncovered 10,400-gallon tanks of bubbling brew—beer before liquor, literally.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maker’s Mark

From Bardstown we headed 25 miles southeast to Lebanon and Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is quite possibly one of the most recognizable whiskey brands in the world thanks to the six-generation Samuels family recipe and its distinctive wax seal on every bottle. On the tour, you’ll have the option of sealing your very own bottle in wax which is a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else. Trust me, it is great fun!

Four Roses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Lexington (Georgetown)

Four Roses

The beautiful Four Roses Lawrenceburg distillery reflects the story of the brand. The bourbon was named after founder Paul Jones Jr.’s romantic gesture of giving a four-rose corsage to his sweetheart before a ball in 1884. Now the distillery boasts gorgeous Spanish architecture and a mellow vibe.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild Turkey

After visiting the Four Roses facility, we headed to their neighbor, the ever-intriguing Wild Turkey, another distillery on the trail with a ton of heritage and family influence. Their main claim to fame is Jimmy Russell, the world’s most tenured master distiller. He’s been crafting bourbon for over 60 years. He now makes bourbon next to his son Eddie who has more than three decades of experience.

Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey joined Jimmy and Eddie Russell as Creative Director in 2016. The relationship very quickly turned into an opportunity to collaborate on both marketing campaigns and product development. This is most evident in Longbranch bourbon which carries McConaughey’s name and is refined with mesquite from the actor’s home state of Texas to form a unique flavor profile.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buffalo Trace

It’s not clear why Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792 were pulled from the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) and thereby out of the bourbon trail in 2010. It’s likely because at the time they were Kentucky’s largest bourbon producer and didn’t want to pay the dues (more about that at the end). A part of the bourbon trail or no, the Buffalo Trace distillery is considered a Mecca for bourbon lovers around the globe. The facilities are enormous and house a total of 19 brands of bourbon. If you can’t make their highly informative and still free tour simply strolling around the grounds and picking up a rare bottle of whiskey in the gift shop is worth it.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodford

If you’re looking for Kentucky majesty, you’ll be hard-pressed to find grounds more beautiful than those of the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles. Woodford can claim that it is the “oldest” distillery in Kentucky because it’s been located in the same place since 1812. Other distilleries have moved their operations over the years. Because of this, Woodford Reserve is a national historic landmark.

Woodford holds special significance for me as being the first bourbon distillery visited and one of only two distilleries we have visited on two separate occasions, the other being Maker’s Mark.

Woodlord Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Does a Distillery Get Featured on the “Official” Bourbon Trail?

It’s not entirely clear how distilleries are selected to be featured on the bourbon trail. You probably already know that there are more than 18 distilleries in Kentucky. Currently, there are close to 100. For a distillery to be considered a part of the bourbon trail, they have to be recognized as a Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) member. The KDA is a non-profit association established in 1953 to ensure that its members followed the best distilling practices.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overall, 37 members of the Kentucky Distillers Association operate one or more distilleries in Kentucky. However, when it comes to who gets picked for the trail, it is probably left to closed-door KDA dealings.

Worth Pondering…

I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, bourbon in a glass, and grass.

―Tom T. Hall

10 Amazing Places to RV in June

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in June

June is a fantastic time to travel as it’s when the northern hemisphere enters a time of celebration. The summer season officially arrives and the sun is out longer than ever––providing hours of daylight essential for exploring a new area. To visit a destination in June is (often) to see it at its most joyful. Festivals abound, people sit outside, and there are more hours in each day to enjoy.

If you’re looking for a destination worthy of your June vacation days consider places with generally good weather this month and several events booked on the calendar. These destinations come alive for your June RV travels.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in March, April, and May. Also, check out our recommendations from June 2019.

Kentucky bourbon distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky

Yeah, the bourbon and fried chicken in Kentucky are superb but so is the adventure. Kentucky has a unique geography that has turned the state into a honeycomb of caves and rock formations. It is home to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s largest known cave system. If you

prefer sunlight, there’s Red River Gorge Geological Area which has the most sandstone arches outside of Arches National Park not to mention hundreds of sport-climbing routes. In between these two superlatives, you have 49 state parks (including My Old Kentucky Home), massive lakes, and, yeah, really great bourbon and fried chicken.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Dakota

Young Theodore Roosevelt had the world to choose from. Where did he come to satiate his yen for wild open spaces? North Dakota. The state’s badlands, wooded valleys, mighty rivers (featuring Missouri and Little Missouri), and rolling hills are the perfect backdrop for “the strenuous life” that T.R. endorsed. Whether that manifests as an epic bike ride on one of America’s finest off-road trails or a session of walleye fishing in a quiet lake is, of course, up to you.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sow the Seeds of Summer

Luling will serve up a juicy slice of summer during its annual Watermelon Thump the last full weekend in June (68th annual, June 24-27, 2021). Held since 1954, the festival draws an estimated 30,000 visitors to the small town for live music, a parade, car rally, carnival, and of course, watermelons—topped off with a seed-spitting contest.

Falls on the Reedy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

Surrounded by lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Greenville area is an outdoor paradise. Summer in Greenville means the return of Saturday markets for fresh produce, baked goods, crafts, cheese, honey, and more. The friendly city’s walkable downtown features more than a hundred locally-owned restaurants, art, and history museums, Greenville Zoo, and a children’s museum. Ride the free downtown open-air trolleys for vintage-style transportation.

Another favorite Greenville destination is Falls Park on the Reedy with walking paths and a waterfall. These waterfalls are best viewed atop one-of-a-kind Liberty Bridge, a 345-foot-long structure supported by suspension cables on only one side, for the best unobscured view of these beautiful waterfalls set directly in the center of downtown Greenville. 

Wings of the City, an outdoor art installation is on display in Falls Park and the Peace Center campus until October making Greenville the first East Coast city (it’s never been further east than Houston) to host world-renowned Mexican artist Jorge Marin’s art. These monumental wings allow spectators to become part of the artwork, completing it. They rise as a universal symbol of freedom and hope; as the never-ending and, overall, human dream of flying. Enjoy the outdoors on nearby hiking trails or the 20-mile Swamp Rabbit walking and biking trail.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

An engineering marvel, the Hoover Dam tamed the mighty Colorado River to provide much-needed water supplies and hydroelectric power for the parched southwest creating Lake Mead in the process. Rising 726 feet above the canyon floor, five million barrels of cement, 45 million pounds of reinforced steel, and more than 20,000 workers were involved in the dam’s creation. Today, the iconic art-deco-influenced structure continues to provide a spectacular contrast to the stark landscape with tours starting from the visitor center.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead was formed by the impounding of the Colorado River by the Hoover Dam (see above). Lake Mead National Recreation Area is big, it’s diverse, and it’s extreme. Temperatures \can be harsh from 120 degrees in the summer to well below freezing in winter on the high plateaus.

From the mouth of the Grand Canyon, the park follows the Arizona-Nevada border along what was formerly 140 miles of the Colorado River.

Lake Mead is impressive: 1.5 million acres, 110 miles in length when the lake is full, 550 miles of shoreline, around 500 feet at its greatest depth, 255 square miles of surface water, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet of water. Although much of Lake Mead can only be experienced by boat, a variety of campgrounds, marinas, lodges, and picnic areas around the lake make it possible for non-boaters to also enjoy the recreation area. Most activities are concentrated along the 20 miles of the southwest shore close to Las Vegas. Facilities include two large marinas at Boulder Beach and Las Vegas Bay plus campgrounds, beaches, picnic areas, and the main National Recreation Area visitor center.

Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport, Rhode Island

At the southern tip of Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay and fronting the Atlantic, this famed Colonial port and playground of the Gilded Age are glorious at every turn from its treasure trove of mansions to deep harbors bristling with schooners, racing yachts, and pleasure craft to broad, sandy beaches and intimate coves.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

If the red-rock cliffs that preside over Sedona don’t make you pause, it’s time to book a trip to Mars because Earth has nothing left to offer. In the early evening, the spires reflect a reddish-purple hue that no photo could ever hope to do justice. Whether or not you subscribe to New Age beliefs it’s easy to understand why people say there’s an energy here that’s different than anywhere else on the planet.

From taking a walk to taking a Jeep tour there are many ways to explore the desert scenery around the cliffs but none gives you the chance to interact with nature on its own terms quite like riding a horse. Horseback trips typically last between one and three hours with sunrise and sunset options available. Beyond the red rocks, you can catch glimpses of the Verde Valley, the Mogollon Rim, and, if you’re lucky, some wildlife as well.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi, Texas, nicknamed the “Sparkling City by the Sea,” is known for its beautiful beaches, water sports, and sunsets framed by the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. So, it may come as no surprise that this sunny playground on the Texas Gulf Coast has two of the city’s most popular attractions directly connected to water: Texas State Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Texas, and the USS Lexington aircraft carrier.

The attractions sit side by side on North Beach, a section of Corpus Christi located on the north end of the city. They are next to Harbor Bridge (U.S. 181), a large, arched span that stretches across the Corpus Christi ship channel. Note: During a recent visit the iconic bridge was undergoing a major upgrade. Before visiting, check for traffic updates at harborbridgeproject.com. Also, because of closures related to the COVID pandemic, check the status of each facility before you go.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Located in the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a classic gateway for outdoor adventures the whole family will love. From stunning mountain views and riverfront walkways to engaging amusement parks and museums, there’s plenty to do in Gatlinburg and its surrounding areas. Some of these activities include hiking, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, and wildlife spotting (black bears, elk, and deer, just to name a few). The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community is home to over 100 craftspeople and artists along an eight-mile loop. And for a town that’s only two miles long by five miles wide, there are tons of local restaurants serving Southern-style pancakes, locally caught trout, and a variety of steaks.

Worth Pondering…

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.

—L.M. Montgomery

Memorial Day 2021: Escapes in Kentucky for Bourbon, Horses & History

Experience the flavors, sights, and traditions that define the Bluegrass State—bourbon, horses, and history

COVID fatigue and the cabin fever it has produced will surely boil over Memorial Day weekend. This year, 37 million Americans are expected to hit the road and travel 50 miles or more from home, according to AAA. That number is about 60 percent more people than traveled last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“As more destinations open and vaccines are administered we’re seeing an increase in consumers who are ready to get out and enjoy the unofficial start of the summer travel season,” says Bevi Powell, senior vice president, AAA East Central. “The pent-up demand for travel could also be a sign of things to come this summer as more people feel comfortable hitting the road.”  

If you’re looking to get out of town for a much-needed vacation, Kentucky has plenty to offer. Outdoor adventure, history, horse farms, mouthwatering eats, bourbon, culture, arts, and the sweet sounds of bluegrass music (all with some Southern hospitality!) make the Bluegrass State the perfect place for a Memorial Day weekend road trip.

From the world’s longest known cave system and thundering waterfalls to impressive sandstone arches and the “Grand Canyon of the South,” there’s a lot to discover across Kentucky.

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The tourism and hospitality industry plays a critical role in helping generate revenue for Kentucky’s economy,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. “As our nation continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of safe vacations and travel has become critically important.  Kentucky is fortunate to have an immense landscape of outdoor recreation and beauty which has positioned our tourism industry at advantage to recover from these unprecedented times.”

With that in mind, here are a few places to visit in Kentucky as you plan your Memorial Day getaway starting with a short and picturesque drive to Lexington. 

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Horse Farms in Lexington

There are many reasons to make Lexington your warm-weather Memorial Day weekend getaway destination. The second-largest city in Kentucky, Lexington is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.” For starters, the folks at visitLEX.com have created country/bluegrass, hip-hop/R&B, and rock playlists for you to listen to as you explore the city and beyond.

If you’ve never toured a horse farm, now is the weekend to do it and Lexington is the place. Explore Horse Country by touring the homes of champions, seeing new foals frolic in their pastures, and learning about the care of Kentucky’s signature athletes. There are more than 400 horse farms in the area with over 25 offer tours (by reservation). 

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or take the self-guided tour of Keeneland Racecourse’s historic grounds. A historic racecourse Keenland is the world’s largest and most prominent Thoroughbred auction house. Morning Work tours and Backstretch tours are also available by reservation. Because of concerns surrounding COVID, Keeneland continues to limit the number of guests in each tour.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trot over to the Kentucky Horse Park for an enjoyable, educational experience for horse fans of all ages and disciplines. Take in a show, wander the grounds to visit horses in the barns, and be sure to stop in at the International Museum of the Horse which catalogs the history of the Thoroughbred industry.

Just north of the crossroads of I-75 and I-64, the city of Georgetown is home to one of the most picturesque Victorian downtown areas in the state, retired racehorses, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, a Japanese friendship garden, and Ward Hall—one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the South.

Old Friends © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a little more than a decade Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement Facility in Georgetown has put a new face on the concept of equine aftercare.  Founded in 2003 by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen, the organization has grown from a leased paddock and one horse to a 236-acre farm with a herd of over 200 rescued and retired horses. A variety of tours are available; due to public health COVID guidelines reservations are required.

Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon Capital of the World

Bardstown, known as the Bourbon Capital of the World is one of the most beautiful small towns in the U.S. Bardstown offers small-town charm paired with delicious bourbon. Serving as an Official Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail the town is the perfect spot for a bourbon excursion. Consider starting at the Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distillery to learn about the story of bourbon in the area then continue the journey at Barton’s 1792 Distillery, the oldest fully operating distillery in town, as well as Willett Distillery.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Bardstown you’ll head 25 miles southeast to Lebanon and Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is quite possibly one of the most recognizable whiskey brands in the world thanks to the six-generation Samuels family recipe and its distinctive wax seal on every bottle. On the tour, you’ll have the option of sealing your very own bottle in wax which is a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back in time at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, a 19th-century estate with costumed tour guides that was the inspiration for Stephen Collins Foster’s song which later became the state anthem. The three-story portion of Federal Hill was commissioned by the Rowan family in 1812 and completed in 1818. Visitors can tour the home and learn about the Rowan family history. The state park also offers 39 RV camping sites.

State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Capitol + history + Bourbon + Bourbon Balls in Frankfort

Perfectly positioned on the shores of the Kentucky River between Louisville and Lexington, Frankfort is the capital city of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The State Capitol building rises above the city and overlooks the river as the waterway ambles to the north making a unique S shape through the historic downtown. The Capitol is on the National Register of Historic Places and is noted as one of the most impressive Capitols in the nation. Then, explore the grounds and find the Floral Clock located on the West Lawn of the Capitol Grounds. The face of the clock is 34 feet across and planted with thousands of plants that are changed out seasonally.

Rebecca Ruth © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more Kentucky history, go downtown and visit the Old State Capitol building and the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, a museum and educational complex operated by the Kentucky Historical Society. While downtown, take a tour at Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours & Museum honoring Ruth Hanly Booe, the “Mother of Bourbon Balls” then venture over to Buffalo Trace Distillery, the oldest continuously operating distillery in America that offers free tours.

Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for More Kentucky Getaways?

Looking for more getaway ideas for Memorial Day and beyond?  Right this way!

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

Road Tripping in Bourbon Country

Everything you need to know about the ultimate U.S. liquor and where to learn more

America’s Native Spirit can be made anywhere in the U.S. and still be called bourbon but some 90 percent is Kentuckian. In the Bluegrass State, there are, as every tour guide says, more bourbon barrels aging (nearly 5 million) than residents (4.5 million).

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2012, the Kentucky Distillers Association launched the Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. It’s essentially a map of seven micro-distilleries to complement a similarly self-guided tour of seven larger ones. Each has its own passport. Fill with stamps for a free T-shirt. That achievement briefly intrigued. Assessing geography and open hours, however, led us to five, plus one not on the sanctioned trail.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Per federal law, bourbon is whiskey consisting of at least 51 percent corn produced at each stage within a range of proofs (too high or low and you’re back to whiskey) aged in new (one-time use only) white oak barrels. Throughout the trail, you’ll hear about Kentucky’s mineral-rich limestone water but there’s no bourbon without a barrel.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A barrel is really an ingredient. Without it, you’d be drinking White Dog, the clear grain distillate (aka moonshine) that enters a barrel. What exits is brown (darkest when aged longest) and hopefully multidimensional. Whiskey is pretty simple. It’s a function of recipe, barrel, warehouse, and time.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve bourbons are made in limited quantity at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, along with other lauded labels—Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor, George T. Stagg. They’re not pouring or selling anything Van Winkle there, but following a walk through the park-like property’s architectural timeline of two centuries of distilling, you can sip up to three ½-oz tastes of other products including the distillery’s namesake.

Tasting laws are strict. Fortunately, these counties are now wet; Woodbridge was dry on our first visit over a decade ago. They’re also flowing with another type of spirit.

Jim Beam American Stillhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prior to our first trip to Bourbon Country I had heard of Jim Beam, and little else. Fittingly, Jim Beam’s Fred Noe, the company’s seventh-generation Master Distiller is the great-grandson of Jim who protected their yeast (think sourdough bread starter) by driving it back and forth to work in a jug. They’ve used that same strain since 1935. You can see the jug on the tour at the company’s American Stillhouse in Clermont, under padlock.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve also been to Maker’s Mark (actually, twice), the first distillery to reach out to visitors. At the time, people said ‘what the heck are you doing’ when they put a lot of money out just for show. That’s what people did for horses, not bourbon. But every year they sold everything they made and the rest of the industry took notice.

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We moved on to Willett Distillery, where Johnny Drum, Willett, Noah’s Mill, and other small-batch bourbons are made. Production here is 20 barrels a day, compared to Beam’s 5,000 or so. Entering the fermenting room, we noted seven uncovered 10,400-gallon tanks of bubbling brew—beer before liquor, literally.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Wild Turkey, we meet Jimmy, legendary Master Distiller, more than 60 years in. Similar to our other tours, we enter a massive, unfriendly-looking warehouse (think prison or horror film), holding some 20,000 barrels. These “rack houses” can have a 50-degree temperature variance between top and bottom floors. That’s part of the mystique of bourbon: Most warehouses are heated and cooled by nature’s whims, resulting in barrels of differing nature. The challenge is to blend and create a consistent taste.

Barrels at Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reaching for a visible wet spot on a barrel our guide says, “Leaks prove bourbon is getting into the most porous parts of the wood. That’s how you get the syrupy goodness.” As the weather changes and the wood expands and contracts, the bourbon flows in and out. Mostly it stays in. The greatest amount of loss is attributed to evaporation and referred to as Angel’s Share.

Bourbon needs to be in the barrel for two years to be bourbon, but most are aged for six or more. At a loss rate of about 5 percent a year. No wonder ghosts linger about. You get your share too when you enter. It’s delicious.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Woodford Reserve, where you’re most reminded you’re in thoroughbred territory—gigantic, fenced, hilly, and grassy farms surround the picturesque national landmark—the warehouses are temperature-controlled, a somewhat controversial modernization. Buffalo Trace has some of these, too.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some 20 years ago, Brown-Forman renovated the vacant buildings and started mixing up what’s now the world’s only triple-distilled bourbon. Everyone else does two. Woodford emphasizes the harmony of five areas of flavor: sweet aromatics, fruit and floral, spice, wood, and grain.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best Kentucky bourbon country trip includes both large and small distilleries. Visit four and you’ll return home with an understanding of the product, the process, and the history. And you’ll have taste, but not a full glass. There are no bars on any property.

Boundary Oak Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s essential to remember that open hours are limited—and that Covid-19 is impacting travel and tourism—3 p.m. is the last tour most everywhere. Sundays don’t start until 1 p.m. Some distilleries are neighbors; many are a good hour apart. Choose your favorite label, and work around it.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our trail was more or less a 200-mile oval between Shepherdsville (20 miles south of Louisville) and Lexington. We used two RV parks for our home base: Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville and Whispering Hills RV Park north of Georgetown (20 miles north of Lexington).

Worth Pondering…

Let dreamers whine

Of the pleasures of wine

For lovers of soft delight

But this is the song

Of a tipple that’s strong

For men who must toil and fight.

Now the drink of luck

For the man full of pluck

Is easy to nominate

It’s the good old whiskey of old Kentuck

And you always drink it straight… 

The Ballad of Whiskey Straight, a 19th-century Kentucky poem

Best Places for RV Travel this September

As the last rays of the summer sun shine through the still green leaves, we’re looking forward to the first glimpses of fall this September

If you’re already dreaming of fiery-hued foliage then start planning your fall getaway now. Cozy camping sites, corn mazes and pumpkins, fall festivals, and scenic drives await your next fall getaway. Experience farms transformed into playgrounds with apple picking, harvest festivals, corn mazes, and hay rides through pumpkin patches.

Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

September, October, November, and December are where the names that derive from gods as people end and numeric-naming conventions begin. Thanks to the Roman rearranging the numeric names don’t correspond when the actual month appears on the calendar. Septem is Latin (septum) for seven, and it follows that Octo is eight, Novem is the ninth, and Decem the tenth month.

But in 46 B.C., the beginning of the Julian calendar bumped each of those months backward to create the calendar we all know and use today. Good thing the Roman Empire fell so they could stop moving months around.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sunshine might be fading as the kids go back to school—but in the southern states summer just keeps shining on. In fact, September is probably the finest time to hit North Carolina, Kentucky, and Utah as temperatures stay warm but crowds filter out. The lazy, hazy days of summer are over—but September is the new January, they say, which means the time is ripe for new beginnings and new RV adventures.

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In places all over the country, September mean better weather and smaller crowds. Here are the best of ‘em, for your consideration.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in JuneJuly, and August. Also check out our recommendations from September 2019.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina

North Carolina is well stacked in the adventure department. On one side of the state, you have the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi. On the other side, wild and rugged barrier islands with some of the best surfing on the eastern seaboard. In the middle are granite domes, meandering rivers, and 159,000 acres of state parks. Not to mention Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a piece of the Appalachian Trail, and a huge chunk of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah

Utah’s ‘Mighty Five’ national parks live up to the moniker but there’s such a thing as too much demand. To really feel the magic of these landscapes you need to escape the mob. September, after Labor Day weekend, is the sweet spot: the summer crush is gone and temperatures moderate so you can comfortably hike those incredible trails. This is American scenery at its largest: nothing but great rock cathedrals, blush-pink cliffs, and rust-red canyons for miles.

Bourbon Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky

Bardstown is the Bourbon Capital of the World and the home of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, which draws people to this quaint little town for a week of celebrating the storied history and art of distilling America’s native spirit. The Kentucky Bourbon Festival began in 1992 as a Bourbon tasting and dinner, and has grown tremendously over the past 28 years. The twenty-ninth annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival will be held October 15-18 with a virtual twist.

Loon Center, Moultonborough, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come Watch the Loons

It’s hard to exaggerate the fascination inspired by loons and their mournful cries in the early morning and at dusk. To learn about these beautiful birds and to spend time in their habitat, visit the Loon Center at 183 Lees Mill Road in Moultonborough, which offers displays, video, The Loon’s Feather Gift Shop, and plenty of delightful walks along nature trails in a 200-acre sanctuary on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills

The 4,000 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes found at this Texas state park resemble a landscape straight out of the Sahara. The Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more. The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and camping—and many visitors’ favorite activity, sand surfing.

Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall Foliage of Stowe, Vermont

The state of Vermont is an ideal spot for admiring the fall foliage. Forests cover three quarters of the state so there is no shortage of places to discover the brilliant shades of gold, red, and orange of the sugar maples. But if you have to choose one destination, then make it Stowe. The image of the whitewashed Stowe Community Church set against a forested backdrop is emblematic of the town.

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors. The stories of the people weave a captivating tale of wealth, poverty, privilege, and sacrifice.

Worth Pondering…

We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.

—Henry Rollins

Ambling Down Country Roads in Bluegrass Country

Finding the unexpected in Bluegrass Country

From our home base at Whispering Hills RV Park, we spent an enjoyable week exploring historic Georgetown and the local area. A generally pleasant campground in a pastoral setting, Whispering Hills RV Park is located approximately 2.5 miles off I-75 at Exit 129 and 7 miles north of Georgetown on U.S. Highway 25.

Whispering Hills RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using our tow-along, we drove several of the scenic back roads including the Buffalo Gals Homemakers Barn Quilt Trail near the small community of Stamping Ground, named for the buffalo herds that waited impatiently to drink from its spring.

Buffalo Gals Barn Quilt Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On another day, we drove the scenic back roads past immaculate horse farms with manicured fields of bluegrass and miles of white and black plank fencing that are characteristic of central Kentucky. Another distinctive fence is the fieldstone or dry laid stone fencing. Although it’s almost inconceivable, no mortar of any kind was ever used. On this road trip, we ended our scenic drive at Keeneland Race Course, one of the most genteel, beautiful racetracks in the world.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. The first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad, Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and beautiful local architecture. The railroad running through the middle of the main street with a one-way street on either side of the tracks, creates much of the special charm and appeal of this friendly and quaint town.

Bluegrass Country Thoroughbred Horse Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Historic Midway, we continued onto Versailles, Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum, Wild Turkey Distillery, and Lawrenceburg.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Wild Turkey Distillery began and ended in the new visitor center with a gift shop and tasting room. Inspired by the silhouette of Kentucky tobacco barns, the two-year-old visitor center has an unbeatable view of the Kentucky River and its bridge and unique railroad trestle (the turnaround point for the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad). The tasting room houses the original copper still from the old Wild Turkey distillery. A delightful tour, led by a well-informed and articulate tour guide.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another day and another road trip to Woodford Reserve Distillery. Set amid horse farms, Woodford Reserve was a scenic drive via Historic Midway. This small, picturesque distillery is nestled along Glenn’s Creek at the site where Elijah Pepper, one of the famous early Bluegrass distillers, set up his distillery in 1812. Re-opened in 1996, Woodford Reserve gives visitors a sense of what bourbon making was like in the 1800s. With its small-scale production, old-fashioned copper pot stills, and hand-bottling, Woodford Reserve bourbon is made much as Pepper’s bourbon was in the 1800s.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On our final day we toured Frankfort visiting Rebecca Ruth Chocolates, Kentucky State Capitol and Floral Clock, Old State Capitol, Kentucky Historical Museum, and Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Kentucky, buffalo carved a pathway that was followed by America’s early pioneers. On the spot where the buffalo migration route crossed the Kentucky River, bourbon whiskey has been distilled for over 200 years. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. The distillery sprawls over 130 acres and is home to four centuries of architecture—all still fully operational.

Kentucky Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trace Tour began at the gift shop and included a warehouse and small bottling house where the distillery’s “single-barrel” bourbons are bottled and sealed by hand.

Downtown Frankfort with Old State Capitol

The Trace Tour offers a glimpse into the history of the Distillery and the different stages of the bourbon-making process and begins with a video of the history of Buffalo Trace Distillery. We walked the path of rolling bourbon barrels and were captivated by the alluring smell and atmosphere of bourbon aging inside the warehouses.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We found Georgetown to be the perfect location to discover genuine Kentucky treasures. We  enjoyed our week but have left numerous attractions for another visit—Kentucky Horse Park, Old Friends, Danville and Shaker Museum, Ark Encounter, and Toyota Auto Plant Tour.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

Barn Quilt Trail: Folksy Phenomenon

Barn quilts are America, Mom, and apple pie

Today’s barn decorating revival became popular with a woman named Donna Sue Groves, from Adams County, Ohio. She wanted to honor her mother by hanging a colorful painted quilt square on her barn. 

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the start, the mother of the quilt-barn movement envisioned mile after mile of quilt trails throughout Appalachia, but the folksy phenomenon has exceeded her expectations.

“We’re celebrating quilting as an art form. We’re celebrating our agricultural heritage and supporting entrepreneurial opportunities,” Groves says.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of barn decoration dates back to the mid 1800s. Painting symbols on barns originated from traditional folk art passed along from the German and Swiss immigrants who settled the Pennsylvania Dutch region in southeastern Pennsylvania. Once these groups including Lutherans, Moravians, and Mennonites built their family farms and communities, they would paint small patterns on their barns to celebrate their heritage. Originally these patterns were simple stars, compass roses, or stylized birds from traditional folk art.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2000, when Donna Sue Groves set out to fulfill her promise to paint a quilt square on her mother’s tobacco barn, she decided to expand her folk art idea beyond their farm. As an Ohio Arts Council employee, she had a hunch that quilt squares painted on the sides of barns throughout Adams County would provide work for local artists and encourage visitors to travel through the countryside.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Groves organized volunteers for the Adams County Quilt Barn Sampler committee as they established guidelines for the 8-foot-by-8-foot painted wooden squares called “barn quilts.” Her mother Maxine stitched a sampler quilt with 20 traditional patterns chosen by the group and in October 2001, they unveiled their first painted quilt square—an Ohio Star—on a barn during the Lewis Mountain Olde Thyme Herb Fair in Manchester, Ohio.

Barn Quilt Trail, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the beginning tourists roamed the back roads of the county in search of the colorful quilt patterns, taking photographs, and visiting with barn owners.

As the folk art spread across the countryside, Donna Sue’s gift to her mother became a gift to rural America.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This was the start of the first quilt trail in America. Quilt trails have now being organized all across the country. Barn quilts are displayed around communities and then mapped out for tourists to follow these amazing works of art. They promote tourism and help draw visitors into rural communities.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traditional stars and various quilt patterns are now being displayed on barns, homes, sheds, and sides of buildings. They are also put on posts and displayed in yards and parks. 

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, more than 4,000 quilt squares adorn barns and other buildings in 34 states, most situated along more than 120 designated barn-quilt trails.

“The trails are very localized. What’s going on is local pride,” says Suzi Parron, author of Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement, published in 2012.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parron, an English teacher from Stone Mountain, Georgia, became smitten with the folk art phenomenon after seeing a Flying Geese quilt square on a barn in Cadiz, Kentucky.

The quilt squares are painted by farm families, professional artists, high school art students, quilt guilds, 4-H groups, and other organizations.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each community organizes its own trail. Many groups seek art and tourism grants and donations to pay for paint, wood, and brochures. Local utility companies, fire departments, and building contractors often provide manpower and trucks with lifts to hang the wooden blocks. Sometimes, barn owners pay a few hundred dollars for their own barn quilts.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Morgan County, Colorado, quilting enthusiast Nancy Lauck has painted nearly 200 barn quilts since 2007 because she treasures the barns built by pioneering farmers.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another barn preservationist, Marcella Epperson in Johnson City, Tennessee, enjoys meeting visitors and sharing stories about her wooden-pegged barn built in 1898 by her grandfather. A combination of two quilt patterns—a LeMoyne Star set inside Swallows in the Window—decorates the barn.

Barn quilts showed up in unsuspecting places such as this building in the Artisan Village at Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barn quilts remind people of their agricultural roots, as Donna Sue Groves intended, and bring attention to the endangered status of century-old barns.

Worth Pondering…

A day patched with quilting seldom unravels.

Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, for the old Kentucky Home far away.”

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours.

Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendent sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from Great Britain. The front of the home has 13 windows, and there are 13 steps to each floor of the house.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Completed in 1796, the rear wing of the house contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a smokehouse. The first floor has a dining room, parlor, and library. The second floor has bedrooms, and the third floor contained the nursery. The house is built of brick and has six large rooms that are 22 feet square. Ceilings are 13½-feet high. The floors are made of yellow poplar and the walls are 13 inches thick.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madge Rowan Frost sold Federal Hill with the express wish and condition that the Commonwealth of Kentucky preserves the estate as a state shrine or historic site. Frost also gave the state the Rowan family heirlooms in perpetuity to help furnish authentically the home. The furnishings are some of the best examples of American furniture in the nation.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Rowan (1773-1843), who built Federal Hill, was born in York, Pennsylvania, and in 1790 moved to Bardstown. He studied law in Lexington under the tutelage of George Nicholas, Kentucky’s first attorney general. He soon became one of Kentucky’s foremost defense lawyers. Rowan is also remembered for killing Dr. James Chambers in an 1801 duel fought over a disagreement as to who was the expert in classical languages.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rowan served as secretary of state in 1804, and was elected to Congress (1807-1809). He served in the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and as United States Senator (1825-1831). He married Anne Lytle in 1794.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rowan home hosted many famous individuals. Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, and other important political and social figures enjoyed the hospitality of the Rowan mansion.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) of Pennsylvania, a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Written in 1853, the words and music have touched the hearts of generations of Kentuckians. The song did not become associated with Federal Hill until the Civil War. Soldiers who saw the house and knew the song began to refer to Federal Hill as “My Old Kentucky Home.” Soon other people began referring to the mansion as the house that inspired one of Foster’s most beloved melodies.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Federal Hill’s popularity as a state park grew quickly. In 1957 the citizens of Bardstown and Nelson County formed the non-profit Stephen Foster Drama Association to produce an outdoor musical based on the life of the composer and as a tribute to “My Old Kentucky Home.”

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Author Paul Green wrote the play and on June 26, 1959 the Stephen Foster Story opened in a newly constructed outdoor amphitheatre. The first season of the production was an unqualified success with over 70,000 people attending.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s longest-running outdoor drama features colorful period costumes, lively choreography, and more than 50 Foster songs, including his most famous ballad, My Old Kentucky Home.

The park has a visitor center and gift shop where you can purchase home tour tickets. Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for seniors.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground offers 39 sites with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and rest rooms, and a dump station. Closed for season from November 13 to March 15.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more to-day!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

Historic Frankfort: Kentucky Distilled

Frankfort embodies the essence of everything that makes Kentucky special from natural charm and beauty to world-renowned bourbon. You could say that Frankfort is Kentucky Distilled. Frankfort is capitol halls and bourbon balls, rolling hills and rushing rivers, southern hospitality and historic buildings. Frankfort is beauty, big ideas, and bourbon.

Kentucky’s capital city, Frankfort, is nestled between Louisville and Lexington along the banks of the Kentucky River. Built among picturesque hills on both sides of the river, Frankfort is in the midst of the famous Kentucky blue grass region. An historic city, Frankfort is a quintessential river community with small town charm, rich history, and typical Southern hospitality.

Frankfort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll through the city to admire its fabulous architecture, especially the new and old capitol buildings, as well as the new and old governor mansions, which are open to the public.

Center For Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get a sense of local history at the Kentucky Historical Society’s Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. The museum presents the history of Kentucky in an interesting way that appeals to people of all ages.

Center for Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The museum encompasses all aspects of the Commonwealth’s history from the time of Kentucky’s Early People, the Native Americans who hunted and farmed the land. Exhibits show what it was like to live on the Kentucky Frontier in the late seventeen hundreds and how the Great Depression and World War II influenced the state’s development and its people.

Kentucky State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The city’s most prominent building is the State Capitol, about 400 feet long and 185 feet wide, built of granite and white limestone in the Italian Renaissance style, with 70 large Ionic columns, and a dome 205 feet above the terrace line, supported by 24 other columns. The Capitol was built in 1905-1907.

Kentucky State Capitol Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s Capitol is the fourth permanent building since statehood in 1792. It was built to replace the earlier 1830 capitol, still standing and available for tours in the historic downtown area.

Old State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drinking it isn’t the only way to enjoy Kentucky bourbon. That’s why your tour of the Bluegrass should also include a trip to a candy shop. A Kentucky schoolteacher-turned-entrepreneur named Ruth Hanly Booe is credited with inventing bourbon candy. In 1919, she and another teacher, Rebecca Gooch, set up a candy business in the Prohibition-closed barroom of the Old Frankfort Hotel in Frankfort. The saloon-turned-candy shop was a big success. Ruth became sole owner in 1929.

Rebecca Ruth Candies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The idea of making bourbon candy supposedly grew out of a chance remark during Frankfort’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1936, when a friend of Ruth’s pointed out that her mint candy and bourbon were the two best tastes in the world. Candy made using her secret recipe is still sold by Ruth Booe’s descendants at Rebecca Ruth Candies. You can tour the factory in historic downtown Frankfort at 116 East Second Street, a short distance from the state capitol.

Rebecca Ruth Candies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our informative tour included the story of Ruth Hanley Hooe, a museum of olden candy making equipment, a view of the candy production line, chocolate sniffs, and a bourbon ball sample. We took a bunch back with us to the motorhome for additional research.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Kentucky, buffalo carved a pathway that was followed by America’s early pioneers. On the spot where the buffalo migration route crossed the Kentucky River, bourbon whiskey has been distilled for over 200 years. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. During Prohibition the distillery was permitted to remain operational making whiskey for “medicinal purposes”.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The distillery sprawls over 130 acres and is home to four centuries of architecture—all still fully operational.The Trace Tour began at the gift shop and included a warehouse and small bottling house where the distillery’s “single-barrel” bourbons—Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farms, Hancock’s Reserve, and Elmer T. Lee—are bottled and sealed by hand.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We walked the path of rolling bourbon barrels and were captivated by the alluring smell and atmosphere of bourbon aging inside the warehouses. Then we toured inside the Blanton’s Bottling Hall and saw signature bourbons being filled, sealed, labeled, and packaged—all by hand. 

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All tours are complimentary and include a tasting of Buffalo Trace Small Batch Bourbon, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon, and Bourbon Cream Liquor.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I take with me Kentucky

embedded in my brain and heart,

in my flesh and bone and blood

Since I am Kentucky

and Kentucky is part of me.

—Jesse Stuart

Keeneland: A Special Place

Located in the Horse Capital of the World, Keeneland is an internationally renowned racecourse and the Thoroughbred industry’s leading auction house

Kentucky is the undisputed mecca of the Thoroughbred industry in the U.S., both for breeding and racing.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year since 1875 this truth has been reaffirmed on the first Saturday in May, when sport’s brightest spotlight turns toward Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Its reputation as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports” is well-deserved. The same goes for the race’s record attendance numbers which eclipse both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But those who follow the sport beyond the Julep-fueled weekend know that much of the prestigious race’s success is owed to another place a mere 80 miles east.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the heart of Kentucky’s famed Bluegrass region, Keeneland plays an important role in both Thoroughbred racing and breeding. A fundamentally different kind of race track, Keeneland was purposefully conceived to serve as a lasting monument to the sport’s heritage and tradition.

From its inception in 1936, Keeneland’s founders, led by respected horsemen Hal Price Headley and Major Louis Beard, intended it to be a special place—one that symbolizes the best in Thoroughbred racing.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the story goes, after the closing of the Kentucky Association Track in 1933 during the thick of the Great Depression, Lexington was suddenly trackless for the first time in a century. While much of the country wandered adrift in search of food, shelter, and work, a committee of 10 local industry veterans hatched a plan to create America’s first not-for-profit track, one that would serve the community and reinvest proceeds into improving the grounds and fattening race purses.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The decision to act during such a period of economic chaos proved fruitful for the group. Jack Keene, a colorful character and world-renowned Thoroughbred breeder and trainer who had kicked off his goal to build a private racing and training facility during the high of the roaring 20s before things went sour, was willing to part with his dream for a bargain. He had already constructed a foundation with potential in the form of a mile-and-a-furlong track and a stone castle and barn built from limestone mined in Kentucky, but work was still required to get the track up and running in 1936.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeneland’s role as a beacon for the sport soon expanded in 1939, thanks to the donation of over 2,300 volumes on the sport of horse racing by Lexington businessman William Arnold Hangar, who sowed the seed for the Keeneland library, which today contains nearly 200,000 books and approximately 250,000 photographs and stands as one of the world’s largest research and reference repositories on Thoroughbreds.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though the track has received its fair share of updates and improvements over the decades, little has changed aesthetically. Keeneland was officially designated a national historic landmark in 1986, and if you’ve ever seen the 2003 movie, Seabiscuit, you’ve seen the pristine setting firsthand, as most of the racing scenes were filmed there.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2009 the Horseplayers Association of North America introduced a rating system of all of the country’s 65 Thoroughbred tracks, and ranked Keeneland at the very top.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Keeneland continues to be guided by that original mission, taking a leadership role in the industry and preserve racing’s storied history.

Each April and October (October 4-26, in 2019), the nation’s best Thoroughbred owners, trainers, and jockeys converge at Keeneland to compete for some of North America’s richest purse money. 

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the world’s leading Thoroughbred auction house, Keeneland has sold more champions and stakes winners than any other sales company, including 95 horses that won 103 races during the Breeders’ Cup World Championship winners and 21 Kentucky Derby winners.

Keeneland’s beautiful, park-like grounds are open to the public every day. Fans also are welcome to visit the famed Keeneland Library.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans and horsemen alike are welcome to enjoy its spectacular racing, attend one of its annual horse sales, or simply visit the grounds and celebrate Keeneland’s timeless beauty.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For guests interested in learning about the history of Keeneland and wanting an insider view of operations, guided walking tours are available. This outside walking tour takes guests through the Keeneland Paddock and Grandstand, grounds, and when available, to the Sales Pavilion. 

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tour lasts for one hour and largely takes place outside—rain or shine. During the race meets in April and October, tours are available Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Worth Pondering…

To be born in Kentucky is a heritage; to brag about it is a habit; to appreciate it is a virtue.

―Irvin Cobb