Take a JOY RIDE to Three Iconic Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries

Starting surrounded by horse farms in Woodford County and culminating at Lexington’s Distillery District, it’s easy to see why the Federal Highway Administration named Old Frankfort Pike a National Scenic Byway

Remember when the term Joy Ride had a negative connotation? When it was thought that taking a Joy Ride meant you were frivolously enjoying yourself rather than getting to the task?

Kentucky Tourism is all about forgetting the task at hand and enjoying yourself with their new Joy Ride campaign. On outings across the 16-county Bluegrass Region, weekend road warriors are encouraged to become less warrior-like and slow down to enjoy all the region has to offer: Horses, bourbon, historic homes, nature preserves, wineries, and world-class views down every winding byway.

“The Joy Ride campaign encourages people to travel like they did in the ’50s and ’60s,” says VisitLEX president Mary Quinn Ramer. “When they took time to stop at scenic sites along the way and enjoy the experience of getting to their destination.”

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get to Kentucky distilleries: Three Joy Rides from Lexington

November and even parts of December have plenty of brisk, sunny days left to experience the beauty of the Bluegrass adorned in its wardrobe of gold, orange, and scarlet. And what better way to enjoy a road trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with brisk, sunny days and fall colors than the commonwealth’s signature spirit?

So, when you ask for directions don’t ask for the fastest way to get to the distillery. Instead, enjoy the journey just as much as you’re going to enjoy the bourbon at the end of the road trip. Here are three Joy Rides to take from Lexington around Central Kentucky, each with a bourbon-themed destination in mind. These road trips will navigate you on the back roads to three iconic Kentucky bourbon distilleries.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington to Woodford Reserve Distillery, Woodbridge County

Sure, we all know that Woodford County offers some of the best scenery in the state but when was the last time you took time to stop and take a long look? Crossing the county line the Kentucky Castle looms on a hill beckoning you to a 21st century Camelot. You may not be planning to overnight at this luxury hotel but you can detour for a peek at the lovely gardens at the back of the Castle. From the Castle, eschew US 60 in favor of Old Frankfort Pike which in 2021 was designated a National Scenic Byway. It’s easy to see why.

The scenery on both sides of the road is eye-popping—a lush tapestry of Thoroughbred horse farms framed by the region’s iconic rock fences (a horse farm tour always makes for a good stop.)

A brief detour—and on a Joy Ride you are free to take as many detours as you want—will get you to the Instagram-worthy Weisenberger Mill with its cascading waterfall. A stop at the red brick Romanesque Mt. Vernon Baptist Church will introduce you to an architectural style not usually found in the Bluegrass and a plaque in the churchyard will tell you that it dates back to 1822 and is still welcoming congregations.

You may have come to the intersection of the Pike and US 62 and wondered what the story was behind the white Colonial-style Offutt-Cole Tavern. Well, the story is a good one as it dates back nearly 250 years and at various times has been a tavern, a stagecoach stop, and the home of Zerelda Cole, mother of outlaws Frank and Jesse James.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here you can either stop in Midway for a leisurely lunch or perhaps take an even more winding road to Nonesuch for lunch at The Glitz at Irish Acres Antiques but be sure you have a reservation. History buffs will want to stop at Huntertown Community Interpretive Park, the former site of an African-American freetown settled after the Civil War. No structures remain but the setting honors Huntertown’s history.

By now, you’re ready for a tour and tasting at Woodford Reserve Distillery on picturesque Glenn’s Creek (if you booked in advance, that is.) Should you want to extend your stay, book a room at the Woodford Hotel, a new property in downtown Versailles. The hotel’s eight suites are named for some aspect of the bourbon industry—from the Wild Turkey Suite to the EH Taylor Suite.

Four Roses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington to Four Roses Distillery, Lawrencburg

Lawrenceburg offers Joy Riders multiple opportunities to appreciate all the Burg offers. If you’re into historical preservation there’s no better example of it than the Ripy Mansion completed in 1888 by bourbon baron T.B. Ripy. The 11,000-square foot, 24-room mansion, a mix of Queen Anne/Victorian/Romanesque Revival styles is available for tours (with a reservation) and as a bonus you can wander through the gardens lush at peak season with roses, tiger lilies, hydrangeas, phlox, irises, and viburnum.

If one of you is into historic preservation and the other is an adrenaline junkie you can both be happy on a Joy Ride to Lawrenceburg. Nothing gets the juices flowing like a plunge from the 240-foot Young’s High Bridge spanning the Kentucky River in the shadows of Wild Turkey Distillery. You will have to do a little planning as bungee jumping through Vertigo Bungee is only offered one weekend a month (May through October.)

Four Roses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, tours and tastings are offered year-round at Four Roses Distillery whose unique Spanish-style architecture is more reminiscent of southern California than Central Kentucky. You will love the romantic story about how the distillery got its name almost as much as you will love the silky taste of its single-barrel bourbon. Settle in for a bourbon flight and if you don’t feel like driving back afterward you can overnight in a bourbon barrel. Well, at least the only accommodations in the U.S. are shaped like bourbon barrels. Bourbon Barrel Retreats is a collection of seven barrel-shaped cottages 16 feet in diameter that can sleep two people (plus a furry companion should you wish to bring one.)

Each cottage has a kitchenette equipped with a refrigerator, coffee pot, and hot plate for cooking, a full bath, and a small sitting area (three cottages also have an outdoor hot tub). The most impressive feature, however, is the large circular window mimicking a barrel top that is the focal point of the bedroom. The Bourbon Barrel Retreats’ common area allows guests to sit around the fire pit and swap bourbon stories.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington to Buffalo Trace, Frankfort

By now, you’re aware that a tour of Buffalo Trace distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail requires some planning (well in advance.) But once you’ve got that treasured ticket don’t be in a hurry to get there. Before your assigned time check out Franklin County’s non-bourbon offerings.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

US 60 with its stunning horse country scenery is the perfect location for a joy ride. Once you cross the county line stop at Rebecca Ruth Candy for a bourbon ball (just to whet your appetite for what’s to come.) If you want to enjoy a spirit other than bourbon detour to Prodigy Vineyards and Winery and belly up to the onyx bar for a sampling of this family-owned winery’s vintages from semi-sweet to dry reds. If your sweet tooth extends beyond wine, B’s Bakery in downtown Frankfort is a must. “B” aka Beth Carter who once catered for Taylor Swift and Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman has a selection of scones, cookies, and cupcakes that will leave your mouth watering for days.

If you need a refresher course in Commonwealth history, check out the burial site of Daniel Boone. The jury is still out as to whether Dan’l is buried here but the grave is impressive and the view from the overlook even more impressive. Or you could take a tour of Liberty Hall, an oft-overlooked slice of history that encompasses not only that of Frankfort but of Kentucky and Colonial-era America.

To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, “it’s about the journey as much as the destination.” Take a Joy Ride and find out for yourself.

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

Fascinating Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next Road Trip

From coast to coast and north to south, RVers can get a taste of what it’s like to live somewhere completely different or perhaps even startlingly similar to what they’re used to

Big cities are great to visit if you’re looking for lots of stuff to see and do in a short period of time. No shame in the big city game. But maybe you have time available, you’re retired, between jobs, or you’re self-employed—and you’re able to set a few weeks or more aside for an all-American road trip (there’s truly nothing in the world like it—especially in an RV). First, congratulations! You’re about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. But now, where to go? We’ve explored America by RV and found these 10 cool small-town gems you’re sure to enjoy.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro, South Carolina

For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) which is accessible from downtown. Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century. Treasure-hunters love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops, finding everything from high-end antiques to fun vintage souvenirs or shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lawrenceburg, Kentucky

History, food, golf, shopping and―did we mention? – bourbon are all part of the mix in Lawrenceburg. Its quaint downtown is graced with an impressive courthouse building, shopping, dining, and more. Lawrenceburg is home to the Wild Turkey Distillery. The tour reveals an intriguing combination of tradition and modern mass production. Your visit began and ended in the new visitor center with a gift shop and tasting room. Inspired by the silhouette of Kentucky tobacco barns, the 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).

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sutter Creek, California

Sutter Creek is the very essence of a California Gold Country town. Peter Fish, of Sunset Magazine, wrote that “Sutter Creek is the best town in the Gold Country … a Main Street lined with balconied 19th-century buildings. The prettiest Main Street you’ve ever seen!” A wonderful balance of old and new, today’s Sutter Creek maintains its Gold Rush facade. Shop, dine, stroll, wine taste, and enjoy the quaint atmosphere of Sutter Creek. Sutter Creek, the jewel of the Mother Lode, is steeped in history being born of the California Gold Rush and nurtured by the deep rock gold mines of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is also the perfect hub to explore the Sierra Foothill Wine regions including Amador’s own Shenandoah Valley

Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

Moab’s easy access to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dead Horse Point State Park, the Colorado River, three scenic byways, and thousands of square miles of amazing red rock landscapes has made it one of the most sought-after destinations in the American Southwest.

Moab is fun, has some good restaurants, a variety of camping options, and is close to countless natural wonders and fun activities. Once you arrive in Moab, your first stop should be the Moab Information Center located at the corner of Main and Center Street.

Adairsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adairsville, Georgia

A visit to this Norman Rockwell kind of town is a must for anyone who loves history, antiquing, and good food. Adairsville, nestled in the Oothcalooga Valley, was the first Georgia town to be listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 130 homes and businesses are designated as historic properties. Adairsville’s location—65 miles north of Atlanta and 65 miles south of Chattanooga—makes for a convenient overnight stay—or longer. Harvest Moon RV Park at I-75 Exit 306 offers comfortable full-service camping for RVers including long pull-through sites (85-90 foot length).

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodstock, New York

Woodstock is much more than a small town at the foot of the Catskill Mountains. While the concert that put this town on the map wasn’t actually held here, it did bring international recognition to the town. Long before the 1969 music festival, Woodstock had been a utopian art colony. Its artsy roots can be traced back to the early 1900s. It started with The Byrdcliffe colony which was founded in 1903 (and still exists today) and was a woodsy retreat where artists were invited to come and simply create. Today, there is no shortage of art throughout the community, whether it’s the museums and galleries along Tinker Street (the main drag), the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum, and the the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild.

Lancaster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

The heart of Pennsylvania’s Dutch community can be found in Lancaster which famously acted as the state capital from 1799 to 1812. The local farms mean lots of amazing food and fresh produce which can be found at Lancaster Central Market (the U.S.’s oldest public market). The town is also the starting point for the Lancaster County Art Gallery Trail which travels through several nearby towns and showcases the area’s most interesting (and affordable) art.

Woods Hole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woods Hole, Massachusetts

This tiny, bustling Cape Cod town was once a pass-through destination for Martha’s Vineyard ferry travelers. Now it holds its own thanks to a charming waterfront filled with restaurants and shopping. Woods Hole is the epicenter of marine and biological science in the US with more than five major science institutions headquartered here (WHOI, MBL, NOAA, SEA, and Woods Hole Research Center).

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crowley, Louisiana

Rice is the bedrock of Cajun cuisine and no other Louisiana community is as intimately tied to the crop as Crowley. The swallow ponds and level prairies surrounding the city produce lots of crawfish too, but it was the turn-of-the-century rice mills that gave Crowley its identity and made possible today’s impressive collection of historic structures including ornate Victorian homes. Many historic buildings still play prominent roles in the city’s life including Miller Stadium, a 1940s-era ballpark and the Grand Opera House of the South that first opened in 1901. Visitors can relive regional music history at the J.D. Miller Recording Studio Museum downtown or get a taste of prairie life at the Crystal Rice Heritage Farm.

Corning © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corning, New York

Corning is part of the Finger Lakes region of New York. Wineries and breweries: check. Panoramic views of a gorgeous lake: check. Restaurants filled with top-notch food: check. The Corning Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years and welcoming visitors in a unique way. This southern Finger Lakes community offers something for everyone. Spend time at the Corning Museum of Glass and the Rockwell Museum.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden