16 of the Best State Parks in America

The U.S. has more than 10,000 state park areas covering a total area of more than 18 million acres

The United States is a complex landscape that stretches from coast to coast and offers steep mountains, dense forests of deciduous trees, towering pine trees, open plains, harsh deserts, and amazing RV and tent camping opportunities. Among the 50 states are an abundance of parks. What they all have in common is the passion to conserve these wondrous worlds filled with wildlife, history, and adventure. Exploring the world around us gives us a greater appreciation of the natural beauty we find and reconnects us to the simple pleasure of enjoying life.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.

Big Bend Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Big Bend Ranch State Park follows a stretch of the Rio Grande in West Texas along the US/Mexico border. The park is a rugged landscape of desert, mountains, and steep canyons. Outdoor adventurists can choose between hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding on over 230 miles of trails. Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts can explore over 70 miles of rough dirt road terrain. Campers will find a vast selection of primitive sites for overnight stays that have a picnic table and fire pit with the exception of the backcountry spots.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Elephant Butte State Park is the quintessential place for outdoor excursions like camping, boating, and fishing. The expansive campground offers a wide range of campsite set-ups including several full-hookup spots for RVs. Popular water sports and activities include swimming, scuba diving, and an array of boating and personal watercraft endeavors. The park features 15 miles of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Elephant Butte Reservoir was created in 1916 when a dam was constructed on the Rio Grande River. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers 173 developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking. The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river. The park offers 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups).

Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Located half an hour outside of Sarasota this verdant sanctuary is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. A popular destination for outdoor adventure, visitors can rent a kayak and paddle along the park’s waterways in search of alligators or choose from close to forty miles of hiking trails that snake through wetlands, pine forests, and dry prairie. Myakka River State Park is a renowned location for birding and for good reason—some truly fascinating avian species can be spotted searching for food along the river banks with the vibrant pink-colored roseate spoonbill standing out as one of the area’s most coveted sights.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm 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 descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species. Nearby attractions include St George, Red Cliffs BLM Recreation Area, and Zion National Park.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. This sprawling 20,000-acre park offers three campground areas that range from full hookups to standard camping. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, an RV campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neel Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Vogel is particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails, including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail. Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories

The self-ascribed “Bourbon Capital of the World” offers fine spirits and a welcome change of pace

Rand McNally and USA Today called it the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America.” But Bardstown, Kentucky, is much more than just a pretty face.

This “Bourbon Capital of the World” is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s “Official Outdoor Drama,” one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums, and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

The Old Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whiskey connoisseurs and history buffs probably already know Bardstown, a small town about 45 minutes south of Louisville. Europeans crossed the Appalachians and settled in the area in the 1770s. The town’s charming and walkable downtown area incorporates significant historic features of the time. Bardstown is also home to or within a short drive of a ton of distilleries including some of the biggest names in bourbon. The self-ascribed moniker, “The Bourbon Capital of the World” is pretty accurate. Like a lot of small towns, Bardstown is a rewarding destination. If you’re looking to get away and take it easy for a couple of days or longer or for a home base for your pilgrimage along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this is the ideal location.

The Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your options for lodgings in Bardstown run the gamut from chain hotels to centuries-old establishments and nearby RV parks and campgrounds. Some portions of the original 1779 structure housing The Talbott Inn on Court Square in the heart of downtown are still in use; a larger section dates to 1913. Among other historic figures, the inn and its tavern (now a restaurant and bar called Old Talbott Tavern) hosted Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesse James.

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

Of course, you’re bound to get hungry on any road trip. The best road trips are the ones that involve delicious food, am I right? America is full of so many amazing bakeries that it’s impossible to try all of them in a lifetime. Always on the lookout for fresh doughnuts, delicious regional specialties, and amazing cookies and cakes, brings us to Hadorn’s Bakery, a Bardstown institution that comes highly recommended.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hadorn’s is a third-generation family bakery founded in Louisville in 1935 and has been Bardstown’s family bakery since 1977. From yum yums, one of the local favorites, to fresh doughnuts, seasonal cookies and cakes, and a whole host of others, everything at Hadorn’s is mouthwateringly delicious. If you’re going to have just one, make it a Yum Yum—a sort of cinnamon bun that’s braided instead of rolled, then glazed and topped with streaks of gooey icing.

As you might expect, most bars around town have walls lined with shelf upon shelf of bourbon and most barkeeps are adept at showcasing the local spirit.

Makers Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon, as you might know, has developed a cult following that can be kind of intimidating for the uninitiated. Distillery tours are a good way to get up close and personal with the beloved oak-aged liquor. By staying in Bardstown you’re roughly a half-hour drive from Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Four Roses. You’re practically spoiled for choice right in Bardstown, as well: The Barton 1792 distillery is a stone’s throw from downtown, while Lux Row (which produces Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks, and more), Willett, and the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center aren’t much farther.

Four Roses Bourbon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of these firms have been distilling for decades or longer. The massive operation at Bardstown Bourbon Company, 10 minutes from downtown, was launched in 2016. They offer a one-hour From Distillate to Barrel Tour in which a knowledgeable guide leads you through a tasting that included fresh distillate (aka moonshine) as well as aged whiskeys.

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tour also takes you through the distilling plant and then out to one of the company’s rickhouses where your guide may thieve (that’s a technical term for dipping with a giant copper straw-like device) some samples from a barrel of BBC’s own bourbon. It’s been aging since 2016 and won’t go to market until next year. (Bardstown Bourbon Company has sold very little whiskey under its own label so far but through its custom distilling program you may have tasted some of their handiwork in what Belle Meade Bourbon and other newer distillers offer while their own whiskey ages.)

Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to being fun and delivering the mildest hint of a buzz, a distillery tour will leave you with some more tools in your kit for deciding what you truly enjoy in a bourbon rather than going on name reputation.

You can easily fill a week with distillery tours in and around Bardstown. But you could also pay a visit to the Old Bardstown Colonial Village featuring a collection of frontier cabins spread over a verdant park. It’s very close to Museum Row which includes the Women’s Museum of the Civil War.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located less than a mile from the Old Historic Courthouse, My Old Kentucky Home State Park embodies the antebellum South and was the inspiration for Stephen Foster’s world-famous composition, “My Old Kentucky Home,” Kentucky’s official state song. Guides in period costume tell the story of the esteemed Rowan family who called the plantation home from the late 18th to 19th centuries. During the summer visitors can enjoy America’s favorite outdoor drama, “The Stephen Foster Story,” which features Stephen Foster’s best-known works brought to life by performers in period costumes among beautiful sets.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no trip to Bardstown that’s complete without a visit to the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, and there’s no better time to visit than the morning! Comprised of more than 15,600 acres of protected wildlife, forest, and natural landscapes, the Bernheim property is a virtual must-see. Since its founding in 1929, this sustainable woodland ecosystem has existed as a proven habitat for diversified flora and fauna providing refuge for so many local species. It’s also one of the area’s premier recreational venues, ideal for those individuals who enjoy strolling through nature while taking life at a pace conducive to easy enjoyment.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve got the time on the way back to the downtown district, stop by the Jim Beam Distillery, unique in its own right as a location that can effectively rival any distillery in the area.

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more today!

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

The Best RV Camping August 2021

Explore the guide to find some of the best in August camping across America

But where should you park your RV? With so many options out there you may be overwhelmed with the number of locales calling your name.

Here are 10 of the top locations to explore in August. RVing with Rex selected this list of 5 star RV resorts from parks personally visited.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly RV park recommendations for the best places to camp in June and July.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia

Coastal Georgia RV Resorts offer 105 spacious sites, all 35 feet wide with lengths ranging from 60 to 70 feet. Most sites are pull-through with full hookups including 30 and 50 amp service and tables. The Resort’s roads are all paved. Fire rings are available at the Pavilion. Amenities include a game room, conference room, two bathhouses, two laundromats, a dock, and a store where you can find RV supplies as well as LP gas. The resort also offers a swimming pool, horseshoe pits, and shuffleboard courts. Cable TV and Wi-Fi are included. From I-95 (exit 29) and US 17, go ½ mile west on SR-17, turn left onto US-17 south for ¼ mile, turn east onto Martin Palmer Dr for 1 mile and enter straight ahead.

12 Tribes Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12 Tribes Casino RV Park, Omak, Washington

A new RV park, 12 Tribes Casino opened in 2018 with 21 pull-through full-service sites 72 feet long and 42 feet wide. Interior roads are asphalt and sites are concrete. Amenities include a paved patio and picnic table, individual garbage container, cable TV, Wi-Fi, and pet area. Guests of the RV Park are welcome to enjoy the pool, hot tub, sauna, and workout facility located in the hotel. The casino also offers gaming, fine dining, and café.

Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sun Outdoors Sevierville Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Tennessee

Formally known as River Plantation, Sun Outdoors Sevierville Pigeon Forge is located along the Little Pigeon River in eastern Tennessee. The park is located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the popular attractions of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Big rig friendly, guests can choose from a selection of modern and spacious, full hookup RV sites that include concrete pads, a fire ring, and a picnic table. Our back-in site was in the 75-foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and Cable TV centrally located. Amenities include a swimming pool with hot tub, basketball court, game room, fitness center, outdoor pavilion, fenced-in Bark Park, and dog washing station.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house was originally named “Federal Hill” by its first owner Judge John Rowan. Located near Bardstown, the mansion and farm was the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. Tour the historic mansion, enjoy a round of golf, camp at the campground, stroll the grounds and explore the interpretive panels, and see the Stephen Foster Story in the summer months. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Reunion Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Ponchatoula, Louisiana

Reunion Lake RV Resort is a gated resort with top-rated facilities and service and all-concrete roadways. Built around a scenic lake the park offers an adult pool with a swim-up bar, poolside cabanas, a lazy river with a tiki bar, giant hot tub, fitness center, family pool, basketball and pickleball courts, fenced-in dog park. Our Premium pull-through site will accommodate any size rig.

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart State Park, Texas

Barbecue! The state legislature des­ig­nated the city of Lockhart as the “Barbecue Capital of Texas” in 1999. Three miles southeast of Lockhart, Lockhart State Park offers 10 sites with water and electricity in the Clear Fork Camping Area and 10 full-hookup sites that will accommodate RVs up to 40 feet in the Fairway View Camping Area. Play golf at the nine-hole golf course built by the Works Progress Ad­mini­stration and the Civilian Conservation Corps over 80 years ago.

Columbia Riverfront RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Columbia Riverfront RV Park, Woodland, Washington

Developed in 2006 by the present owners who are former RVers, Columbia Riverfront RV Park is a 5-star resort. A quiet getaway on ten acres of beautifully maintained property right on the sandy beach of the Columbia River, Columbia Riverfront is big-rig friendly. With a view of the Columbia River out of our windshield, our pull-in site is 45 feet in length with room for the toad. Utilities including 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable are centrally located. Pull-through sites in the 85-95 foot range are also available. Wi-Fi works well. Interior roads are paved and sites are crushed gravel and level. Columbia Riverfront is located 22 miles north of Portland, Oregon, in Woodland off I-5 (Exit 22); west 3.25 miles on Dike Access and Dike roads.

On-Ur-Wa RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On-Ur-Wa RV Park, Onawa, Iowa

Easy on easy off (I-29, Exit 112), On-Ur-Wa RV Park is a 5-star park with long pull-through sites in the 100-foot range with water, electric (20/30/50-amp service), and sewer. Amenities include community building, laundry facilities, free Wi-Fi, and a recreation area with bocce ball and horseshoes. Although located in a beautiful grove of cottonwood trees, connecting to our satellite was no problem due to an open field to the south.

Wahweep RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweep RV Park and Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, Arizona

Centrally located at Wahweap Marina, the campsites are about one-quarter mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. This RV park/campground is a great place to enjoy the off-season solitude of Lake Powell. The campground offers 139 sites with 30 and 50 amp service, water, and sewer. Sites accommodate up to 45 feet. The season is an ideal time to visit nearby attractions including Rainbow Bridge, Antelope Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and Horseshoe Bend. 

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jackson Rancheria RV Resort, Jackson, California

New in 2008, Jackson Rancheria RV Resort is part of a casino complex. Big rig-friendly 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are centrally located. Wide, paved interior roads with wide concrete sites. Back-in sites over 55 feet with pull-through sites in the 70-75 foot range. Amenities include walking trails and dog parks, a heated pool and spa, and laundry facilities. We would return in a heartbeat. Reservations over a weekend are required well in advance. Jackson Rancheria is conveniently located in the heart of Gold Country.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin

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

The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

These 15 state parks across the U.S. have campgrounds that you really need to add to your travel list

While national parks are at the top of many RV travel bucket lists, state parks often offer more camping amenities than national parks. State park campgrounds are located in areas that feature natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and historic significance. Some state parks are smaller and may only feature a visitor center and day-use area. Some areas are large as a national park and feature several campgrounds and access to lakes, trails, and nearby towns.

Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte was active in smuggling and pirating along the Gulf Coast. Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5-acre waterpark, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp-store, and Castaway Cove pool. Buccaneer has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition, Buccaneer has 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. Bring along your curiosity and your sense of adventure as you take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti, and wildlife. The campground offers 120 electric and water sites with picnic tables and BBQ grills.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The name of this stunning state park may seem less appealing but the history behind it is interesting. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys used the area as a place to corral wild mustangs. Trapping the horses at the edge of the cliff, they would round up the desired horses and take them back to be tamed. Usually, the remaining horses were set free. However, legend has it that one time the remaining horses remained at the edge of the cliff and died of thirst. Today, Dead Horse Point provides a beautiful mesa where you can look 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. The campground offers 64 RV and tent sites including 44 with partial hookups.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, Texas

Brown pelicans, whooping cranes, camping, fishing, and the waters of Aransas, Copano, and St. Charles bays draw visitors here. The CCC built Goose Island, Texas’ first coastal state park. It sits on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula. Dramatic wind-sculpted trees dominate the park. The “Big Tree,” a massive coastal live oak estimated to be centuries old is one of the natural wonders of Texas.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground, and a new Lodge and Conference Center. Lake Shelby, a 900-acre freshwater lake is one of the closest to saltwater along the Gulf of Mexico. The park has a multitude of activities to participate in that includes hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, exploring, geocaching, and paddling. Reconstruction of The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, is complete and new hostel-style accommodations are available nearby as well. The park offers a 496-site improved campground including 11 modern bathhouses, pull-through sites, back-in sites, waterfront campsites, and ADA accessible sites. The paved camping pads fit large RVs and provide full hookups with water, sewer, electricity, a picnic table, and a pedestal grill.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

Located near the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, this park is home to fascinating creatures and plants, including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow-shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating, and kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates. Each fairway and landing area is defined with gentle, links-style mounds that accent the course’s three lakes. The park’s campground offers 44 RV campsites with electricity utilities.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, the park is located in the Sonoran Desert at an elevation of 2,000 feet. In the late 1800s, Jacob Waltz emerged from this area with gold. When he died in 1891, he was found with 24 pounds of high-quality gold ore under his bed. Purportedly, before he died he left clues to the mine’s location. Needless to say, it is a haven for treasure hunters today. The Park also offers a variety of hiking trails, nature trails, 35 campsites, picnic facilities, and special programs throughout the year.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a scenic park with a day-use area and modern camping hook-ups. A self-guided walk on the boardwalk offers an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. The park offers a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T”. Meaher’s campground offers 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. Four bay-side cabins (1 is handicap accessible) overlook Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. The park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Mona­hans westward and north into New Mexico. Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring on foot or horse­back. The park does not have marked trails; you are free to ex­plore at will. Rent sand disks and surf the dunes. Learn about the park and its natural and cultural history at the Dunagan Vis­i­tors Center. Set up camp and witness spec­tac­ular sun­sets.The park offers 26 campsites with water and electricity and a shade shelter.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm 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 descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground and picnic areas. The campground has a total of 85 electric sites suitable for RV and tent camping. No water or sewer hookups are available. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

Roosevelt State Park offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in a picturesque setting. The park’s scenic overlook provides a panoramic view of the Bienville National Forest. The gently sloping landscape is particularly striking during the fall when the forest is bright with autumn colors.A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt including a visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.The park offers 109 RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility. These facilities are located in wooded areas with views of Shadow Lake. 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups. 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

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

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

8 Wild and Beautiful State Parks

Discover these lesser-known natural wonders

America’s state parks may keep a lower profile than the renowned national parks but that doesn’t mean they’re any less of a worthwhile destination. With 8,565 designated areas spanning over 18 million acres of land, there’s an incredible range of outdoor experiences to explore—including some real standouts that deserve to be on your RV travel radar.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

This state park in southeast Utah has drawn comparisons to the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. With breathtaking views into Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below, Dead Horse Point is a highlight for hikers and photographers exploring canyon country.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular activities. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool, and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Rustic, modern, and full service sites are available.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

“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 was the home of Judge John Rowan. Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Boasting South Carolina’s only publicly accessible lighthouse, Hunting Island is a popular stop on the coast. It has five miles of beaches, a saltwater lagoon, and 5,000 acres of marshland and maritime forest, plus one hundred campsites. Local wildlife includes loggerhead turtles, which nest in the summer, alligators, and hundreds of bird species.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them. Nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie, which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

The largest state park in the contiguous United States, Anza-Borrego is flanked by rugged mountains on three sides and the Salton Sea to the east. Its 650,000 acres contain spectacular desert vistas, a variety of plant and animal life, and numerous archaeological, cultural, and historic sites. Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Myakka River State Park offers a variety of experiences: Day-trippers come for the airboat ride, tram ride, canopy walkway, and stop at the water-front café. Adventurers head for the 39 miles of hiking trails, excellent paved and unpaved biking trails, or kayaking on the scenic river. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites.

Worth Pondering…

Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.
—Robin Sharma