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

America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Summer Road Trip

Discover America’s scenic byways on a summer road trip adventure

There’s nothing quite like packing up your car or recreation vehicle and heading out onto the open road. With over four million miles of roads crisscrossing the country, how do you choose where to travel?

In much the same way Congress set aside lands to be protected as national parks, the Department of Transportation has designated a network of spectacular drives that are protected as part of America’s Byways collection. Currently, the collection contains 184 National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads in 48 states. To become part of America’s Byways collection, a road must-have features that don’t exist anywhere else in the United States and be unique and important enough to be destinations unto themselves.

Without further ado, here are 10 of the most scenic and culturally significant byways in America for your summer road trip adventure.

Zion Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 54 miles

Zion Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Virgin River runs alongside the Byway and offers opportunities for recreation as well as important riparian habitat for wildlife. Hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, and river tubing provide recreation options for every ability and interest. Highway 9 is the major road providing access to Zion National Park. It winds past the park visitor center and museum, and many famous Zion landmarks. It provides access to Zion Canyon (accessible by shuttle only during the tourist season) and then goes through the park’s mile-long tunnel. It cuts through the park’s Checkerboard Mesa area and then ends at Highway 89 at Mt Carmel Junction.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1996)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: South Dakota

Length: 70 miles

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This byway winds around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles, and over pristine, pine-clad mountains. Highlights include Mount Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, the Needle’s Eye, and Cathedral Spires rock formations. Forming a figure-eight route, the byway travels through Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area. Highways 16A, 244, 89, and 87 combine to create the route.

Related Article: Scenic Byways across America Await Exploration

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. This All-American Road connects US-89 near Panguitch on the west with SR-24 near Torrey on the northeast. It is not the quickest route between these two points but it is far and away the best.

Sky Island Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sky Island Parkway National Scenic Byway (Catalina Highway)

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Natural

Location: Arizona

Length: 27.2 miles

Sky Island Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The journey starts among giant saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert and climbs to shady conifer forests at nearly 9,000 feet passing biological diversity equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles. Spectacular views and recreational opportunities abound -from hiking and camping to picnicking and skiing.

Related Article: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

White Mountains Trail Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountains Trail National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: New Hampshire

Length: 100 miles

White Mountains Trail Scenic Byway (Mount Washington Cog Railway) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The White Mountains have long been known for natural splendor, cultural richness, historical charm, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States. The White Mountains Trail encompasses all these aspects throughout its 100-mile route. The Trail is a loop tour that winds through sections of the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest and past many of the region’s most popular attractions. Views abound of villages and unspoiled National Forest. Stops include views of Mount Washington and the grand Mount Washington Hotel, mountain cascades, wildlife, and the Appalachian Trail.

Old Frankfort Pike Historic and Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Frankfort Pike Historic and Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic

Location: Kentucky

Length: 15.5 miles

Old Frankfort Pike Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Frankfort Pike National Scenic Byway extends 15 miles through a rural landscape that embodies the Bluegrass unlike any other. Here, internationally recognized Thoroughbred horse farms, diversified farms, country stores, railroad towns, and scenic landscapes have evolved over the past 250-plus years. Along the Byway are opportunities for a horse farm tour or a short side trip to neighboring attractions like Keeneland Race Track National Historic Landmark, Weisenberger Mill, and the historic railroad town of Midway.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway (Hovenweep National Monument) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Archeological

Location: New Mexico, Colorado, Utah

Length: 480 miles

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway (Mesa Verde National Park) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway provides a unique, well-preserved view of the history, memories, and traditions of the native peoples who lived in the American Southwest as hunters and gatherers thousands of years ago. The region and the scenic byway protect sacred archaeological remains and cultural and historic sites and allow visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the landscapes while experiencing ancient native cultures.

Related Article: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Cherokee Foorhills Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: South Carolina

Length: 112 miles

Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway (Michael Gaffney Cabin) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best ways to see the Upcountry is to hit the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (SC-11). This will take you from the Georgia/South Carolina border at Lake Hartwell through the rolling hills of Piedmont all the way to historic Gaffney. A replica of the city’s founder homestead, The Michael Gaffney Cabin, is located in the heart of downtown.

Utah’s Patchwork Parkway (Panguitch Lake)© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 143 – Utah’s Patchwork Parkway

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Utah’s Patchwork Parkway (Cedar Breaks National Monument) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Very few routes in the U.S. exhibit a 4,500-foot elevation change that crosses six major life zones in 51 miles. The route skirts lava flow only a few thousand years old before passing Panguitch Lake, a spectacular, large mountain lake renowned for its excellent fishing. This topmost rise of the geological “Grand Staircase” showcases the 2,000-foot-deep Cedar Breaks amphitheater with its vibrant hues of pink, orange, red, and other coral colors carved from the Claron Formation.

Related Article: The Guide to Driving the Back Roads

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Parkway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Natural, Historic

Location: Virginia

Length: 23 miles

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Colonial Parkway is a twenty-three-mile scenic roadway stretching from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown. It connects Virginia’s historic triangle: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Several million travelers a year use this route to enjoy the natural and cultural beauty of Virginia. The Parkway serves as a thoroughfare unifying culturally distinct sites crossing several pristine natural environments while still maintaining the National Park Service’s prime directive to conserve the scenery and provide enjoyment of the same.

Worth Pondering…

Our four simple rules: No Interstates, no amusement parks, no five-star accommodations, and no franchise food (two words which do not belong in the same sentence!)

—Loren Eyrich, editor/publisher Two-Lane Roads