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

15 Bucket List National Historic Landmarks in America (Must-See + Photos)

From sea to shining sea, these are America’s best historic landmarks

What are some bucket list national historic landmarks that you want to see during your lifetime?

I will give you my list of the 15 National Historic Landmarks you’ll want to see in your lifetime. Maybe you’ve already been to a few of these incredible sites. There’s no reason why you can’t go back, however. Or you might want to see some of the ones you haven’t been to yet.

This list includes American landmarks which are managed by the National Park Service as well as others which are not.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

El Tovar © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. El Tovar

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Coconino County, Arizona

Description: This celebrated historic hotel located directly on the rim of the Grand Canyon first opened its doors in 1905. El Tovar was one of a chain of hotels and restaurants owned and operated by the Fred Harvey Company in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railway. The hotel was built from local limestone and Oregon pine. It cost $250,000 to build and many considered it the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. USS Drum 

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: January 14, 1986

Location: Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama

Description: The submarine USS Drum (SS-228), a World War II veteran with 12 Battle Stars is credited with sinking 15 ships, a total of 80,580 tons of enemy shipping, the eighth highest of all U.S. submarines in total Japanese tonnage sunk. USS Drum is the oldest American submarine on display in the world.

Read more: Lucky A: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Labrot & Graham’s Old Oscar Pepper Distillery

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 16, 2000

Location: Versailles, Woodford County, Kentucky

Description: Woodford Reserve Distillery is an award-winning distillery that produces a range of whiskeys including limited-edition releases like the Kentucky-only Distillery Series. Established by Elijah Pepper in 1812 the distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky and is listed as a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Formerly known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and later the Labrot & Graham Distillery, the distillery produces several whiskeys including Woodford Reserve Bourbon.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Massachusetts State House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Massachusetts Statehouse

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Description: Designed by Charles Bulfinch, the new and current State House has served as the seat of the Massachusetts government since its opening in 1798. Holding the legislative and executive branches, it sits adjacent to the former site of the historic Hancock mansion. 

Read more: Walk the Freedom Trail and Experience over 250 years of History

Santa Fe Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Santa Fe Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Description: The Santa Fe Plaza, part of the Santa Fe Historic District is the heart of Santa Fe. It has been the social, political, commercial, and public center of Santa Fe since it was established in 1610 by Don Pedro de Peralta.

Today the Santa Fe Plaza is popular for tourists who are interested in Spanish, Native American, and Mexican cultures. Throughout the Plaza, one can find native jewelry, art, designs, music, and dances. Many annual events are held at the Santa Fe Plaza including Fiestas de Santa Fe, the Spanish Market, the Santa Fe Bandstand, and the Santa Fe Indian Market.

Read more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Breakers

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 12, 1994

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue along the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer cottages and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in the turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

Read more: Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Middleton Place

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 11, 1971

Location: Dorchester County, South Carolina

Description: Middleton Place is a 65-acre, 18th-centuryth -century rice plantation. The plantation is the birthplace of Arthur Middleton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The plantation is now a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. The Middleton Place House Museum was built in 1755 as the gentlemen’s guest quarters and is the only structure still standing of the original three-building residential complex.

Fort Davis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Fort Davis

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Jeff Davis County, Texas

Description: Set in the rugged beauty of the Davis Mountains of West Texas, Fort Davis is the best surviving example of an Indian Wars frontier military post and one of the best preserved Buffalo Soldier forts in the Southwest. Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail, and to control activities on the southern stem of the Great Comanche and Mescalero Apache war trails.

Fort Davis is important in understanding the presence of African Americans in the West and the frontier military; the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry and the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, all-black regiments established after the Civil War, were stationed at the post. When not chasing renegade bands of Apache or bandits, the soldiers helped build roads and telegraph lines.

Read more: Fort Davis National Historic Site: Frontier Military Post

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Skyline Drive

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 6, 2008

Location: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Description: The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain-top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. 75 scenic overlooks offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Read more: Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Painted Desert Inn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Painted Desert Inn

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: Navajo County, Arizona

Description: In its almost 100 years overlooking the Painted Desert, the inn has undergone many changes. The original building from the early 1920s was made of petrified wood. Today’s adobe facade dates to the 1930s renovation of the Painted Desert Inn.

The national historic landmark functions only as a museum now, with no overnight accommodation and food service. Interior displays highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and Civilian Conservation Corps. There are also restored murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Union Oyster House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Union Oyster House

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 5, 2003

Location: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Description: The Union Oyster House located on the Freedom Trail enjoys the unique distinction of being America’s oldest restaurant. This Boston fixture, housed in a building dating back to Pre-Revolutionary days started serving food in 1826 and has continued ever since with the stalls and oyster bar, where Daniel Webster was a constant customer, in their original positions.

Read more: Walk the Freedom Trail and Experience over 250 years of History

Roma Bluffs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Roma Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 4, 1993

Location: Roma, Starr County, Texas

Description: Over two centuries of Texas borderland heritage surrounds the plaza in the historic river town of Roma. The plaza’s surviving structures as well as surrounding buildings trace Roma’s heritage back to its Spanish Colonial roots, providing a visual reminder of the beautiful border architecture once thriving throughout the region. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. San Xavier del Bac Mission

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Pima County, Arizona

Description: Mission San Xavier del Bac is a place both historical and sacred that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss. San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings.

The mission’s white walls and soaring bell tower can be seen for miles around and the site attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. Plan to spend an hour or two walking the grounds of the mission and exploring the interior. I was awed by the glowing white walls against the deep blue sky—all set off by rugged desert terrain.

Read more: Mission San Xavier del Bac: White Dove of the Desert

Fort Ticonderoga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Fort Ticonderoga

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Essex County, New York

Description: Fort Ticonderoga, formerly Fort Carillon is a large 18th-century star fort built by the French at a narrows near the south end of Lake Champlain in northern New York. It was constructed between October 1755 and 1757 during the action in the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War often referred to in the US as the French and Indian War.

The fort was of strategic importance during the 18th-century colonial conflicts between Great Britain and France and again played an important role during the Revolutionary War. The name Ticonderoga comes from the Iroquois word tekontaró:ken meaning “it is at the junction of two waterways”.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Mesilla Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: La Mesilla, Dona Ana County, New Mexico

Description: Mesilla did not become part of the United States until the mid-1850s but its history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soon after, the sleepy border town would become one of the most important towns in the West, playing a key role in Western expansion. By the mid-1800s, Mesilla’s population had reached 3,000 making it the largest town and trade center between San Antonio and San Diego and an important stop for both the Butterfield Stage Line and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Lines.

Read more: La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience

Worth Pondering…

The past itself as historical change continues to accelerate has become the most surreal of subjects—making it possible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.

—Susan Sontag

The Complete Guide to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

There’s a big world out there to explore in your RV. In this article I’ll teleport you to an interesting location—and hopefully give you travel ideas in the process.

The whiskey industry has had a time rough time of late with reports of whiskey fungus that feeds on alcohol vapors and mucks up outdoor surfaces. Ethanol vapor released through porous whiskey barrels during the aging of bourbon might bring a smile in the heavens—the fumes are known as the angel’s share—but it can mean misery for local mortals. A strain of black whiskey fungus feeds on the alcoholic gases coating neighborhoods around distilleries with a stubborn mouldy crust.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spread of the fungus has become such a problem in southern Tennessee that a local court has halted construction of a new barrel warehouse for the world’s biggest-selling brand of American whiskey: Jack Daniels.

The fungus, Baudoinia compniacensis, is a familiar pest in the vicinity of barrelhouses which rely on wooden casks. Up to 2 percent of the volume of the alcohol can evaporate through the barrels each year as the drink matures sending vapor into the air and encouraging the fungus.

A French scientist named Antonin Baudoin first studied this plague of soot in 1872 after noticing it on distilleries in Cognac, France. It was misidentified until 2007 when Canadian mycologist Dr. James Scott re-classified the new fungi through DNA analysis and named it Baudonia, honoring the scientist who first took notice of the mold. In 2011, a lengthy article in Wired magazine detailed the discovery, unmasking the mystery soot as whiskey fungus.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people who live near Kentucky’s distilleries say the problem has worsened as bourbon’s popularity has soared. According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, 68 distilleries dot Kentucky, a 250 percent increase in one decade. While many of those are small-batch distilleries, large operations such as Jim Beam and Buffalo Trace have also grown. Last year, Kentucky distillers filled 1.7 million bourbon barrels. Not all those barrels age in Kentucky but hundreds of thousands do.

But a little whiskey fungus probably won’t slow down the surge of tourists flocking to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Bourbon tourism reached new heights last year in Kentucky where visitors flocked to distilleries as the whiskey-making attractions shook off any pandemic-era hangover.

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Attendance at distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail exceeded 2.1 million last year easily beating the pre-pandemic record of 1.7 million in 2019, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a genius bit of marketing from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association which in 1999 predicted (correctly) that people would want a behind-the-scenes look at how their favorite amber beverage was made. Now, tours of distilleries such as Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, and Maker’s Mark have become a popular activity for bachelor parties and young people more broadly.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is bourbon?

I know you’re wondering: How is bourbon different than whiskey?

Bourbon is an American whiskey distilled mostly from corn. The distilling of bourbon began in Kentucky in the 1700s in Bourbon County. Bourbon can be brewed anywhere in the United States although 95 percent of bourbon is currently distilled in Kentucky.

All bourbons are whiskey but not all whiskeys are bourbon. There are five rules that distinguish bourbon from all other whiskeys:

  • It must be made in the United States
  • Aging must take place in new, charred oak barrels
  • It must be distilled from at least 51 percent corn
  • The whiskey cannot be distilled higher than 160 proof, enter the barrel higher than 125 proof, and it must not enter the bottle less than 80 proof
  • Nothing can be added to the whiskey other than water
Willet Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon contains at least 51 percent corn with different proportions of wheat, malted barley, or rye. This grain mixture is referred to as the mash bill. What distinguishes one bourbon from another is the mash bill, the strain of yeast used by each distillery (some strains dating back decades), and how long the whiskey ages in the oak barrels.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour launched in 2012 to showcase smaller distilleries also had its best year. Now featuring 24 distilleries, its total attendance last year was 738,287.

Spirit companies have invested huge sums into new or expanded visitor centers to play up the industry’s heritage and allow guests to soak in the sights and smells of bourbon-making.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the height of the pandemic, distilleries in the region were closed temporarily to visitors.

Some producers eased back into tourism by allowing a limited number of visitors. Once virus restrictions were lifted, bourbon tourism bounced back with a full resurgence.

Research shows that bourbon tourists tend to be younger, spend between $400 and $1,200 on their trip, travel in large groups, and stay longer than the average visitor to Kentucky, reports the distillers’ association. More than 70 percent of visitors are from outside Kentucky.

Jim Beam American Stillhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To help visitors plan trips, the organization is promoting a new Bourbon Trail Passport and Field Guide, a 150-page guide to participating distilleries with cocktail recipes and suggested itineraries.

To encourage responsible drinking on the tour, distilleries offer water and nonalcoholic beverages and many have food or snacks available. The association said it promotes the use of designated drivers and transportation companies to stem impaired driving. Also, state law restricts free sample sizes at distilleries and many voluntarily limit cocktail sales at their in-house bar or restaurant.

The growth in bourbon tourism has created some challenges. Most distilleries now require reservations, so booking stops in advance is crucial, said Mandy Ryan, director of the association’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences.

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

Kentucky now boasts more than 11.4 million barrels of bourbon aging in warehouses across the state, the most in its storied distilling history, the association said. Distillers filled more than 2.6 million barrels last year, marking the fourth straight year production topped the 2 million mark.

>> DIG DEEPER

Worth Pondering…

Let dreamers whine

Of the pleasures of wine

For lovers of soft delight

But this is the song

Of a tipple that’s strong

For men who must toil and fight.

Now the drink of luck

For the man full of pluck

Is easy to nominate

It’s the good old whiskey of old Kentuck

And you always drink it straight… 

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

23 of the Best Places to Visit in Kentucky

Cool, hidden, and unusual things to do in the Bluegrass State

I know what you’re thinking: Kentucky is all about bourbon and horses, right? There’s no denying that many memorable days do start with these storied activities but there are so many more reasons to visit Kentucky.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Kentucky. It isn’t all horse racing, bourbon distilleries, and bluegrass music—although it’s got all three in abundance. Kentucky’s incredibly diverse array of geological features and ecosystems means it offers opportunities for all your favorite outdoor activities, too.

Here are the best places to visit in Kentucky.

Horse farm near Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington

Lexington is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.” Situated deep in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Country, Lexington has several main attractions including the Kentucky Horse Park, The Red Mile, and Keeneland race courses. Outside of the equestrian scene, the city is known for Rupp Arena, Transylvania University, and the University of Kentucky.

Lexington has imposed a unique urban growth boundary to protect the miles of pastures where horses are kept. This means that large swaths of green fields can be found throughout Lexington. In the heart of the city, visitors will find plenty of intriguing places to explore, including the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, Kentucky Theatre, the Mary-Todd Lincoln House, and Martin Castle.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeneland

This famous and historic horseracing arena attracts visitors year round. Even when races are not in session, Keeneland’s significance and extensive history make it a popular Lexington destination. Horses began racing at Keeneland, one of the top Lexington attractions in 1936 and since then, annual races have become a traditional event.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeneland is also host to practice meets for jockeys and horses preparing for the Kentucky Derby as well as a series of horse auctions throughout the year. Visitors to Keeneland are able to view the racecourse, visit the indoor facility, and tour the sales complex. Keeneland’s website offers a calendar of upcoming events and ticket purchasing options.

Keeneland is located at 4201 Versailles Road, Lexington.

More on Kentucky: Escapes in Kentucky for Bourbon, Horses & History

Frankfort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frankfort

If Kentucky can be described as the state of horses and bourbon its capital Frankfort is at the heart of it all. Located on the banks of the Kentucky River, it is a quintessential river community with small-town charm, rich history, and typical Southern hospitality. Stroll through the city to admire its fabulous architecture, especially the new and old capitol buildings as well as the new and old governor mansions which are open to the public. Get a sense of 200 years of city history at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History and learn about the way of life in old Kentucky at the Liberty Hall Historic Site.

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History

The Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History is a 167,000-square-foot modern research facility and a museum. It also serves as the headquarters of the Kentucky Historical Society. The center has a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions and an extensive research library. The main permanent exhibit is called “A Kentucky Journey” and it provides insight into Kentucky and its inhabitants from prehistoric times to today. The Martin F. Schmidt Research Library is a history and genealogy research library.

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Center offers resources such as manuscripts, books, oral histories, and graphic collections about the places and people that made Kentucky what it is today. The library is popular among family historians who are trying to trace their genealogy. The center also has the Keeneland Changing Exhibits Gallery which hosts various temporary exhibitions and a collection of Lincoln memorabilia.

The Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History is located at 100 W Broadway Street, Frankfort.

Kentucky State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky Capitol Building

Completed in 1910 in the Beaux-Arts style the beautiful, stately building of today’s Kentucky Capitol is the fourth building to be the home of the Kentucky government since 1792. Its predecessor still stands in downtown Frankfort. The building, designed by architect Frank Mills Andrews has an elegant façade covered with Vermont granite and Indiana limestone.

The interior is decorated with brilliant white Georgia marble, dark green Italian marble, and gray Tennessee marble. The Capitol’s State Reception Room is used as a place for ceremonies and has hand-painted walls with murals and scagliola created to look like Gobelin tapestries. There is a huge amount of art displayed throughout the building. One of the most popular pieces is the Lincoln statue in the rotunda. There is also an interesting collection of dolls that belonged to various First Ladies.

The Kentucky Capitol Building is located at 700 Capital Avenue, Frankfort.

Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Floral Clock

On the grounds of the state capitol in Frankfort stands the beautiful Floral Clock. Its face stretches 34 feet across and is covered by flowers exclusively grown in the state of Kentucky. Beneath the clock is a pool of water that is often used as a wishing well and the coins thrown into the well are used to fund scholarships. The Floral Clock is one of the most-visited attractions in Frankfort and is open to the public every day from dawn until dusk.

The Floral Clock is located at 700 Capital Avenue, Frankfort.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buffalo Trace Distillery

A national historic landmark and home of the world’s most award-winning bourbon, Buffalo Trace Distillery is a true Kentucky Landmark. The state’s native spirit has been distilled and aged at Buffalo Trace for over 150 years. The distillery offers five different tours from behind the scenes of the whiskey making process to a tour of the barrels used to store and age the product.

More on Kentucky: Discovering the Joys of Kentucky Bourbon

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All tours are free and include a sample of Buffalo Trace’s award-winning bourbon at the end. The distillery is open every day except for major holidays. Groups of over 25 people are required to reserve the tour in advance.

Buffalo Trace Distillery is located at 113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort.

Rebecca Ruth © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours and Museum

Two former schoolteachers, Ruth Booe and Rebecca Gooch, started Rebecca Ruth Candies in 1919. Their business has survived fires, family tragedies, two world wars, and the Great Depression and it is now a Kentucky institution.

Rebecca Ruth © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rebecca Ruth’s is home of the famous “bourbon balls,” a treat that mixes chocolate with Kentucky’s best-known liquor. The candy factory and museum is open for tours Monday-Saturday for a $5.00 admission fee. Children 5 and under get in free. After the tour, guests can purchase these sweet treats to take home with them at the company store.

Rebecca Ruth is located at 116 East Second Street, Frankfort.

Grandmas RV Camping, Elizabethtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elizabethtown

Home to 30,000 people, Elizabethtown is the 10th largest city in the state of Kentucky. The town was once home to the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln’s daughter Sarah was born in 1807.

Elizabethtown was also the site of a dramatic Civil War battle in 1862. Modern Elizabethtown boasts a variety of cultural and natural attractions. There is a cluster of museums and event centers in the downtown area and for outdoor adventures, visitors can check out the Bourbon Trail and the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Another popular attraction in town is Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible. Hang out on the tree tops in the Canopy Tree Walk. This short boardwalk extends into the forest canopy, suspending visitors an astonishing 75 feet above the forest floor.

Bernheim Arboretum is located 20 miles northeast of Elizabethtown off Clermont Road.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jim Beam American Stillhouse

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 one of its most influential brands.

Jim Beam is located 22 miles northeast of Elizabethtown off Clermont Road.

More on Kentucky: Historic Frankfort: Kentucky Distilled

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown

Kentucky’s second-oldest city, Bardstown was first settled in 1780. Nearly 200 buildings in the historic downtown district are listed on the National Register of Historic Places including a 1779 stagecoach stop that today is the Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest bourbon bar in the world.

Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown was described by Rand McNally and USA Today as the Most Beautiful Small Town in America and it is hard to argue with that description. The county seat of Nelson County, Bardstown is famous around the world for its bourbon while its eclectic shops are well worth exploring too.

The 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.

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

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.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

For whiskey lovers, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a bucket-list trip, full of opportunities to visit distilleries and learn about bourbon—plus, of course, plenty of sampling along the way. Kentucky is the spiritual home of bourbon, an American whiskey made with at least 51 percent corn and aged in charred new American oak barrels. Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries are sprawled across the state with most of them between Louisville and Lexington.

Barton 1799 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The official Kentucky Bourbon Trail exists under the auspices of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and it includes 18 distilleries as well as 23 smaller distilleries designated as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. This official trial doesn’t include every bourbon producer in the state. But it’s still a pretty comprehensive overview and provides a useful way to organize a visit—including a website with plenty of maps and links. 

With 11 unique distilleries within 16 miles of Bardstown’s court square, the Bourbon Capital of the World is a logical starting point for the journey.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park

My Old Kentucky Home State Park consists of many elements including a 39-site campground, an amphitheater, an 18-hole golf course (the Kenny Rapier Golf Course), and wedding and conference space. But what it is most famed for is Federal Hill more lovingly known as My Old Kentucky Home. Visitors can explore the historic mansion that was once owned by US Senator John Rowan.

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

It was an important site in US politics but was most famously known for its association with Stephen Foster’s ballad which the home inspired. Visitors can explore the mostly-brick structure and its amazing architecture which includes hand-carved windowsills and mantels, a stable, and a garden house. Guides dressed in period costumes who are full of fun facts lead the tours to take visitors back to another time.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park is located at 501 East Stephen Foster Avenue, Bardstown.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maker’s Mark

Visit the campus-like setting of the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto on the banks of Hardin’s Creek. Established in 1805 as a gristmill distillery, Maker’s Mark is the oldest working distillery on its original site—and a National Historic Landmark. The historic charm is not the only reason to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery; the beautifully manicured grounds are a functioning arboretum; hosting more than 275 species of trees and shrubs and making for an ideal picnic spot.

More on Kentucky: The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours allow guests to experience the entire bourbon-making process first-hand from the processing of the grains to the rotating of the barrels to the purposely inefficient process of hand-dipping every bottle in signature red wax (visitors even get the chance to dip their very own!). Maker’s Mark promises a truly unique, intimate experience that sheds light on the specialness and tradition of making Kentucky bourbon.

Maker’ss Mark is located 20 miles south of Bardstown in Loretto.

Historic Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgetown

The picturesque town of Georgetown is often noted for providing “pure small town charm” within Scott County’s country setting of rolling hills. This charming area offers a diverse assortment of things to do for both visitors and locals alike, both indoors and outdoors. From taking in history and art to getting up close and personal with Thoroughbred horses to sampling some of the best bourbon around, Georgetown and the surrounding Scott County is home to a variety of interesting things to do in the Kentucky horse country.

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm

The Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm is a farm for retired Thoroughbred horses that encompasses nearly 140 acres. The unique home for horses offers an opportunity for guests to get up close to several Thoroughbreds including winners of the Kentucky Derby like War Emblem and Silver Charm and Breeders’ Cup Champions Amazombie and Alphabet Soup as well as stakes winners Ide and Game On Dude. The Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm offers daily public tours for a fee, private tours by appointment, and a visitor center.

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm is located at 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown.

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn

The Yuko-En on the Elkhorn is a symbol of friendship between the nation of Japan and Kentucky State. As a four-season garden, travelers and locals alike are welcome to visit the Yuko-En on the Elkhorn all year round. Access to the park is via the Tokugawa Gate along Cincinnati Pike which will lead visitors into the lush 5.5-acre garden.

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuko-En features gorgeous Bluegrass landscaping that is presented in the style of a Japanese stroll garden. Stroll along the garden’s many pathways to explore Japanese-style bridges, a serene pond, and several other elements that make the Yuko-En a unique and enjoyable recreational destination.

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn is located at 700 Cincinnati Pike, Georgetown.

Versailles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Versailles

Located just off the Martha Layne Collins Blue Grass Parkway, the charming town of Versailles in Kentucky is the beating heart of Woodford County. Surrounded by magnificent rolling farmlands and world-renowned bluegrass horse farms, Versailles offers a range of attractions and activities from the impressive Stonewall Farm to the Woodford Reserve which produces one of Kentucky’s finest bourbon whiskeys. Versailles’ beautiful landscapes also offer excellent hiking, horseback riding, and fishing.

Bluegrass Railroad and Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bluegrass Railroad and Museum

The Bluegrass Railroad and Museum is a traveling museum dedicated to the history of the Bluegrass Railroad and the rail transport industry in the region. Based in Woodford County Park, the mobile museum was founded in 1976 by members of the Bluegrass Railroad Club and offers visitors a unique experience that delves into the history of the railroad on an 11-mile round trip excursion. The train journey travels through the beautiful horse farms of Kentucky to Young’s High Bridge in the town of Tyrone where passengers can disembark and soak up spectacular views of the Kentucky River valley area.

Bluegrass Railroad and Museum is located at 175 Beasley Road, Versailles.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodford Reserve Distillery

Woodford Reserve Distillery is an award-winning distillery that produces a range of whiskeys including limited-edition releases like the Kentucky-only Distillery Series. Established by Elijah Pepper in 1812 the distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky and is listed as a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Formerly known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and later the Labrot & Graham Distillery, the distillery produces several whiskeys including Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Woodford Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, and Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey. Visitors can enjoy guided tours and tastings at the facility which is eight miles from Versailles.

Woodford Reserve Distillery is located at 7785 McCracken Pike, Versailles

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway

Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad. Electricity was introduced in 1911. During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s, and 40s, up to 30 trains, a day rumbled through the middle of town. Revitalization and rebirth began in the mid-1970s when several antique shops and galleries were established. In 1978, 176 buildings in Midway were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Berea

The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and glassblowing studios.

Boone Tavern Hotel, Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted open hands, and historic architecture are a few of the delights as one wanders the town and college. Berea offers a public art experience on multiple levels. You can enjoy the sculptures, architecture, galleries, and shops, or you can enter the studios of working artists and watch art being created.

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

The Best Stops for a Spring Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, Montpelier, Vermont

Vermont Maple has been the standard by which all syrups are judged. I think you can taste eight generations of experience in Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. The Morse Family has been making maple syrup and related products in Vermont for 200 years. And their folksy maple farm is an interesting place to visit any time of year.

Nestled on a hilltop just 2.7 miles outside of Montpelier, the smallest state capital in the U.S., Morse Farm is a throwback to a simpler, quieter time when generations of the same family worked together to carve out a living on the land.

Morse Farms Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

You’ll hear an informative and fascinating presentation about the history and operation of the farm and you can take a stroll on the trail among some of the sugar maple trees. There are farm animals to feed and of course there is a gift shop with a wide assortment of the farm’s products for sale.

Open daily, with slight variation in hours by season. No admission charge. Harvesting season is mid-March to Mid-April. Ample parking is available, including pull-through parking for RVs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona

Several hikes and activities await the visitor to Catalina State Park. One of the prettiest hikes is the Romero Canyon Trail, which climbs up to the Romero Pools with trees, rocks, and water. Visitors can also picnic, spot birds and wildlife, ride trail bikes, or take a trail ride on horseback.

Related Article: 10 Inexpensive Outdoor Activities for Spring

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park is located off Highway 77/Oracle Road. Best times to visit are fall through spring; summer can be very hot. A per-vehicle day-use fee is collected at the entrance station. RV camping with 50/30-amp electric service and water are available at the site. Showers and a dump station are available.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Middleton Place, Charleston, South Carolina

America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a great deal of history can be found at Middleton Place, a former plantation near Charleston. The estate was the primary base of the Middleton family, who owned 19 plantations in the area (staffed by as many as 1,000 slaves). One member of the family was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The main house is in ruins but a guest house still stands furnished to give a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the plantation’s heyday.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The plantation is open year-round but during warmer weather you’ll have more opportunities to observe demonstrations of blacksmithing, pottery, and other period trades. The camellias begin blooming in February.

St. Martin de Tours Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

St Martin de Tours Church, St. Martinville, Louisiana

Cajuns refer to this as the ‘Mother Church of the Acadians’ as it was here in St. Martinville that the largest immigration of Acadians took place in 1785. The church is the focus of St Martin Square where you’ll find a number of monuments and statues. St Martinville’s wider historic district is home to 32 buildings dating from 1820-1931 and the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site.

Evangeline Oak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Behind the church sits the statue of Evangeline, the fictional Acadian heroine immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem set in the time of the Expulsion of the Acadians.

Related Article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Spring Camping

Bernheim Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Shepherdsville, Kentucky

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim Arboretum boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. 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. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in—and around—La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, browse through unique shops and art galleries, and visit the beautiful tulip fields of Skagit Valley.

Acorn woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Hereford, Arizona

15 species of hummingbirds, the elegant trogon and the lesser long-nosed bat are just a few of the species found in this ecological crossroads operated by the Nature Conservancy. Enjoy spotting dozens of bird species or sit in shaded seating areas along Ramsey Creek and watch hummingbirds feed. Hike up the Hamburg Trail along the creek past old cabins to an overlook where it joins a network of trails in the Coronado National Forest and the Miller Peak Wilderness Area.

Open Thursday through Monday. Hours change by season. Admission charged. Parking is limited. Bookstore and gift shop, restrooms in the visitor center.

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona

Get off the Interstate and drive a portion of historic Route 66 in Holbrook. Spend the night in a wigwam right on Route 66 with vintage cars parked all around! With only 15 wigwams, making a reservation is a good idea. This is a good base for a day trip to Petrified Forest National Park and Historic Route 66.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, Kentucky

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.

Related Article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada

A modern wonder, Hoover Dam was constructed in the 1930s. The facts and figures are staggering: the dam is 726.4 feet high, 1244 feet wide, 660 feet thick at the base, and was constructed with 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. The water held behind the dam in Lake Mead, North America’s largest man-made reservoir, meets the needs of more than 20 million people and generates huge amounts hydroelectric power. And yet nothing quite prepares you for the immensity of this awe-inspiring feat of engineering. Tours are available.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Town Too Tough To Die, Tombstone, Arizona

Live out all of your Wild West dreams in Tombstone, Arizona, the location of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Cowboys, cowgirls, and wannabes fill up the town’s saloons and the O.K. Corral museum puts on reenactments of Wyatt Earp’s 1881 shootout. The buildings are so well maintained and the townsfolk so authentic that at times it’s easy to think you’ve landed on a John Wayne movie set.

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Erected outside McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch in 2008, the world’s largest pistachio nut is a truly impressive piece of engineering. Standing 30 feet tall and so substantial that it required a concrete base 9 feet deep, this giant steel-and-concrete nut is now firmly established as one of New Mexico’s most distinctive roadside attractions.

Free samples at McGinn’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t just stop for the photos, as well as an amazing selection of pistachio products, McGinn’s also sells great ice cream and a wide range of New Mexico wines and foods. Tours are available.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Papago Park, Phoenix, Arizona

Filled with sandstone buttes that provide gentle but stimulating hiking trails and photogenic spots like the Hole in the Rock, Papago Park is a scenic wonder only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix. Home of the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, the park also offers many activities including archery range, golf course, fishing lagoons, and an orienteering course. That little pyramid you’ll see is the tomb of Gov. George Wiley Paul Hunt.

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Blue Bell Creamery, Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory, which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Moki Dugway, Mexican Hat, Utah

A winding, scenic drive along the edge of Cedar Mesa offers panoramic views. Valley of the Gods is below. Monument Valley is off in the distance. A drive to nearby Muley Point near the top overlooks the Goosenecks of the San Juan River. Built originally for trucks hauling uranium ore, this is a popular route, though not for the faint-hearted! The road is unpaved but graded. The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet in length and 10,000 pounds in weight attempt to negotiate this steep (10% grade), narrow, and winding road. It’s also spelled as Mokee Dugway.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

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