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Did You Know…?

  • Ninety-five percent of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky.
  • Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world, more than 365 miles.
  • America’s first commercial vineyard was established in Kentucky (1798) for General Lafayette.
  • The war presidents, Abraham Lincoln (1809) and Jefferson Davis (1808), were born in Kentucky.
  • The Middlesboro Country Club is the nation’s oldest golf course in continuous play (1889).

Bluegrass — and bluegrass

Thoroughbred horses and the Kentucky Derby. Whiskey, specifically bourbon. Bluegrass (the blue-tinged plant) and bluegrass (the music). Stephen Foster and “My Old Kentucky Home.” Coal mines and tobacco. Fort Knox and mammoth caves, including the one called Mammoth.

That potpourri of images describes Kentucky as understood by the outsider — and draws tourists of all stripes. There are races to watch, bourbon to sample, music to hear and caves to crawl and climb through. In addition, there are rivers for whitewater rafting, festivals to attend, crafts to buy, basketball teams to cheer and lush rolling hills to enjoy on lazy afternoons.

As for that blue-tinged grass, it stretches across great expanses of land — land studded with white and black plank fences, where the most beautiful horses in the world make their home.  Kentucky’s other most notable product is bourbon whiskey, highlighted for visitors by the touristic Bourbon Trail.

Archaeology and history draw visitors, too. At Mammoth Cave National Park, the huge eponymously named cave has yielded 4,000-year-old human artifacts and is home to dark-adapted creatures like blind crayfish. Kentucky is well endowed with lakes, some manmade. Dale Hollow Lake and Kentucky Lake were created by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park pushes through the mountains where Kentucky meets Tennessee and Virginia and is popular with historians for its Civil War associations and with outdoorsmen for its rugged beauty. There are other Civil War sites, too, and reenactments for those who like to see their history being (re)made.

The U.S. Treasury Department has kept the country’s gold at Fort Knox since 1936, and the site was the hideaway during World War II for the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Gutenberg Bible, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Magna Carta.

Horseracing is the premier spectator sport, but Kentuckians also love their college basketball. The programs at the universities of Kentucky and Louisville are nationally known.

Kentucky attracts anyone who wants to enjoy the hospitality of friendly, outgoing locals. Except for basketball games, most vacation activities take place spring through fall, the best time to see grass with a blue tinge.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go whitewater rafting or canoeing on the Cumberland River or its Big South Fork. Or, canoe on the Licking River. Take canoeing or kayaking lessons if needed. Then, sample the state’s bourbon.
  • Sample local food favorites, such as the Kentucky Hot Brown, a combination of bacon, bread, pimiento and turkey, browned under a broiler and topped with Momay sauce; Benedictine (not the liqueur), a cucumber and cream cheese spread, and burgoo, a stew of beef, chicken, lamb, pork and veal, along with vegetables and potatoes, which is simmered from five to 24 hours.
  • Plan an itinerary around the Country Music Highway, which leads to the birthplaces of several top country music singers. There are several venues for hearing the music, too.
  • Have a (wet and muddy) cave adventure by trekking off the beaten track in Hidden River Cave, which is 150 feet under the streets of a town called Horse Cave. Not to be confused with Hidden River, there is Lost River at Bowling Green where you can take an underground boat tour.
  • Enter the competitions at the Glasgow Highland Games in Glasgow. One such traditional competition is the caber toss, which involves throwing a 100- to 120-pound pole of 18 to 19 feet long end over end. There are several of these types of events. Scottish attire is mandatory, and that means wearing a kilt.
  • Do the Purple People Bridge Climb in Newport on the Ohio River. The pedestrian bridge — real name: Newport Southbank Bridge — is purple, the people’s choice in focus groups.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Attend the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May at Louisville’s Churchill Downs. See magnificent animals, drink mint juleps and hear thousands sing “My Old Kentucky Home.” You might win some money, too.
  • Ride one of Kentucky’s horses yourself. Ride along the wooded trails of the state parks. Alternatively, go hiking utilizing the state parks’ extensive trail system.
  • Attend a bluegrass music festival in either Morehead or Owensboro. And, see the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro.
  • You don’t have to be Jewish to attend Louisville’s Jewish Heritage Festival.
  • Attend the Shaker Festival in South Union in late June. Or, at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, watch costumed artisans demonstrating 19th century trades, taste vegetables grown with heirloom seeds used by the original Shakers and learn about a livestock program developed especially for the village.
  • See Civil War reenactment events at Eddyville and Perry.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Visit St. Mary’s Basilica in Covington to see one of the most beautiful stained glass windows in the country, not to mention its size. It is the world’s largest stained church window, measuring 67 feet by 24 feet.
  • Learn about one favorite son at “Stephen Foster, the Musical,” an open-air show presented on summer nights except Mondays at My Old Kentucky Home State Park. Take a tour, with costumed guide, in the house where Foster was visiting when he wrote the eponymous song; in winter, make that a Christmas candlelight tour.
  • Visit Fort Knox, where all the U.S. gold is kept and site of the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor.
  • See a moonbow (nighttime rainbow) at Cumberland Falls, one of only two sites where moonbows occur naturally. The other is Victoria Falls in Africa.
  • See more of the state from the water, on paddle wheelers, riverboats or houseboats.
  • Pay homage to the 16th president with a visit to the Lincoln Homestead at the Lincoln Homestead State Park in Springfield. Buildings on site include the home of Lincoln’s mother and a replica of his father’s family cabin.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism at