When most people think of Kentucky, often the first thing they’ll envision is horse races, big hats, and maybe some barefoot children running around a coal mine in the hollers of the Appalachians. While these images (however stereotypical) may represent portions of the bluegrass state, there is so much more than just banjos and moonshine in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky!

As a born and raised Kentucky girl with a love of exploration, here are my top five reasons as to why you should visit my old Kentucky home.

Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington

1. Rolling Hills, Horses, Bluegrass, and Basketball

If you want to see the Kentucky that most people envision, take a drive near the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. The rolling bluegrass fields, white picket fences, and horses frolicking in the sun will make you feel like a character in a storybook. Towns like Lexington (“The Horse Capital of the World”) provide ample opportunities for views and experiences of the horse industry. Take a drive down Lexington’s Old Frankfort Pike, and see grand horse farms and old southern mansions.

Another great way to experience the bluegrass state is by spending a day at the scenic Keeneland race track. Open in April and October, come to admire the athletic beauty of these horses, and to learn the art of betting! Once your money is gone, take a stroll across the campus of the nearby University of Kentucky, and get a small taste of the state’s great appetite for basketball too. (GO CATS!!)

You can also pay a visit to the iconic city of Louisville- a trendy town with a great history. Home to the famed Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, as well as the baseball lover’s Louisville Slugger Museum, it is truly a Kentucky staple! If you want to experience horses, history, and bluegrass- these cities are the places to do it!

2. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

A simple truth: If you want bourbon whiskey, you come to Kentucky. If you want to sample it, try its many varieties and note its subtle differences, visit the bourbon trail. The trail is a network of 9 distilleries scattered throughout central Kentucky, providing guests the opportunity to visit these beautiful places, sip some bourbon, and get stamps on their “passport”. Most of the stops offer tours, with the chance to learn about the history and the distilling process, all while enjoying gorgeous views. Particularly scenic stops include Makers Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown.

A photo posted by Matt Kofel (@chatttownnights) on

3. Mammoth Cave National Park

Most people outside of Kentucky have no idea that the state is actually home to the world’s longest network of caves. Yes, you read that right- not just America’s longest cave network- the WORLD’S! Stretching out over 400 miles of epic passageways, this National Park is mysterious and truly fascinating. Visit the park to go on a variety of guided underground cavern tours, try your hand at spelunking, or to admire the stalagmites and stalactites (all while dodging those pesky bats!).Mammoth Cave, Cave City, Kentucky

4. The Red River Gorge

Located in the mountainous central part of the state, The Red River Gorge is a canyon system near the Red River. It is a protected geological area attracting thousands of campers, rock climbers, and adventure seekers each year.

Natural Bridge State Park is adjacent, and is one of the most beautiful hikes in the American south. Part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, this natural area offers stunning hikes, dramatic cliff-side views, and pristine forest. The greater Red River Gorge as a whole is also famous for its incomparable rock climbing. A final bonus is that the Gorge looks beautiful year round- especially in the spring and fall!

5. Small Towns and Southern Hospitality

Kentucky is home to many small towns that epitomize the American south. Walk through any little “map dot” town and you can find an old city hall, or some small local-run restaurants. You’re also bound to see some old barns slowly fading away, or meet friendly locals ready to serve some sweet tea. Small towns like Rabbit Hash in Northern Kentucky, or Augusta with its picturesque Victorian homes, can give you a little taste as to what you can find in any small town you stumble upon.

Kentucky does small towns right! In fact, the extremely charming and beautiful little gem of Bardstown was recently named “the most beautiful small town in America”! Filled with stately old homes, and even a haunted tavern, it is the site of the official “Old Kentucky Home”. When musician Stephen Foster visited this site in 1852, he was inspired to write our great state anthem!

Author: Michelle Weigold is a native Kentuckian with a love for travel, cats, grilled cheese, and genealogy! She is the author of the travel blog “The Great Wide Somewhere”, and is also a high-school Spanish Teacher. When she’s not busy lesson-planning, she’s probably planning her next trip! You can follow along with her journeys and get tips and inspiration at www.greatwidetravel.com

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