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Kentucky: The Most Underrated Road Trip State?

by Scott Tribble
Kentucky Horses

Kentucky Horses stock photo by twenty20photos / Envato Elements

When it comes to lists of Best States for Road Trips, we’re used to seeing usual suspects like California, Utah, Colorado, and Montana. For whatever reason, Kentucky never seems to rank very high. But I’m here to tell you that Kentucky is one of the most underrated states when it comes to road tripping. Scenic drives, breathtaking outdoor vistas, bustling cities, excellent food & drink—without question, the Bluegrass State is a great destination for your next U.S. trip.

To start, let’s get the obvious out of the way: bourbon. Kentucky is the hub of the beloved American whiskey, and the Bourbon Trail is a great way to experience a fine spirit at a number of top-notch distilleries, while also taking in the state’s history and amazing scenery along the way.

I won’t take you through the whole trail, but, if you have one distillery to visit, I’d make it Woodford Reserve. A smaller operation set in picturesque Versailles, Woodford Reserve is much more quaint and personal than some of the larger operations like Wild Turkey. If you have time and would like to see a larger operation, Buffalo Trace would be my recommendation, and it’s not far from the state capital in Frankfort. Of course, if you have more time to commit to bourbon, make sure you visit Bardstown, home of multiple distilleries as well as the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History.

Mint Julep cocktail with bourbon, ice and mint in glass on black background

Mint Julep cocktail with bourbon, ice and mint

Kentucky also boasts Louisvllle and Lexington, two large cities with a young feel, thanks to their local universities. Louisville is home to great tourist destinations like the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory and the Muhammad Ali Center. (Pro Tip: While you’re there, don’t miss out on the lively Troll Pub Under the Bridge downtown) Lexington has just as much to offer, though overall it has a cozier and more laid-back feel. An especially popular destination in Lexington is the Keeneland horse racing track.

If you’re the outdoors type, the Daniel Boone National Forest and Cumberland Falls State Resort Park are packed with stunning views as well as lots of great hiking trails and other recreation opportunities. Breaks Interstate Park, located on the Virginia border, is a little more out of the way, but it’s definitely worth it just to see The Towers, the South’s version of Horseshoe Bend. You also have to visit Mammoth Cave National Park, a truly spectacular and—well—mammoth cave network. I’ve been to a lot of caves throughout the U.S., and I’d rank Mammoth just a notch below Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

Wherever you are in Kentucky, don’t miss an opportunity to drive the byways and enjoy the lush rolling hills. One of my favorite stretches is the Bluegrass Highway, which connects Lexington to Elizabethtown. Also, make sure to take detours to enjoy satisfying slices of Americana, like the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum in Corbin. Yep, that’s the spot from which Colonel Sanders launched his international fried chicken empire.

Country Road

A Kentucky country road

And, wherever you are in Kentucky, run, don’t walk to get yourself a Hot Brown sandwich, the state’s signature dish. An open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon, covered in creamy Mornay sauce, it was invented in Louisville in 1926 and has been satisfying locals and visitors alike ever since.

Homemade Baked Kentucky Hot Brown

The mighty Hot Brown sandwich

It’s not a vast state like California or Arizona, but Kentucky sure outpunches its size. Don’t pass up a chance to visit the Bluegrass State for a little bit of everything—finished with a sip of bourbon, of course.

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