Kentucky’s reputation precedes it.
Think bourbon barrels stacked sky-high in rickhouses, Thoroughbreds grazing on the green hills of horse country and the nostalgic twang of bluegrass music. These sights and sounds are hallmarks of a Kentucky travel experience. And along with other high-profile attractions, they bring thousands of groups to the state every year.
Here are some can’t-miss activities for your next Kentucky tour.
At 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet tall, there’s a towering wooden replica of Noah’s Ark, built to the proportions described in the Bible, in Williamstown, halfway between Lexington and Cincinnati. It’s the massive centerpiece of the Ark Encounter, a Christian theme park based on the story of the flood in Genesis. Inside the ark, visitors will find a museum that explores the Bible story further, with three decks of exhibits depicting Noah’s workshop and the animals on the ark. In addition to the ark, the park has a buffet restaurant, Emzara’s Kitchen, with plenty of seating for groups. Other activities on the campus include visiting the zoo, taking camel rides and zip lining.
Kentucky Horse Park
Stretching over 1,200 acres of Bluegrass bordered with traditional four-board fencing, the Kentucky Horse Park represents the heart of the state well. Though it has only been open to the public since 1978, the land has a long history and deep connection with horses. These days, the working horse farm and attraction just off Interstate 75 in Lexington draws 500,000 visitors annually. Groups can tour the farm in a horse-drawn trolley and watch daily programs such as the Parade of Breeds show, where groups can learn about and interact with different breeds of horses. Group admission also includes entrance to the International Museum of the Horse, a Smithsonian affiliate with 60,000 square feet of exhibits detailing the relationship between horses and humans. They can also participate in a Big Barn Stall Side Chat, where they’ll get to see one of the park’s resident horses up close. Scheduled groups enjoy free bus parking and can dine in the Iron Works Café for lunch.
Cumberland Falls, located in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, is approximately 125 feet wide and 68 feet tall. Called the Niagara of the South because of its power, with 3,600 cubic feet of water spilling over per second, Cumberland Falls is also the site of one of only two naturally occurring moonbows in the world. A moonbow, also called a lunar rainbow, is created when light from the moon is refracted through mist from the falls. Take groups there on a clear night within two days of a full moon, and they’re bound to witness the magical spectacle of the moonbow. But it’s still a majestic and worthy site during the day. With 17 miles of hiking trails, it’s a perfect place for active groups to explore, but every group can enjoy breathtaking views of the falls on easily accessible lookouts.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Kentucky takes its state spirit seriously. This is especially true at Buffalo Trace, the distillery producing some of the most famous brands in the bourbon industry, such as Blanton’s, Weller, Eagle Rare and Pappy Van Winkle. Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery in the country. The historic campus rests on over 130 scenic acres in Frankfort and offers several tours ranging from an overview of the distillery to an in-depth look at the historic architecture of buildings on the campus. Groups can see how the bourbon is made from start to finish, learn about the state’s bourbon history and peruse the beautiful campus, from its historic buildings to its botanical gardens. Each tour comes with a complimentary tasting, and groups can swing by the gift shop for a Buffalo Trace souvenir — or bottle — on their way out.
The official start to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is in Louisville, which has over 10 distillery experiences within city limits. A bourbon lover’s visit to this sprawling metro is incomplete without an evening spent on Whiskey Row, a historic district on a mile-long stretch of Main Street full of Revivalist- and Chicago-style buildings with cast-iron storefronts. This district used to house offices for many bourbon producers, and today it’s a thriving entertainment hub filled with restaurants, bars and distilleries. Groups can mix and match their distillery trips and bourbon experiences on the row or visit them all if they’re up for the challenge. They can choose from tours and tastings at Kentucky Peerless, Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Old Forester Distillery, Angel’s Envy, Michter’s Fort Nelson and Rabbit Hole. They’ll also pass several bars and restaurants that keep up the bourbon theme, such as Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse and Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen.
Adjacent to the Red River Gorge Geological Area, the Natural Bridge is a massive sandstone arch in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The arch is 78 feet long and 65 feet high and is the centerpiece of Natural Bridge State Resort Park. The park features 10 hiking trails of varying lengths and skill levels. Active groups can enjoy a scenic and moderately strenuous hike to see the arch the old-fashioned way, but for those who want to see the arch without breaking a sweat, the park offers a sky lift with breathtaking views of the park. At the park’s Hemlock Lodge, Sandstone Arches Restaurant offers Kentucky classics like fried chicken and fried catfish.