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Kentucky Bluegrass: Horses, Sports, Bourbon and Beauty

A Rand McNally Destination of the Month

By Ashley Day

Courtesy Kentucky Dept. of Travel & Tourism

Not surprisingly, this southern destination has perfected accommodation, catering to outdoorsmen and history buffs as much as musicians or brewery goers. Its iconic horse races make for a vacation in themselves, but you’ll want to stick around for a few more claims to fame.

The Main Attraction

Kentucky is all things equestrian from the Horse Capital of the World in Lexington to the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” in Louisville. Between Keeneland races in April and Churchill Downs’ through May and June, Spring is prime time to experience Horse Country. Saddle up for the ultimate day of racing, betting, and, of course, Mint Juleps, for the Kentucky Derby each May with crowds exceeding 150,000. The two-week Derby Festival kicks off with Thunder Over Louisville, the biggest annual fireworks display on this continent over the Ohio River the Saturday before the two-week tradition. If you didn’t make the festivities this year, trot by the Kentucky Horse Park training grounds, the International Museum of the Horse, the Hall of Champions, and dozens of farms across the state with riding and tours.

The Other Countries

The Bluegrass State is known as much for its bourbon as its horses, distilling over 95% of all bourbon. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail leads visitors through six major distilleries in Bourbon Country with tours and tastings at producers like Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam. For an encore, continue to the Urban Bourbon Trail featuring Louisville bars serving over 50 varieties of bourbon each and hosting monthly bourbon events. Visit in September for the annual Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, the Bourbon Capital of the World.

You might be surprised to find winery tours and tastings as well. The bluegrass hills create a beautiful setting for vineyards in the home of the first commercial vineyard in the U.S. Choose from over 50 wineries across the state, many offering events and lodging.

Enjoy a taste of bluegrass music in its birthplace, too. The Country Music Highway Museum, Country Music Hall of Fame, Bluegrass Music Museum, Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and birthplaces of dozens of famed musicians comprise Bluegrass Country. Be sure to check the lineup of bluegrass festivals from June to September each year.

Bleeding Blue

After the University of Kentucky’s NCAA Championship last month, Wildcat Blue is everywhere. The entire state rallies around this college basketball team–the second winningest team in NCAA history with this 8th title–in Rupp Arena each season. The annual match-up between UK and the Louisville Cardinals is known as the Battle for the Bluegrass, one of the most popular rivalries in the nation.

Celebrate bluegrass baseball, boxing, and car racing alike with attractions like the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Muhammad Ali Center, the Kentucky Speedway, and the National Corvette Museum.

Outdoors Adventure

Don’t miss Mammoth Cave National Park, one of Rand McNally’s custom road trips, with the world’s longest cave system, tons of outdoor recreation, tours and camping. Kentucky offers hundreds of hiking trails including Mammoth Caves, in addition to over 50 state parks, 120 parks in Louisville alone, Daniel Boone National Forest, and more coastline than Florida for plenty of boating and fishing.

And Then Some

Last, make room on your itinerary for a little art and history, with Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and Appalachia folk arts and crafts. From the National Quilt Museum to Sanders Café, Shaker Village, and the Aviation Museum, there’s even more to Kentucky’s historic footprint, part of the all-around appealing attraction.

Explore our Kentucky road trips, points of interest, and small towns as you plan your bluegrass travel.