The Kentucky Bucket List
By Erin Douglas
‘What exactly is there to do besides bourbon and barbeque in Kentucky?’ is the question that I continuously received prior to my visit, and quite honestly, I wasn’t so sure. Kentucky was never a place I had on my short list to visit, but once I got there, I was just as eager to make the most out of this trip as any other destination on my travel bucket list.
With a growing food scene in downtown Louisville to national park resorts; to caving underground, there’s way more to Kentucky than you may think. Exhilarating bucket list adventures may not be your first thought about this bourbon state, but it will be once you leave. Don’t just stick to downtown Louisville, but also take the time to explore the surrounding towns to truly get a ‘Kentucky’ experience.
Kentucky is a beautiful place with a welcoming vibe. Although some Kentucky natives may cringe when you compare them to other “southern” states,” that good ole southern hospitality runs through Kentuckians all the like. My five days in Kentucky consisted of a city slicking, rural relaxing and tons of adventure in between. Building up the nerve to do thrill-seeking activities I wouldn’t normally do was the ultimate goal for this trip. Who would have guessed you could do so much of that in Kentucky?
With small town charm everywhere you go, and unique activities to partake in, you won’t have a problem filling up your itinerary. Here is why Kentucky is worth discovering.
My first full day in Kentucky started out with an early morning adrenaline boost at Mega Caverns. This consists of a 2-hour tour with 6 zip lines, all underground in the dark. You’ll be zipping across a dimly lit old coal-mining cave with lines up to 90 feet across, as the crispy cool air of the underground hits your bare skin. This almost pitch black cave with glowing red and green strobe lights for dramatics, gives you just a glimpse of what’s below ground as you slide through the air. Not to mention, this experience was also exciting, thrilling and unique.
You can’t visit Kentucky without getting a little taste of their bourbon, as it makes 95% of all the bourbon made in the US. Evans Williams Bourbon Experience should be on your bourbon tour for sure! Known as the first commercial distillery to grace Kentucky, Evan Williams takes great pride in its Kentucky history. Their bourbon and bourbon products (such as hot sauces and BBQ sauces) have come along way since its first batch. This charming storefront on Main Street will take you on a journey through time of bourbon making and the life of Evan Williams during your 1-hour tour. As you walk along the decorated walls you’ll get a glimpse of everything bourbon past and present. Learning about the tasting notes and the characteristics of bourbon intrigued me, and left me wanting to learn more about the spirit.
While in Downtown Louisville, stop by the Muhammad Ali Center. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to truly be inspired by Ali’s life. From the artifacts to the short films shown throughout, you’ll learn more about Ali than ever before: the greatness he possessed as a person, the fighter and the advocate for justice and people. The Ali Center not only left me wanting to learn more about what made him such a successful boxer, it also inspired me to keep working at my own craft.
It was a sweltering hot when I finally left Louisville to head to Lake Cumberland, which was about a 3-hour drive from the city. I was enthusiastic to explore the Kentucky outside of downtown.
A state park may not be your first idea of a place to go for a quick get away, but if you live in a city, this is probably the perfect place to go. Unwind, relax and take in the beautiful scenic views of the largest man-made lake in Kentucky: Lake Cumberland. With camping sites, hiking trails, horse back riding, house-boats to rent, a hotel, an indoor pool, and amazing views it’s hard not to relax. You can kick up your feet and listen to the music of the birds and do everything or nothing at all.
Unknowing to many, the US has some of the best caves on the planet. More specifically, Kentucky has a few of these cool caves that you should definitely explore. Mammouth Cave is a great family rest stop to take a quick or long cave tour that tells you all about the how the cave was discovered and kept up until now. The cave is bustling with tourists and lies in a beautiful national park.
20 minutes down the road is by far one of my favorites stops of the whole trip, Hidden River Cave.
Get dirty while exploring the magnificent cave as the beautiful sounds of the hidden river soothes you in the darkness. Touring the cave is such an amazing experience to see with your own eyes.
The kid in me came out when I arrived at Kentucky Down Under. Birthed by husband and wife couple in 1990, this unique adventure zoo allows its guests to get up close and personal with the many rare animals they have. From Bison, to rainbow Lorikeets, to Kangaroos, pythons, Emus and foxes, they have it all and they make it fun. Kentucky Down Under brings adventure to Kentucky in a unique way and the kid in you will be very, very excited after this visit.
I ended my trip with an early morning leisurely stroll through at Parklands of Floyds Fork State Park. This park is perfect for a long run, bike ride, bird-watching or soaking up the sun.
I’ve come to learn, it’s the discrete, unknown places that pack a lot of unexpected punch. So here’s to Kentucky, and all its caves, zip lining, southern hospitality, adventure and just good ole fun it forced me to have. I’d do this trip all over again in a snap!
I was always the one traveling in my family, but I didn't get the travel bug until I took my first solo and international trip to the Philippines in 2013. With no concrete plans beforehand it turned out to be the most amazing experience; full of adventure, culture and food; of which I turned into a travel photo book (http://blur.by/1g6REy2). I get a thrill out of exploring the unknown, meeting the locals and eating authentic foods. I can enjoy a resort but I like a bit more adventure. Traveling alone has been a life changing experience for me. I'm a freelance photographer; A foodie, who will travel near and far to find the best of; A marathoner. and a girl who's learned mostly everything from the past 14yrs in NYC. Traveling has opened my eyes to so many new things about myself, life, and the people in it. I hope for an opportunity that will allow me to merge my love of photography, food, traveling and writing full time.