Kentucky is synonymous with Bluegrass, bourbon, and fried chicken. A visit to this Southern state would not be complete without a visit to the Kentucky Derby or a stop along the Bourbon Trail, a collection of distilleries around Louisville. You would be mistaken if you think this is all Kentucky has to offer, however. Hidden between Kentucky’s major urban centers are a wealth of small towns brimming with Southern hospitality. Take a moment to explore off the beaten path to discover what this great state has in store.
Visitors to Somerset are often surprised by the amount of natural beauty available within arm’s reach. Lake Cumberland is a fine place to spend a warm summer’s day, and you can even rent a houseboat for a weekend. Go fishing, kayaking, swimming, and even skiing in the area surrounding the lake. Looking for a place to hike? Check out Daniel Boone National Forest and even hop aboard the Big South Fork Scenic Railway to see the state as never before. The town itself is great as well. Families with children will love Finley’s Fun Center of Danville for its laser tag and arcade games.
Horse lovers and riders alike will enjoy Shelbyville. Louisville steals the show as the premier horse racing destination, but this small town of 18,000 punches well above its weight. The renowned American Saddlebred is bred here and attending the Shelbyville Horse Show is a longstanding summer tradition. Visit the Wakefield Scearce Galleries and Ruby Rooster Antique Mall for a great souvenir. There are several stops on the bourbon trail near Shelbyville. Take a walking tour to view the town’s beautiful architecture, including the Shelby County Courthouse.
An hour’s drive southwest of Shelbyville, Bardstown is a bourbon lover’s paradise. With nine well-known distilleries here, it is safe to say there is plenty to swish, swirl, and sip in town. You can even visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History to learn more. Camp out at My Old Kentucky State Park where the views are spectacular and take a walking tour of the town. As Kentucky’s second oldest town, there is a rich history here for you to discover. See the Old Talbott Tavern, the Basilica of Saint Joseph Proto-Cathedral, and many other architectural delights.
Fans of Bluegrass will know that the town of Rosine is where it all started. Bill Monroe, the genre’s founder, lived in Rosine and his house and grave are found there today. The musical tradition of Rosine is kept alive by its residents who play live music on the front steps of the Rosine General Store and at the Rosine Barn Jamboree. There are only about 100 people in Rosine but the town is one of the best ways to experience small-town Kentucky.
The town of Berea is a must-see destination for artistic types. The town is a veritable hub for the arts, attracting sculptors, musicians, designers, and more. Berea hosts an annual Berea Craft Festival, and the work of the town’s artists can be seen all year at the Kentucky Artisan Center. Visit the historical sights here such as the Berea College which was built in 1855, and Boone Tavern which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kentucky Horse Park and Fort Boonesborough State Park will appear to the outdoorsy types and equestrians alike.
The town of Hodgenville is rich in history and a must-see for any American history buffs. As the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest U.S. presidents, Hodgenville has a significance that is hard to overstate. Visit the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home, the Lincoln Museum, or even the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park! The park maintains lush trails and two farmsteads in LaRue County where the former president was born and raised during his formative years. Hodgenville makes for a great day trip for anyone in the area.
If Hodgenville is perfect for historians, London is tailor-made for nature lovers and explorers. In the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, there is a bevy of lakes, parks, and forests here to be discovered and rediscovered again. Bike through the many London to Laurel cycling paths and hike through Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. Laze by Laurel Lake and the Rockcastle River. The town’s Main Street is clean and nostalgic and hosts a litany of events in the Town Center Park at the heart of its downtown area.
The historic town of Pikeville has everything you could want in a town: historic sights, natural wonders, and more charm than you could shake a stick at. Pikeville was the site of the famed feud between the Hatfield and McCoy clans. Take a self-guided tour and learn about one of the town’s history as a 19th-century battleground over resources. Next, visit Pikeville’s Zip, Paddle & Saddle for everything from horseback riding to ziplining and kayaking. Downtown Pikeville has plenty of shopping and live entertainment. The Jenny Wiley Theatre and the Artists Collaborative Theatre are always hosting shows and live music is a regular occurrence.
Ranked as one of the 15 Best Places to Live in Kentucky by Movoto, the real estate website, Glasgow is a Barren County gem. The town is gorgeous thanks to its beautifully preserved buildings such as the Historic Plaza Theater, and there is plenty to do in and around Glasgow. Stop by the Museum of the Barrens, the Veterans Wall of Honor, and Fort Williams for an educational excursion. Mammoth Cave National Park is a caver’s paradise, while Barren River Lake is the perfect place to spend a warm summer afternoon.
Rand McNally called Murray the Friendliest Small Town in America in USA Today thanks to its location near the scenic Kentucky lake and nearby Land Between Lakes recreation area. The town is picturesque and full of attractions. The artistically inclined will want to swing by the Clara M. Eagle Art Gallery at Murray State University and Playhouse in the Park, a community theater. The annual Freedom Festival is held every Independence Day, and there is a plethora of live music and events held all year.
This idyllic town in western Kentucky’s blue hills is known for its all-ages festivals and its gorgeous downtown. Visit the 12-acre forest in Brizendine Brothers Nature Park, Lake Malone State Park, and the Summerhouse, a gorgeous gazebo that is perfect for picnics. Go for a bite at the renowned Aunt M’s Cafe and visit the Big Twigs, an outdoor art exhibit at Lake Malone. Swing by Greenville’s marvelous courthouse which was built in 1907 and has the second-largest bell tower dome in Kentucky.
At the heart of the Bourbon Belt Trail, Lebanon is a small but endearing town with its own rich heritage of bourbon brewing. Lebanon hosts Limestone Branch and Maker’s Mark, famed bourbon distilleries, and the Whitemoon Winery. Need to clear your head after a distillery tour? Visit the Fagan Branch Reservoir and fish or hike to your heart’s content. Take a historic home walking tour and explore the town’s rich Civil War heritage at your own pace.
The town of La Grange is the proverbial postcard town thanks to its storefront awnings and low, flat buildings. Life is peaceful in La Grange and that is just how the locals like it. A historic rail line that travels straight through the town’s quaint main street and is a sight to behold. Visit the Kentucky Derby Museum and catch a bluegrass show. Go scuba diving at the La Grange Quarry and stroll through the Yew Dell Botanical Gardens. La Grange is peaceful small-town America personified.
Kentucky is a bourbon-brewer and Bluegrass lover’s mecca. The small-town charm of Kentucky’s best-kept secrets will make any visitor a return customer, and the awesome Appalachian Mountains which run through the state are tantalizing central. There is so much more to Kentucky than horse racing. Visit this Southern state for a taste of hospitality and adventure you are not likely to forget.