Explore Kentucky Bourbon Country in three cities bursting with open-air opportunities.
In Kentucky Bourbon Country, there’s no need to choose between the great outdoors and bourbon-related fun: Enjoy both at the same time! Here in Covington, Frankfort, and Bardstown, bourbon is so much a part of our culture that it literally wafts through the air—come sniff the difference between distillate, fermentation, and evaporation aromas! If the great outdoors is your happy place, or if you simply feel safer in open-air environments during the Coronavirus era, we have plenty of options to keep you busy whether you stay three nights, nine, or longer. Here are just a few of the possibilities.
Come To Covington
Walk across the Newport Southbank Bridge—commonly known as the Purple People Bridge—that stretches a half-mile across the Ohio River connecting Newport, Kentucky to Cincinnati, Ohio. The area’s sole pedestrian-only bridge offers a unique opportunity to stand with one foot on either side of the state Kentucky-Ohio state line. Plan ahead and grab a to-go cocktail from a nearby bar so you’re ready to raise a toast at the edge of Kentucky Bourbon Country.
Sail the Ohio River with BB Riverboats between the skylines of Covington and Cincinnati. Multiple itineraries are offered, but every cruise offers fun under the sun as well as the opportunity to enjoy a beverage of your choice from the full bar on board.
Whether you bring a picnic, hike the nature trails, rent a bike, play a round of golf, or sip a drink on the patio, in Devou Park you’ll enjoy the sprawling panoramic views of both Cincinnati and Covington.
Explore the 121-acre Boone County Arboretum. The nation’s first arboretum within an active recreation park setting is home to 3,600 trees and shrubs plus 12 athletic fields connected by a two-mile, multi-use trail.
Stroll downtown Covington and surrounding neighborhoods on an art walk. Among the public works is a barrel collection project, completed in 2019, featuring over 100 custom-painted bourbon barrels decorated by local artists. Each barrel houses a solar-powered lamp to illuminate holes and cutouts in the artists’ design.
Join a two-hour, pedal-powered, rolling adventure on Pedal Wagon Covington, making stops at select local establishments (including several on The B-Line). Join a group of up to nine passengers and share the pedaling effort or reserve an entire Pedal Wagon for a private cruise.
Drive the scenic 45 miles from Covington to Augusta, then board the Augusta Ferry to cross the Ohio River. Operating since 1798, the ferry shuttles between Augusta and Boude’s Landing one mile west of Higginsport, Ohio. Drive less than 10 miles to nearby Ripley, which served as a key stop on the Underground Railroad, and see the celebrated John Rankin House.
Savor local flavors under the sky at your pick among multiple venues. The new BridgeView Box Park at Newport on the Levee is home to several local shops and eateries, all with waterfront views, including an outpost of Second Sight Spirits that pours specialty cocktails. Elsewhere in Newport, New Riff Distilling has moved its popular Aquifer Tasting Bar outdoors, inspired by biergartens. In downtown Covington, The Patio at Coppins inside Hotel Covington is a delicious retreat. Nearby Rich’s Proper Food and Drink boasts a new patio that features an eye-popping pergola built out of bourbon barrels as well as an eclectic menu with something for every palate. In Covington’s charming Mainstrasse historic district, reserve a table on the patio at Bouquet Restaurant, where the motherboard charcuterie platter is as popular as the signature cocktails and large bourbon collection. In Burlington, the patio at Tousey House Tavern overlooks pastoral countryside while the food and hospitality are genuine Southern.
Sleep under the stars at EarthJOY TreeHouse Adventures in your pick of three treehouses, one of which has been featured on Animal Planet. While there, explore 200 acres of hiking and mountain biking trails, go on a scavenger hunt, swing in a hammock, and try a tree climbing adventure or guided canopy tour. Prefer traditional camping? A.J. Jolly Park and Campground is a 1,000-acre park with 75 camping sites, a 200-acre fishing lake, horse trails, hiking trails, kayaking, 18-hole disc golf, and even a new yurt if glamping is more your style. If you’d rather sleep indoors, there are dozens of options.
Ride the nation’s only boat-based bourbon tour with Kentucky River Tours and discover the Kentucky River’s role in bourbon history surrounded by picturesque settings. Multiple tours, including a new sunset cruise plus custom private itineraries, are available.
Navigate Elkhorn Creek on a canoe, kayak, raft, or stand-up paddleboard from Canoe Kentucky to create your own adventure. Or join one of the guided experiences that include lunch and stops at Buffalo Trace Distillery or local micro-breweries.
Pedal ten miles of singletrack trails at Capitol View Park, one of the state’s top mountain bike destinations. With scenic views of the state capitol building and the Kentucky River, the park also offers five miles of off-track biking trails, nature trails, basketball courts, ball fields, and picnic shelters.
Hike or bike nature trails, some of which are handicap accessible, in Cove Spring Park. The 240-acre park and nature preserve houses wetlands, streams, springs, forested ravines, waterfalls, plus other natural and historic features. Six miles of trails offer interpretive signs for learning along the way, while The Sky Trail overlooks the city. There’s also an archery range with static targets and a 3-D range.
Explore the Salato Wildlife Education Center, a 262-acre complex that doubles as headquarters for the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources. Go fishing in two lakes, enjoy a picnic, hike four miles of trails, or visit outdoor exhibits that get you close to bald eagles, bison, black bear, elk, deer, turkey, bobcats, and other creatures.
Peruse the Frankfort Public Art Tour, curated in collaboration with Josephine Sculpture Park and FrankArts. Within a few blocks of downtown Frankfort see murals, sculptures, architecture, and stained-glass windows in a range of styles from classic to whimsical. A second self-guided tour, the Historic Frankfort Walking Tour, showcases 40 noteworthy properties. Stop by the Visitor Center to pick up a free guide for either or both routes.
Shop the farmers’ market at Kentucky River View Park, rent a canoe or kayak, hike the trails, or enjoy a leisurely picnic. Running along both banks of the Kentucky River in downtown Frankfort, the park is home to a one-mile walking trail that features 16 historic sites, including prehistoric and Native cultural treasures, a refurbished bridge from the 1800s, and a monument to the state’s three original counties. There’s also a public art project.
Visit a distillery to see a genuine operation and whiff its distinctive aromas, whether or not you decide to venture indoors for a tour, sampling, or buy a bottle of booze or hand sanitizer. Set on 122 acres, Three Boys Farm Distillery is photogenic and peaceful. Glenn’s Creek is housed in the former Old Crow Distillery. Castle & Key was E.H. Taylor’s second distillery, built after Buffalo Trace.
Dine outdoors to take advantage of beautiful weather while keeping your distance from others. Most of Frankfort’s local eateries have put tables outdoors this summer, including The Stave known for its upscale Kentucky fare, Bourbon on Main that specializes in pub fare, and Sage Garden Café where fresh is always in season. Located on the Kentucky River, The Riverboat Grill has always offered casual outdoor dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Sig Luscher Brewery offers outdoor pub dining plus is a frequent gathering spot for food trucks.
Frankfort offers a wide range of places to stay, including Elkhorn Campground, a privately-owned facility with 125 campsites, many paved and several with full hook-ups, plus some extra-long pull-through sites for big rigs and towing campers. Kentucky River Campground and RV Park has over 100 spots plus a furnished camper and a two-bedroom apartment for rent.
Bourbon Comes From Bardstown
Play a round of golf. My Old Kentucky Home Golf Course, the top-rated golf course in Kentucky’s State Park system, is an 18-hole PGA Professional course on Bermuda grass that features 6,351 yards from the longest tees for a par of 71 and has carts available. Bardstown Country Club is a semi-private country club. The challenging 18-hole Maywood Course on Bentgrass greens and Bermuda fairways features five sets of tees from 7,200 yards to 4,600 yards, to welcome every level of golfer. Hone your swing at the driving range or take a golf lesson. The 18-hole Cedar-Fil Golf Course on rye grass featuring 5,938 yards of golf from the longest tees with a par of 72. The public course was designed by Harold Filiatreau and first opened in 1967.
Explore the place that inspired Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” at My Old Kentucky Home State Park. Tours of the 200-year-old mansion are available and currently limited to 9 guests. You can also picnic, watch birds, play tennis, and stroll the peaceful, picturesque grounds.
Explore Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Among its more than 40 miles of trails, the four-mile Bike Hike Trail is a paved and gravel route that follows Long Lick Creek. Located just 10 minutes from downtown Bardstown, it passes through the old Clermont quarry, a section of Old Highway 245, and ends near the Bullitt/Nelson County Line. Once there, you can continue onto back roads or turn around to return to the trailhead. This trail is handicap accessible and leashed dogs are permitted.
Boat and fish at Sympson Lake, a reservoir located about two miles from downtown Bardstown. Try your luck reeling in a largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, or catfish. Note that the lake is the community’s water supply and permits are required.
Walk historic downtown Bardstown, “The Most Beautiful Small Town in America.” Enjoy a self-guided historic walking tour with 48 points of interest including the 1892 county courthouse, 1820 county jail, and the old Talbott Tavern that’s been operating since 1797. Most of the downtown shops, bars, and restaurants are reopened, many with outdoor displays or seating. Just a short distance from downtown, play sand volleyball, enjoy a picnic, explore 20 acres of woods woven with walking and biking trails, or sit a spell on a bench at Bardstown Community Park.
Visit a distillery to enjoy some of Bardstown’s best views, whether or not you decide to venture indoors for a tour, tasting, or souvenir purchase. Among the options, Lux Row boasts a patio with a bar overlooking gorgeous countryside where peacocks roam. Willett Distillery is photogenic from every angle. The Bar at Willett debuts a new menu in July. Bardstown Bourbon Company is housed in a glass structure, making it especially easy to see a distillery in action from outside. Sip a cocktail or nibble seasonal fare on the patio that overlooks rolling hills.
Snuggle in for the night at My Old Kentucky Home Campground in one of the 39 RV sites or a primitive tent campsite in the centuries-old forest. The pet-friendly White Acres Campground & Gifts offers 88 sites close to town. Little Patch of Heaven welcomes RV and tent campers to its lakeside setting. Roast s’mores over a campfire, sing songs, tell ghost stories. Prefer a hotel or inn? Options abound.
Hours of operation and offerings change rapidly these days, so confirm details and options before you arrive. During the Coronavirus pandemic, when visiting public places please wear a mask, keep your hands clean, and stand far enough away from other people that you’ll need to raise your bourbon glass in a toast rather than clink glasses.