Kentucky is known as the place to go for Bluegrass music, horse racing and, of course, bourbon.
But thanks to its gushing rivers and glimmering lakes, this southeastern state is as much a destination for water as it is for its famous barrel-aged elixir. You won’t have any trouble finding a sport, a view and a beverage to suit your taste.
Lake Cumberland State Resort Park
If wide-open spaces are what you’re craving, then Lake Cumberland State Resort Park is where you need to go. About 200 kilometers south of Louisville, Kentucky, Lake Cumberland is the third largest in the state, spanning over 26,000 hectares. It’s home to hundreds of species of fish and other animals as well as abundant trees and flowers that you can enjoy from the deck of a houseboat. To rent a houseboat or enjoy a leisurely pontoon boat ride, head to Lake Cumberland State Dock at the northern tip of the park.
Boating at Lake Cumberland State Resort Park in southern Kentucky
To really get into the swing of your classic houseboat vacation, enjoy the scenery with an old-fashioned — made with Kentucky’s own bourbon — in hand. This cocktail was invented in Louisville in the 19th century and is made by mixing the bourbon with a bit of simple syrup, bitters and orange peel.
Relaxing with an old-fashioned bourbon cocktail
Mammoth Cave National Park
No trip to Kentucky is complete without a visit to the world famous Mammoth Cave National Park, located roughly 150 kilometers south of Louisville. Although this park is known for its 643 kilometers of underground caves, it’s also home to more than 48 kilometers of rivers and streams. The Green River’s high-powered current makes for a fast-paced kayak ride, while the Nolin River runs at a slower pace, making it ideal for canoeing. Both rivers offer sweeping views of the park’s majestic scenery. You can rent kayaks and canoes from one of four nearby rental companies.
Calm river currents at Mammoth Cave National Park are ideal for canoeing
Tasting the Mint Julep
After a few hours of paddling, refresh yourself with a mint julep. This classic Kentucky cocktail became popular with Southern elite in the early 19th century. Some say it was a morning drink used to start the day off right. Today, the mint julep is synonymous with the iconic Kentucky Derby horse-racing event. It has been served at Churchill Downs, the famous horse-racing track in Louisville, since 1938. Made with a mix of bourbon, mint leaves and simple syrup, this cocktail is great for winding down after a day filled with activity.
Paddling in the Green River
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
For fishing enthusiasts, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, about 330 kilometers southwest of Louisville straddling the Kentucky-Tennessee border, is one of the more scenic places to cast a line. This park is home to Kentucky Lake, which at 64,871 hectares is the largest lake (by surface area) in the state. According to landbigfish.com, this man-made lake also holds three fishing records, including a 5-pound white bass, a 55-pound small-mouth buffalo and a 1-pound, 7-ounce yellow perch. The lake also is home to crappie, catfish and bluegill. You can rent a fishing boat from one of the marinas lining the lake, or you can cast off from the 3,321 kilometers of forested shoreline.
Nothing complements a catch-of-the-day better than an ice-cold beer. But while you’re in Kentucky, try pairing your fresh fish with a Kentucky Mule. This trendy cocktail is made with Kentucky bourbon, ginger beer, lime and mint. The classic mix of mint and bourbon will quickly cool you down after a hot day on the water.
Warehouse full of Kentucky bourbon aging in barrels
More experiences nearby