It happened – ‘Rona made us more than a little stir-crazy. 7 weeks into Michigan’s original lockdown, we wanted out. We needed adventure. With 3 kids schooling from home and the hubs and I working on laptops, we realized there was nothing holding us back from taking off in our camper. So take off is what we did! One loooooong look on the world wide web told us there were only a few states with campgrounds open. Kentucky was a draw since it’s only a few hours away and it was still south (also read: WARM). We made a reservation for Memorial Day weekend and decided to take it one day at a time from there… And here’s where the adventure led us:
First Stop: Louisville… and she did NOT disappoint! It was a perfect launching point. We loved the walk along the Ohio River (especially on the Indiana side at the Falls of the Ohio State Park). Downtown was simply gorgeous – even the trash receptacles were pretty! The historic buildings and cheeky marketing of local businesses lured us in and it was a blast to “own” the town since many businesses were closed and people were scarce. Since we’re weird about strange monuments, a photo with the world’s largest baseball bat was a must. Another fun highlight (that we REALLY wish was open!!) was Churchill Downs. It’s magnificent from the outside of course, but a tour of the inside would have been fun since we have more than one horse-lover in the family! Don’t worry, we watched Secretariat to get us in the spirit for Kentucky Horse Racing.
Next we headed east toward Lexington and on the way, swung by the birthplace and childhood homes of Abraham Lincoln. The springs were nice and cool and walking the two properties did not take long. Unfortunately the visitor centers were closed for us, but there were still Park Rangers walking about answering questions and offering bits of trivia, they were worth every minute of eves-dropping and question-asking…these rangers know their stuff!
Landing in Lexington for a few days, we decided on the [free] walking tour of Mary Todd Lincoln’s early life. It was much less walking than we expected (which was welcome in the extreme heat!) but included lots of great info on the diversity of Kentucky’s stance during the Civil War. Did you know two of Mary Todd Lincoln’s brothers fought for the confederacy!? We landed in the center of town by the water fountains where we had a snack in the shade at some lovely tables while watching the locals rush about. Side note for learning about Mary Todd Lincoln: this website offered quite a bit of interesting info for us to read as we walked. I think it helped keep the kiddos engaged since once again, businesses and “official” tours were closed due to the virus. We also walked around the Kentucky Horse Park (oh my beautiful) and wished desperately that the barns & museums were open… Next time!
If you’re considering your own trip, I have to add here that before you leave the Lexington area you’ve GOT to stop at Sun Valley Farms which was about 20 minutes southwest in Versailles. Anyone who’s been to Kentucky knows it’s all about the horses and Sun Valley is a family owned thoroughbred horse nursery. They gave a very hands on (yay for petting baby race horses!) tour of the foal barn (masks required) and educated us on the process of raising and auctioning thoroughbreds for racing. The tour also included a walk around their 300 year old property and home as well as some race horse & auction videos in the nice cool garage. Just a drive through their pastures was enough to set our hearts ablaze for horses. If nothing else, follow them on Facebook and Brett will let you in on evening grazes by the creek and walks through the pasture to get to know the horses!
We continued east to Daniel Boone National Park. The road trip views changed from green grassy pastures and black wooden fence-rows to ambling limestone mountains and endless creeks. Here we had unlimited options as all the state and national parks were open! Grey Arch Rock hike was a perfect 4 mile length for this family of 5 (plus dogs). The views at the arch were incredible and the creeks and waterfall along the way were great photo opportunities. Red River Gorge had lots of swimming and splashing opportunities. Carter’s Caves held seriously a LOT of caves in every single hike. We loved comparing the different openings and how the water continued to carve the rocks away. (We did not get to tour the caves, much to Carter’s disappointment, but they do offer lots of regular tours which are open now.) Lastly, the tunnel drive was truly serene. It was a nice break amidst all the hiking we did. It took about an hour, but there were many photo-worthy stopping points. (PSA: we would NOT have enjoyed this drive in the least with the camper hooked up!) Narrow and winding roads are not our favorite driving conditions and Kentucky offered plenty of it, haha! If you want a good story, ask Collin about his favorite Kentucky road driving experience.
So here’s your bonus: (you know I always share more than you bargained for!) We headed for Kentucky but ended up in West Virginia! Of course we didn’t plan on going further, but after a week, we weren’t ready to head home just yet. I’m sure you understand. So we went just a little further into Charleston, West Virginia! None of us have ever even driven through West Virginia before… but let me tell you, it’s a “wild and wonderful” surprise! The state slogan is more than accurate. We could easily have spent a whole week in this mountainous state full of battlefields and artisans of every kind. Charleston has a whole website with maps of sculptures and murals galore! And if you drive through the city to the river, we found a fun park called Sun Carriage Trail with a hidden waterfall and gloriously shady hike up the mountain to a scenic overlook and historic mansion.
Our last minute finding of things to do around Charleston included several civil war battlefields, a salt mine tour, and Capitol Market – an old train station turned farmer’s market which was FULL of glorious begonias and the beginnings of any summer garden you would wish to plant. Now we were ready to go home. And doesn’t it always feel good to be home again!?
Have you toured Kentucky? Did you focus on horse racing or history? Or both!? I’d love to hear if anyone else has ventured into West Virginia (perhaps the northeast side of the state?). There were so many fun things I found, we’re itching to get back!