Whether you’re wishing that you’d put a little less Christmas spirit on your credit cards or simply cutting back on day-to-day expenses, you can still take the family on a fun, affordable Kentucky getaway. Just crank up the car and head for a surprising number of free attractions throughout the commonwealth.
A capital place to begin is Frankfort, with a guided tour of the 1910 State Capitol. Inside, you can gawk at its 212-foot-high dome and the charming First Lady Doll Collection, and outside, at the giant Floral Clock with its 34-foot diameter face rife with 20,000 changing plants all year. Check out our governors’ digs at the Executive Mansion, a Beaux Arts residence modeled after Marie Antoinette’s summer villa. Ooh, la la!
Pack a picnic lunch to spread by Daniel Boone’s grave in the pretty Frankfort Cemetery, which is perched on a bluff with a breathtaking vista of the Capitol and the Kentucky River. Drive across town for a poignant stop at the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, where the arm of a massive sundial sweeps across the date of each fallen soldier on the anniversary of his death. Then take in details of an earlier clash at Leslie Morris Park on Fort Hill at its two well-interpreted Civil War forts and old stage-coach stop. Round out your day with a taste of Kentucky’s native spirits at Buffalo Trace, the country’s oldest distilling site.
In fact, all of the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail offer free tours and tastings. Tour times and what’s included at each vary, so check the Web site (see box at right) for specific information. For a complete peek into the making and history of this internationally adored beverage, don’t miss Heaven Hill Distilleries’ state-of-the-art Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown.
Become an arts connoisseur and treat the town of Berea as one expansive gallery. Watch artisans demonstrate their skills at the Kentucky Artisan Center and in a slew of Old Town and downtown galleries. Wander through the beautiful Berea College campus, where students have learned crafts trades in exchange for school tuition since 1855, and admire their creative handiwork at the Log House Craft Gallery.
Pop a lunch in a backpack, and hike the easy, woodsy path behind the Indian Fort Theater just outside town to an overlook known as “The Point,” which offers a sweeping view of Berea and the forested hills of Madison County.
Point your Pontiac west to Paducah, an Ohio River city known for its artsy personality and floodwall murals depicting local history. On the second Saturday of each month, you can explore the intriguing studios and galleries of LowerTown, an arts district created by an innovative artist relocation program.
Free spirits are available every Saturday evening at wine tastings in three downtown locations, while out on I-24, Whitehaven Welcome Center offers 24/7 travel info and complimentary afternoon tours of its gorgeous 1869 mansion.
Follow the footsteps of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge, which spreads 25,000 natural acres across Kentucky’s border with Tennessee. For awesome fishing, drop a line in Reelfoot Lake and revel in bass-on-the-grill for supper. Be sure to drive up to the New Madrid Bend, an earthquake-created peninsula 40 miles around that’s separated from the rest of Kentucky by a chunk of Missouri.
None of Kentucky’s state parks charge admission, and most offer hiking, wildlife watching and terrific no-fee ranger-led programs. You can spelunk at Carter Caves, immerse yourself in 10,000 years of archaeology at Big Bone Lick, and ogle eagles at Dale Hollow Lake. Kentucky Dam Village even has a wide beach for a cool summertime swim in Kentucky Lake.
The aforementioned are but a sampling of the freebies available while rambling ‘round the state. Find more at (800) 225-8747 or kentuckytourism.com.