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Outside of the South, Kentucky is known for a few specific things: the Derby, the Wildcats basketball team, fried chicken, and the famous Kentucky bourbon trail. While bourbon doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky to qualify as such, 95% of all bourbon worldwide is made in the bluegrass state. Some of the best distilleries in the country are located in the beautiful rolling hills outside Lexington and Louisville, including Bulleit, Angel’s Envy, Heaven Hill, Evan Williams, Jim Beam, and Wild Turkey.
While the bourbon trail isn’t a literal trail you can hike like the AT or PCT, it does connect 25 distilleries that make Kentucky synonymous with this particular style of oak-barrel aged spirits. Since 1999, visitors to Kentucky have been following the bourbon trail from tasting room to tasting room, experiencing first hand the way bourbon has been manufactured since Daniel Boone first explored what was once the southeastern frontier.
Many of the newer, bigger distilleries along the bourbon trail have fully automated brewing and bottling processes, but others like Woodford Reserve craft such small batches where you can still see how they’ve made bourbon since the 1800s. In fact Woodford still transports its freshly filled barrels to rickhouse where they’re aged using a gravity system, in which the barrels roll themselves along metal tracks without human hands, wheels, or motors.
The only thing that’s better than sipping your way along the bourbon trail is getting to camp nearby. Few beverages pair as well with the scent of campfire as a smoky, peaty dram of bourbon, neat. It’s hard to imagine a sticky Southern summer not made sweeter by the notes of vanilla, wood, and caramel that work their way into bourbon over its many years in the barrel.
Four Country Campgrounds On the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
If you’re yearning to visit the Kentucky bourbon trail yourself, these four campgrounds are within spitting distance of four of the best distilleries along the way: Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Woodford, and Townbranch. Brewery-adjacent campgrounds aren’t the only way to get a backcountry buzz, after all.
1. Kentucky Horse Park State Park
When you combine horses and bourbon, you get Kentucky. When you add a state park to that, you get a good ol’ time. Kentucky Horse Park isn’t for everyone — it’s definitely not a backcountry experience. That said, you’ll find a lot of amenities including Olympic-sized pools, back-in RV sites, the International Museum of the Horse, and equine rides from ponies to walking horses. Staying here after visiting the bourbon trail will have you feeling that good old fashioned Southern hospitality.Camp Here
2. Kentucky River Campgrounds
Kentucky River Campgrounds is a private establishment, so you’re allowed to bring a nip from your tastings back to the campsite with you. You can also go swimming in the river, but be careful if you do (especially if you’ve been on the bourbon trail) as there’s no lifeguard on duty. Feel free to bring your #DyrtDog along, and any dirty laundry you might have — there is a laundromat on site.Camp Here
3. Elkhorn Campground
Just ten minutes from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Elkhorn Campground is hard to beat. Right off, you guessed it, Elkhorn Creek, this RV-friendly private campground is a cozy retreat in nature just minutes from modern-world conveniences. You can go fishing, stock up at the general store, and even play a game of miniature golf. The Dyrt Ranger Angie F. says that Elkhorn is a “very nice campground. Great place for families with young kids.” Her pictures also show an ideal campfire setup in site of the water. Bring on the campground chili and roasted marshmallows! Don’t forget to get some of the hand-dipped ice cream this campground is famous for, too.Camp Here
4. Buzzard Roost Recreation Area
Technically it’s across the Ohio River in Indiana, but it’s still close to the Bourbon Trail — and being across state lines gives Buzzard Roost Recreation Area a distinct advantage over other campgrounds in the bluegrass state. That’s because Kentucky law bans alcohol in all public spaces, including state parks. Unless you’re at a private campground, you can’t enjoy a little tipple from the distillery gift shop. That’s not the case in Indiana, though, where you are free to responsibly enjoy an adult beverage by your tent. Plus Buzzard Roost is a particularly lovely spot with spaces for both tent and hammock campers. Dyrt Ranger Sally R. writes, “If you are the type that likes to kick back and camp out with a group of friends then this is the place to be.”Camp Here
Don’t worry about heading to the tasting room straight from camp—almost all of these campgrounds have nice bathrooms where you can clean up, and the south is still a pretty casual corner of the world. You won’t be out of place strolling in with a pair of hiking boots like Vivobarefoot’s Tracker FG, which are rugged enough for scrambling up rocks but look smart enough to wear back into the city. On the contrary, you’ll fit right in. So go ahead and raise your glass, for a toast to our Old Kentucky Home.
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