Kentucky: More than Just a Horse Race

Best things to see in Kentucky – and why it’s an underrated state

Photo Courtesy of Author

Six months ago, Ieft my lifelong home state of Kentucky to attend an out-of-state college – nine hours away. After spending my first semester in Pennsylvania and meeting many people from throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, I’ve learned that here, the Bluegrass State is an almost foreign place, somewhere people have heard of but can’t quite place on a map. I’ve gotten a wide range of reactions from others when they learn where I’m from, everything from wide eyes to “Why’d you come here?” But many times, I hear: “I’ve never been there.”

Kentucky, as with much of the cultural South, often carries a more negative reputation in northern states – or none at all, simply a name in the 50 States song people had to memorize in elementary school. But in reality, the Bluegrass State exists for more than just the two minutes a year of the Kentucky Derby, and has more of a relevance than being the namesake of a fast food restaurant.

Here are some reasons I believe KY is one of the most underrated states, as well as ideas for the best things to see in Kentucky.

Yes, we have cities.

Credit: Miles Manwaring, Unsplash

While KY is far from the most urban state, we’re not all hills and mountains. Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city, and Lexington, its second largest, account for around a quarter of its total population (U.S. Censeus Bureau). Louisville has a metro population of over a million (Statista), a skyline of high-rises, and is home to the Louisville Slugger baseball bat factory, Churchill Downs racecourse, and Kentucky’s first professional soccer team, among other things. Lexington is known as the heart of the Bluegrass, a mid-sized city of over 300,000 with an urban feel and a small-town heart. It is home to the University of Kentucky, and the city’s love for its home basketball team is unmatched. Famous Lexingtonians in history include Henry Clay, Mary Todd Lincoln, and more. Lexington also took the stage as a setting for the popular show The Queen’s Gambit.

Take the Scenic Route

Credit: Intricate Explorer, Unsplash

Outside of the urban areas, though, Kentucky has some of the most beautiful nature in the world (I might be a bit biased, but I still think so). Adventurers from in- and out-of-state flock to Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky to get a taste of the Appalachian Mountains by hiking, camping, kyaking, taking cave tours, and rock climbing. You can even stay in a treehouse-esque hotel with rooms suspended from the side of a cliff! The scenic Bluegrass Parkway winds through the Central Kentucky countryside, past picturesque horse farms lined with iconic historic fences made of stones or painted wood.