For the final leg of our 20-day working vacation, we traveled to Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is home to Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, and, of course, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
We arrived at the Louisville South KOA just after lunch. This was a large campground with full hook-ups, activities for the kids, a pool, and easy access from I-65. At around $46/night with the KOA discount, we felt it was worth the price. On a side note, I-65 was incredibly bumpy, and we were praying all the cabinets would stay closed inside Rocky!
After setting up, we headed to Churchill Downs. The $15 admission fee included entrance into the Kentucky Derby Museum, a video presentation about the famous horse race, and subsequent walking tour.
Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, and we were able to watch a race at track level. We could just imagine all the people that would have been there just a week earlier for the Kentucky Derby. The museum provided a lot of historical facts and behind-the-scenes information on how the racehorses are raised, prepared for racing, and what they do after their racing careers are over.
On Saturday, we started off on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail at Bulleit, which is on the west side of Louisville. The security guard who greeted us said the facility was closing for a private party. However, given that our son had provided us a shopping list, which included bourbon from Bulleit, the guard agreed to let us go to the gift shop.
We quickly found his bottle in the beautiful gift shop, picked up a few other things, and then began plotting our next stop to Angel’s Envy Distillery.
Angel’s Envy is located in an old building in downtown Louisville and had a small gift shop. We requested the bourbon our son had asked for, and learned it had been a limited run and no longer available. The employee disappeared and soon re-appeared to say there may be a few bottles left of a better bourbon and would gladly sell one for $250. Doubting our son would pay that much, we expressed our appreciation and moved on.
After eating a picnic lunch at Waterfront Park, we decided to walk the roughly 1.3 miles to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory and Michter’s Distillery. This was a good idea because the University of Louisville was holding their graduation ceremony at their indoor arena, and the streets and parking lots were jammed!
It’s hard to miss The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory with the 120-foot tall bat leaning on the front façade. If you don’t have time for the factory tour, there are plenty of free experiences to be had. Just looking in the windows of the main hall, you can see the Bat Vault, where over 3,000 original bat models are housed for Major League players from the last 100 years. There are large viewing windows into the factory to see craftsmen and women hard at work producing the next great bat. Kids can perfect their swing in the batting cages, and when you’re all done, a visit to the gift shop is a must-do.
The Michter’s Distillery group tour was superb, but the part we were looking forward to was the tasting. Our group sampled five bourbons – Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Kentucky Straight Sour Mash, and several different Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskeys. Mike, not wanting his samples to go to waste, made sure to finish every last drop! I was not a fan of straight bourbon, so I just took sips of each. I had to remind Mike it was okay not to finish all of his since he needed to drive us back to the campground!
The tour concluded with a delicious bourbon cocktail in their upstairs bar area, which is open to the public.
On Sunday we visited the Jim Beam Distillery since it was relatively close by. The gift shop was much more spacious than the Bulleit, Angel’s Envy, and Michter’s gift shops. While we liked the first three distilleries, the Jim Beam Distillery Tour was our favorite. Having recently completed the Michter’s tour, we were ringers for answering questions about distillery processes, differences between bourbon and whiskey, etc.
The Jim Beam Distillery tour took us directly into the distilling process, showing the large vats of mash, how the bottling process works, the warehouses where the large barrels of bourbon are stored at the perfect temperature during the aging process, and even a small museum that housed the different decanters used throughout history. Believe it or not, the original Jeanie bottle for the show, I Dream of Jeanie, was a Jim Beam decanter!
The highlight of the tour, though, was Mike being able to make his own bottle of Knob Creek bourbon.
We were able to sample several different types of Jim Beam bourbons and whiskeys, which lead to me actually purchasing a bottle of Jim Beam Bourbon Apple. Mixed with a little club soda, it’s delicious! After a quick BBQ lunch at Jim Beam, we returned to a nearly empty campground to prepare for our trip back to Virginia the next day.
Monday’s 508-mile drive from the Louisville South KOA to the Harrisonburg/Shenandoah Valley KOA brought back a lot of memories for Mike. When we got to Charleston, West Virginia, we followed the West Virginia Turnpike to Beckley. As we drove along, Mike reminisced about the countless times he and his family had traveled this same road on their way to visit family in Bedford, Virginia.
We arrived in Beckley in time to fill up on fuel, for the truck and us. After lunch we went to the Tamarack Cultural Center, which houses shops and artisans making and selling authentic West Virginia crafts.
The scenery in this part of West Virginia was absolutely breathtaking, with mountains climbing up on either side, and sweeping views of the valleys in between. It definitely helped to make the last leg of our three-week trip more enjoyable.
Over 1,700 miles and twenty days later, we had one last night to take care of. The Harrisonburg/Shenandoah Valley KOA was about three miles off I-81 north, just north of Harrisonburg, Virginia.
After such a long drive from Louisville, it was the perfect place to relax, build a fire, and unwind. This campground was nestled against the George Washington National Forest, and far enough away that traffic noise from the interstate was nonexistent. Even though we didn’t need it that particular visit, the Wi-Fi was strong.
We knew we would be needing it just three weeks later on our next working vacation. Read about that trip here Harrisonburg/Shenandoah Valley KOA is worth the trip.
Jennifer Skinnell is also the author of the Hope Springs Romance Series available on Amazon. Check out her Amazon Author Page.