Although Kentucky is famous for its thoroughbred horses, bourbon, and fried chicken, it is more often described as the “Bluegrass State”, a fitting nickname considering that bluegrass lawns and pastures, which turn blue for a short time in spring, are an endless fixture in Kentucky. In America, Kentucky probably ranks among the states with the richest of cultural traditions and heritage. Whether it’s the annual mountain music festivals, the highland games at Glasgow, the barbecue feasts every May at Owensboro, or the mint julep bourbons and burgoo dishes consumed every year at the Derby, Kentucky remembers its history and wears it proudly.
Kentucky got its name from the Native Americans, which means “meadow” or “prairie” in Iroquoian. The state was settled by various tribes since prehistoric times, and often used as hunting grounds, especially by the Cherokee and Shawnees. The first Europeans to explore Kentucky arrived in the mid-18th century, but did not establish any settlement until the land was acquired from the Native through a series of treaties in the 1770s. Kentucky’s most famous early settler was Daniel Boone who traveled over the Appalachian Mountains from North Carolina.
During the Revolutionary War, Kentucky witnessed a number of battles, including the Battle of Blue Licks. After the war, Kentucky was made a part of Virginia but separated in 1792 after much petitioning and negotiating by Kentucky’s residents.
During the Civil War, Kentucky was effectively a neutral state. While a Confederate government was established officially, the majority of its residents were sympathetic and supportive of the Union.
Kentucky is geographically diverse, characterized by the Appalachian Mountains in the east, rivers and lakes in the west, rolling hills and bluegrass in the central heartland, and cave country in the south-central. Most visitors come to Kentucky for the horse races, the fine bourbon and whiskeys, the numerous traditional festivals, the beautiful state parks, and the historic sites that pay tribute to early founders like Daniel Boone and famous Kentuckians like Abraham Lincoln who was born in Hardin County, Kentucky. Among the festivals celebrated by residents include the two-week Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville, the International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, the Highland Games in Glasgow, and the annual Festival of the Bluegrass in Lexington, which is at the haven of Kentucky’s famous bluegrass musicians.
Kentucky’s main tourist destination is its largest city, Louisville, where “the most exciting two minutes in sports” take place every May at the Kentucky Derby – widely considered among the most prestigious thoroughbred horse races in the world.
Lake Cumberland is another popular attraction of Kentucky. This artificial lake spreads out over 65,000 acres and attracts about five million people every year. Thousands of houseboats and powerboats float the lake. The lake attracts avid fishermen who come to catch the various trout and striped-basses teeming underwater. The lake encompasses both the General Burnside State Park, which is an island in the middle of the lake, and Lake Cumberland State Resort Park along the shores.
Kentucky’s southwest also features the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which it shares with Tennessee. The land that sits between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley is the largest inland peninsula in America, and offers hiking trails, campgrounds, cabins, and lodges for outdoor tourists.
The Mammoth Cave National Park in Cave City is another major attraction of Kentucky, drawing about two million visitors every year. Its 53,000 acres encompass the most elongated network of caves in the world, which can be toured by foot and by boat. The interior features limestones and sandstones, stalagmites and stalactites, underground lakes, and Native American prehistoric remains.