Tap into Good Times in the "Top of the South"
By: Kathy Witt
Starting at the Ohio River and encompassing 13 unique counties, the Northern Kentucky River Region surprises with an array of attractions that take visitors from cosmopolitan to country, over-the-top to under-the-radar.
Here, in the "Top of the South," visitors are quickly immersed in the world of Kentucky Bourbon at the Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® with Newport's New Riff Distilling and the B-Line, a new bourbon tour winding through distilleries, bars and restaurants in the entire region.
Spirits that are “Made by Ghosts?” Boone County Distilling Co. explains how. No chemists allowed? Heed the advice (and sign) at Sparta’s Neeley Family Distillery, where the master distiller prides himself on old-fashioned know-how in crafting signature spirits, including bourbon and moonshine.
Stroll through National Historic District MainStrasse Village, chock-full of locally-owned shops and restaurants, all within a ringing distance of a glockenspiel. Explore a tiny town called Rabbit Hash, anchored by an old-timey general store and famous for its canine mayor. Then discover a lesser-known pioneer village called Old Washington that rocks its heritage through 119 log cabins and predates Kentucky’s statehood by six years.
Without a doubt, this region offers unexpected delights at each bend in the river!
Northern Kentucky is home to the 14-gallery Newport Aquarium, where a shape-shifting Giant Pacific Octopus, the quick-change escape artist of the cold-water coastal kingdom, recently took up residence in "Ring of Fire: World of the Octopus."
Race car fans make a pilgrimage to Sparta for the headline-grabbing NASCAR events of the Kentucky Speedway. Others come to witness Williamstown’s Ark Encounter, the eye-popping replica of the one built by Noah – yes, that Noah! – right down to the last cubit.
This region is also beloved for quieter pursuits. Photographing covered bridges in Flemingsburg, the "Official Covered Bridge Capital of Kentucky." Slipping into a boat at Thaxton’s Canoe & Paddlers Inn for a paddle up the Licking River. Marveling at the size of fossilized remains of the giant mammoths that found themselves trapped in the salt springs at Big Bone Lick State Historic Site near Union – and then seeing the shaggy beasts up close, with nothing but a wire fence between them and you.
At General Butler State Park – Northern Kentucky’s very first state park when it opened nearly 90 years ago in 1931 – visitors can swim, fish, camp, canoe, bike and play tennis or mini golf. Afterward, explore the former family home of a prominent military family located on the only spot in the state with a view of the convergence of the Kentucky and Ohio rivers.
A SPIRITED PLACE
The "Top of the South" is a land of big personalities, too.
Explore the life and times (and memorabilia!) of singing sensation Rosemary Clooney when you “come on-a my house” at the Rosemary Clooney House Museum in the picturesque river town of Augusta. Immerse yourself in epic living history dramas, like the 1782 clash highlighted in the Battle of Blue Licks Re-enactment at Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort in Carlisle.
Wine lovers will find many sip-worthy bottles in the region; after all, Kentucky is where America’s commercial wine industry began in the late 1700s.
Try the Black Barrel Wine, 11 years in the making, at Augusta’s Baker-Bird Winery. In California, out-of-the-way watering hole 12 Mile Creek Winery is a convivial gathering place for lingering over a lovely dry red and charcuterie board while listening to live music. Owenton’s Elk Creek Vineyards is a destination with a beautiful tasting room, sweeping views and a variety of overnight lodging options.
Old Pogue Experience at Maysville’s Kentucky Gateway Museum Center pulls visitors back in time to the 1791 Whisky Tax Act Rebellion. Ludlow’s artisan distillery, Second Sight Spirits, invites aficionados to sample handcrafted, full-flavored bourbon, rum, and moonshine.
Bootleggers, gamblers, gangsters and their molls – you can meet them all on a spirited stroll through the streets of Newport (once known as "Sin City," Las Vegas before it was Vegas) – on American Legacy Tours’ Newport Gangster Tour.
In Covington, Devou Park museum treasure Behringer-Crawford is reportedly haunted with spirits of a different kind. Will you have a ghostly encounter while hunting for the two-headed calf or pressing the buttons on train enthusiast Ray Faragher’s idealized re-creation of a mid-century community, replete with working trains, lights, and voices?
Another reportedly haunted attraction is too Baker Hunt, a local best-kept secret where you can catch a free theater performance, take a workshop or attend an event like a farm-to-table dinner. Then follow the Ohio River east to Maysville and the Beaux-Arts-style Washington Opera House, home to the Maysville Players – and several ghosts, including one named Loretta who’s supposedly just looking for a little respect.
Ready to plan your next great getaway? There are so many fascinating experiences to tap into in the Northern Kentucky River Region!