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With the end of summer and the start of another school year on the horizon, many Northern Kentuckians may be looking to squeeze the last bit of joy out of the vacation season. Whether they’re short on patience, or cash — having spent the bulk of their travel budget on Taylor Swift tickets — NKY residents live near unique road trip destinations within a five-hour drive. Getting away for one short road trip before the end of summer is not only doable, but also advisable.
Maysville was recently voted No. 1 by USA Today for “Best Small Town in the South” for 2023. This city proves it’s possible to spend just one hour on the road to feel like a tourist. Maysville is home to two historic districts: its downtown district, chock full of architectural inspiration, restaurants, residences, artisan boutiques and galleries; and Old Washington, a well-preserved early American settlement that has connections to Daniel Boone and George Washington.
Maysville is also where actress Rosemary Clooney got her start and where George and Amal Clooney are said to still visit. Clooney even debuted his movie “Leatherheads” in downtown Maysville’s Opera Theater in 2008. The quaint locale also has a fairness ordinance, which has been on the books since 2018 and prohibits discrimination in accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, making it a preferred destination for families with LGBTQ+ members.
The Old Washington historic district is a 1780s frontier village, consisting of historic log cabins and other early U.S. architecture. Old Washington is noted to have had the first postal station and waterworks system west of the Allegheny mountains and includes the Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum. It’s a place where the rapid evolution of architecture in the United States can be studied in the span of a few city blocks. Old Washington guided tours are offered seasonally through November. Make sure to add extra time to your visit to explore the neighborhood’s shops and galleries, or sit down for lunch at the eclectic LilJumbo cafe – a spot loved by locals for its coffee, brunch and pizza.
Maysville’s Kentucky Gateway Museum is home to the world’s second-largest museum-quality miniatures exhibit, as well as the Old Pogue experience and gift shop. At Old Pogue, guests can taste bourbon and tour the bourbon history gallery to learn about the pre-Prohibition heyday of bourbon-making in Mason County. A short drive from the museum is the distillery itself, which is one of the only pre-Prohibition distilleries still in operation. Tour the facility and visit the Pogue family home, a family estate overlooking the Ohio River where it all began.
Tours of The Old Pogue Distillery are by appointment only. Bourbon lovers may also enjoy a visit to Kenton Stories with Spirit, a local bar and restaurant that boasts over 50 bourbons from distilleries across Kentucky.
No trip to Maysville is complete without a stop for breakfast downtown at the Parc Café. The gorgeous little café was modeled after one of the first cafes in France, according to Parc Café chef Amy Fry. Visitors should note the popular breakfast-and-brunch spot is only open from 7 a.m. to noon Monday through Saturday, so plan accordingly. Get your fill and explore the town, or get your nature fix down the road at Cummins Nature Preserve. The 110-acre recreation area is less than a 10-minute drive from downtown and offers great hiking all year round and primitive camping options March through November.
Here are some other great small-town destinations, all within a five-hour drive or less.
Horse Cave, Kentucky
Cutline: A view of Horse Cave hidden under the town. Photo provided | Hart County Tourism
Horse Cave is a town that was literally built on a cave and is only a 15-minute drive from Mammoth Cave National Park. The cave the town was built on, Hidden River Cave, is located in the heart of the city’s downtown. Visit the Historic Hidden River Kentucky Cave and American Cave Museum and enjoy Kentucky’s Best Burger at Five Broke Girls restaurant. Kentucky Living magazine selected the burger at Five Broke Girls as the state’s best in 2022.
Home to Berea College and the Artisan Center, which is dedicated to celebrating and preserving traditional Appalachian crafts, Berea offers a plethora of gallery and shopping experiences. Visitors can search for one-of-a-kind items like locally crafted pottery, jewelry, paintings, wooden crafts and more. Berea is also home to the Berea Pinnacles, recognized in 2019 by Outside magazine as the best hike in Kentucky. Check the events calendar for upcoming festivals, like the upcoming Spoonbread Festival in September.
The city of Marietta is located at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers near the West Virginia border and is the oldest city in Ohio, making it a great place to learn all about the westward expansion of the United States while taking in a lot of architectural and natural beauty. Guided trolley tours are offered, as well as ghost tours that depart Friday and Saturday evenings from the fountain near the Lafayette Hotel. There are also several museums and historic homes to take in, in addition to the Marietta River Trail and Marietta Trail Network that leads to miles of off-road hiking and mountain biking options. When you’re finished exploring, enjoy a local beer from the Marietta Brewing Co.
Known as the Key West of the North, Put-in-Bay is an island just north of Sandusky, Ohio, and the popular Cedar Point amusement park. Take the ferry from Sandusky to the island, visit the Butterfly House and Put-In-Bay or Heineman’s wineries. Golf cart rentals are common and the vehicle of choice for getting around. Put-in-Bay is home to many attractions, including the South Bass Island Lighthouse, Perry’s Cave and the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society.
Nashville, Indiana, is a beloved weekend getaway for many in the region, known as an artist’s community and the center of the Brown County Art Colony, with plenty of unique shops and galleries as well as wineries, distilleries and entertainment. See a show at the Brown County Playhouse and Performing Arts Center, and dine at Big Woods at Hard Truth or Artists Colony Restaurant. Nashville is also home to Brown County State Park, nicknamed the “Little Smokies” in reference to its resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains. A host of camping and lodging options exist, including log cabins and hotels as well as many short-term rentals on AirBnb and VRBO.
Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Cutline: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Photo provided | Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Mill Run is home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, which is now a National Historic Landmark. Tours and educational workshops of the architect’s most iconic home are offered year-round. The American Institute of Architects declared Fallingwater as the “best all-time work of American architecture.”
The surrounding Bear Run Nature Reserve offers hiking, backcountry camping, hunting and fishing opportunities. Fans of Fallingwater and Wright’s work can also take the trip a few miles down the road to Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania, to tour another example of his work at Kentuck Knob. Adventurous travelers can get their fix at Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle State Park, which encompasses over 20,500 acres of rugged terrain and is known for its whitewater rafting on the Youghiogheny River.
Visit golaurelhighlands.com or call 724-238-5661 to plan your trip.
Saugatuck is recognized for its beaches on the beautiful coast of Lake Michigan, its sand dunes and golf. Enjoy surf and sand at Oval Beach; take an off-road adventure and enjoy the ATV trails around Saugatuck Dunes; and visit the galleries, shops and restaurants on Butler Street – Saugatuck’s main thoroughfare. Visitors can also enjoy a round of golf at Clearbrook or Ravines golf clubs nearby.