Frankfort, Kentucky Part 1: Bourbon, a Boat Ride and Daniel Boone

Frankfort, Kentucky. A view of the capital from Daniel Boone’s grave site.

Guest Post by Jamie Rhein

I was born in Kentucky. I have lived in Kentucky twice. I often travel to Kentucky. Somehow, I missed out on the gem of Frankfort, Kentucky’s state capital–until now. In a weekend that went entirely too fast, I discovered a small city worth visiting more than once. The range of the must-sees takes in a historic part of Kentucky’s bourbon trail, the wild beauty of the Kentucky River, and Daniel Boone, one of the state’s favorite sons.

When frontiersman and pioneer Daniel Boone headed along a buffalo trace, one of the paths where buffaloes once traveled along the bank of the Kentucky River, he passed through the land where whiskey has been distilled for more than 200 years. When Boone passed through, these were wild parts of hardwood trees that covered the rolling hills of the Appalachian foothills. These days, the Buffalo Trace Distillery is a beautifully landscaped property dotted with historic red brick buildings, flower beds and bourbon by the barrels full.

A warehouse at Buffalo Trace Distillery

The distillery’s origins began in 1792 with a one-story stone building that is still on the property. Through the years, more buildings were added as the distillery grew through various ownerships. With each ownership, the original buildings stayed although their purpose might have changed with expansions. In 1999 after renovations, Buffalo Trace Distillery became the new name, more than 50 years after the one millionth barrel was produced.

The after the tour tasting at Buffalo Trace Distillery

Even if you miss the last tour like I did, stick around for the tasting.  You can also walk through the property on your own. Signage explains the history of each building. Inside the visitors center (where the tasting occurs) photographs depict the distillery’s history. Plus, the included gift shop is bourbon lovers treat of bourbon inspired gifts–and plenty of bourbon to take the good stuff home with you.

But the real treat, the one you can savor, is the fun-filled, entertaining tasting session led by the tour guides.

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The tasting includes: White Dog, a high powered mash, two types of bourbon, vodka and Bourbon Cream, a luscious concoction that can be sipped, added to coffee, added to ice-cream –or any other way one can think of to turn what’s already good into heavenly. For an adult version of a kid favorite, add it to root beer for a root beer float with a kick.

The tasting rules say two tastes each–except for the Bourbon Cream which is served up along with a piece of chocolate bourbon cream candy. (Hint: Pair up with someone to get an extra taste.)

To see the Kentucky River from a unique perspective, and see the dry waterfall, a landmark possibly seen by Daniel Boone who wrote about it, head out on a Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat ride. This trip on a high speed boat takes a bit of planning ahead since the company’s headquarters is in Madison, Indiana.

My group trip was an abbreviated version of a trip that goes from Frankfort to Madison. You can also go the other way and back. The round trip which includes a one night stay in either city takes in a 155 mile stretch of the river that looks, for the most part, as untamed as it did when Daniel Boone explored the area.

Birds, including bald eagles and blue heron are plentiful–and the turtles we saw on logs in groups of two to five seemed like someone went out early in the morning and decorated. Once we left Frankfort, the only people we saw were waving at us from their swim spot at the Kentucky River Campground.

Friendly waves by the Kentucky River Campground

One of the best parts about this trip, besides the fine company of Captains Paul Nicholson and Janet Harding who navigate the waters while pointing out landmarks on the way, was going through the historic locks built in 1838.

Overlooking the dam spillway after passing through the locks.

Along with the two day Kentucky River trip, the Rockin’ Thunder company offers four other trips that range from thirty minutes to a half day. Our speed boat was an excursion version with comfortable padded seats and a covering that kept us dry.

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For one of the best views of Frankfort, head to the Frankfort Cemetery where Daniel Boone and his wife Rebecca are buried. The Boones were originally buried in Bryan Cemetery in Missouri but were moved to Frankfort in 1835 in order to elevate the stature of the Frankfort Cemetery to a level of importance and notable resting place.

As the story goes, Daniel Boone may not have been moved at all, or only some of his bones were moved. Since Rebecca died several years before him, he could have been buried at her feet where there was more room. Someone else could have been buried next to Rebecca by the time Boone passed away.

Regardless of  who is buried in this lovely spot, it’s a terrific story, and one I found out about by listening to the recording on my phone. There are several listening spots around Frankfort to help with a do-it-yourself tour. Look for the signage. Stay tuned for Frankfort Part 2.

Photos and post courtesy of Jamie Rhein.  My jet boat tour was courtesy of Frankfort/Franklin County Tourist & Convention Commission for research purposes. Buffalo Trace Distillery and the cemetery are free.