If you were asked to find two words to distinguish Kentucky from other states in the US, you would probably answer horses and bourbon. You might think of Lexington (the horse capital of the world), Bardstown (the bourbon capital of the world), or Louisville (home of the Kentucky Derby) as focal points for an authentic Bluegrass State experience. But Shelby County, just 40 minutes from Louisville, boasts small-town charm while still offering all the horses, bourbon, great food and shopping you need for a full day of Kentucky fun.

For horse lovers

Hop on horseback for a guided horseback ride through Shelby Trails Park, which covers 462 acres and includes 21 designated hiking and equestrian trails. Whether you’re a regular rider or doing it for the first time, the experienced staff at Red Fern Riding Center emphasizes safety first. All riders watch a safety video and receive a helmet and detailed instructions before setting off on one of two rides. The first is the Scenic Ride: a relaxing hour-long trot through the trails. For the more adventurous, there is the 1.5 hour Adventure Ride. This longer hike takes riders through more challenging terrain, up and down hills and across streams, and offers guests the chance to encounter wildlife as they traverse the forest.

If you live in the area and fancy some more horse time, Red Fern also offers horseback riding lessons. Private and group lessons are available for children and adults and include time on site to learn safe handling, proper horse care and equine psychology before riding begins. Red Fern emphasizes the disciplines of dressage and three-day eventing and welcomes riders of all skill levels to grow and learn with them.

Two women ride horses at the Red Fern Riding Center in Shelby County, Kentucky.

The Red Fern Riding Center offers riding lessons, guided trail rides, meals and training. Image: ShelbyKY Tourism

Group of people riding horses through the forest.

Shelby Trails Park has 462 acres that includes 21 specially groomed hiking and horse trails, as well as a 32-stall barn and indoor and outdoor riding arena. Image: ShelbyKY Tourism

For a truly unique horse experience, visit Lettleiki Icelandics, where you can get cozy with an Icelandic horse. One of the purest breeds in the world, Icelanders known as the horse of the Vikings have unique gaits, are resilient to harsh weather conditions and have a friendly and inquisitive temperament. Private lessons with these unusual horses are available for both children and adults and typically last around 45 minutes.

As the only Icelandic horse farm in the county – and one of the few in Kentucky – Lettleiki is a state-approved center for Icelandic horses. It is also home to the only world-class Icelandic horse show in the United States. Before you venture out to Shelby County, be sure to check the events calendar for the latest on what’s happening. Oh, and mark your calendars for the next annual Triple Ice Championships, scheduled for May 26-28, 2023.

Close-up of the Icelandic horse at Lettleiki Icelandics in Shelby County, Kentucky.

An Icelandic horse at Lettleiki Icelandics in Shelbyville. Image: ShelbyKY Tourism

Maggie Brandt and Icelandic horse.

Owner Maggie Brandt has been active in the Icelandic horse world for more than 15 years. Image: ShelbyKY Tourism

For bourbon lovers

If your idea of ​​fun involves fewer animals and more whiskey, head to the Creed Café at Jeptha Creed Distillery. After small bites like pickle fries or a plate of pretzels and a few slices of pizza (optionally pepperoni-flavored vodka crust!), get ready for a unique bourbon experience.

Your tasting guide drives you from the distillery to a cask barn, which happens to be right next to the cornfield that grows all of the grain, corn, and fruit that goes directly into the distillery’s bourbon, vodka, moonshine, and brandy. The hour-long intimate tasting, complete with comfortable lounge chairs, takes guests through the mother-daughter history of Jeptha Creed and concludes with a bourbon tasting straight from the cask.

A 30-minute spirits tasting is also available for a faster experience. Guests will learn more about the Jeptha Creed family while enjoying infusions of Straight 4-Grain Bourbon, Bottled-In-Bond High-Rye Bourbon, 90% Bloody Butcher Corn Bourbon and Original Moonshine. For something a little more hands-on, book a spot on a mixology class, where participants learn all about Jeptha Creed’s Bloody Butcher Corn before preparing two cocktails with the help of a professional mixologist.

Exterior of the Jeptha Creek Building in Shelby County, Kentucky.

Jeptha Creed is owned and operated by mother-daughter duo Joyce and Autumn Nethery. Image: Jeptha Creed

Tasting Barn at Jeptha Creed.

The tasting experiences at Jeptha Creed take place in an intimate barrel barn. Image: Jeptha Creed

Keep the bourbon party going with a visit to Bulleit Distilling Co., the other destination on the Bourbon Trail in Shelby County. The site’s cocktail bar, outdoor terrace and retail outlet are open to the public, but book a unique Bulleit experience too.

A full tour of the property includes a shuttle ride with stops at the Visitor Experience Grounds and Distillery and a brief sensory tasting. If you’re pressed for time, Bulleit also offers a fully immersive 30-minute sensory experience where guests can taste Bulleit whiskeys while exploring how flavors transform through the use of light, sound and scented pears.

There are also additional types of experiences and events — including everything from bourbon-infusing classes to paint-n-sip workshops — available on select dates, so be sure to check the website beforehand.

Cozy seating area in the Bulleit retail store in Shelby County, Kentucky.

Bulleit’s retail store, cocktail bar and outdoor patio are all open to the public. Image: ShelbyKY Tourism

Bottles of Bulleit bourbons and whiskeys.

Founded in 1987, Bulleit is one of the fastest growing whiskeys in the country. Image: ShelbyKY Tourism

Shopping Spree

Find a wealth of shopping in one place (and great deals!) at Kentucky’s only designer outlet mall, The Outlet Shoppes of The Bluegrass in Simpsonville. Located off I-64 just 10 minutes from Louisville, the mall features more than 80 stores including Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, The North Face, Under Armour, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren and American Eagle Outfitters. In addition to the already below-average prices, the center also offers discounts for military members, seniors, teachers, and nurses.

The Bluegrass Outlet Shoppes in Shelby County, Kentucky

The Outlet Shoppes of The Bluegrass is the only outlet shopping center in Kentucky. Image: ShelbyKY Tourism

Interested in something local? Little Mount Lavender Company merchandise is made from lavender organically grown directly in the Commonwealth. In addition to sourcing and supporting local and state ingredient suppliers, container companies, artisans and artists, Little Mount Lavender Company constantly strives to reduce its carbon footprint through recyclable and sustainable packaging throughout the store and on the farm. From soaps and lotions to olive oil and pet products, there’s something for everyone, and everything is free from perfumes, parabens, paraffins, chemical dyes and harsh detergents.

For gourmets

For some good old American food, head to the Bell House Restaurant, originally established in 1902 as the home of Dr. and Mrs. EB Smith was built. The building passed through a few more hands before being purchased and restored in 2007 by Robert J. Andriot, who transformed the space into the American restaurant it is today. Named for the historic bell in the front yard, made in Louisville in the 1800s, the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea Tuesday through Saturday. Bell House favorites include the traditional meat lasagna, hot brown and garden quiche. And don’t forget to order a homemade dessert! The restaurant’s pastry chef conjures up everything from chocolate amaretto cake and coconut cream tart to crème brulée and praline cheesecake.

Kentucky Hot Brown on the dining table

The Bell House Restaurant offers its delicious version of the traditional Kentucky Hot Brown. Image: Lennie Omalza

Fancy Asian food? Shelby County has you covered! Cafe 7021 Vietnamese Bar & Grill serves authentic Vietnamese dinners for both dinner and takeaway Tuesday through Saturday. Commonly ordered items are fried rice, pad thai and phõ. But for a truly authentic Vietnamese cooking experience, try this bún thit nửởng, which includes vermicelli noodles, lettuce, bean sprouts, mint, basil, julienne pickled carrots, radish, cucumber, roasted garlic, shallots and crushed peanuts. The dish is served with homemade chilli sauce and chicken, beef, tofu, pork or shrimp – and you can choose your own level of spices.

Enjoy your adventures in Shelby County!


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Lennie Omalz
About the author

Lennie Omalz

Lennie is a freelance writer based in the South. Originally from Hawaii, she is a yoga-loving foodie who travels as often as she can.