Close to Lexington, Nicholasville is an ever-growing city on the south side of Kentucky’s dreamy Bluegrass Region.
The city is enveloped in bucolic countryside known for horse-rearing, and horses can be your theme in Nicholasville. Going behind the scenes, you could hop from horse farms to stables to training facilities to a rehabilitation center.
Nicholasville is also the birthplace of Kentucky’s commercial wine industry, reaching back more than 200 years and now enjoying a renaissance.
There’s a whole directory of wineries to visit, while the state’s wine festival, the Kentucky Wine & Vine Fest happens in Nicholasville in June.
The ecologically rich Kentucky River Palisades are also in Nicholasville’s backyard, along with classic Bluegrass Region landscapes of lush rolling pasture framed by stone fences.
1. Taylor Made Horse Farm
One of the world’s top thoroughbred racehorse breeding farms is out in the countryside just east of Nicholasville.
Taylor Made was established in 1976 and to date has raised more than 100 Grade I race-winners and sold more thoroughbreds at public auction than any other sales agency anywhere.
As well as a breeding facility, this is also a nursery for foals and a boarding facility for established racehorses.
The farm is one of a big roster of facilities in Kentucky’s Horse Country opening up to visitors on prearranged guided tours.
You’ll visit the stallion division and a mare & foal division, checking out the foaling quarters, paddocks and horses about to take the racing world by storm in the near future.
Fans of the sport may be starstruck, with a chance of meeting champions like Blue Prize, the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner, or Folklore, who took the 2005 Breeders’ Cup.
2. Riney-B Park
Much more than a typical urban park, this space takes its name from the Riney-B Railroad, a regional line that operated between the 1890s and the 1930s.
Starting here you can walk, jog or bicycle along a section of the old rail bed, a little under a mile in length.
As a nod to that history, the park also has an impressive old 1925 Baldwin steam locomotive on show, similar to the kind that would have operated on this railroad.
In addition, Riney-B Park is the setting for Nicholasville’s public outdoor pool, open in summer, with waterslides and a large zero-depth area, as well as 24 holes of disc golf.
3. Wingswept Farm
Back on the horse theme is this well-regarded American Saddlebred facility, training, showing and breeding this iconic American horse.
For the public, Wingswept Farm also keeps some 30 lessons horses, and offers professional horse riding lessons for all levels and ages.
These are offered in a wide range of deals, from single lessons to ten-lesson packages to unlimited lessons by monthly subscription. In addition the farm caters to birthday parties and runs a popular summer camp for young horse enthusiasts.
4. Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument
Ten minutes south of Nicholasville is the site of a Union Civil War recruiting and training depot, established in 1863. At its peak, Camp Nelson spread across 4,000 acres, with 300 buildings enclosed by 10 fortifications.
It provided the Union Army with more than 10,000 African-American soldiers, the third most in the nation.
And because recruits gained freedom from slavery here, it’s impossible to understate the importance of Camp Nelson in ending slavery in Kentucky.
The only surviving structure from the camp years is the White House, a preexisting farmhouse from the 1840s that served as the officers’ quarters.
This is now a historic house museum for the park, while you can begin your visit with an introductory video at the modern Interpretive Center.
Outside, are more than five miles of interpretive trails, with panels marking the sites of camp facilities like the barracks (a replica has also been constructed), hospitals, prison, warehouses, well, bakery and fortifications.
5. Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve
Ten minutes south of downtown Nicholasville, just past the Camp Nelson National Monument, is a glorious stretch of the Kentucky River Palisades in a 945-acre preserve.
Here you can follow a tricky two-mile trail on the course of an old stage coach route, for a memorable up-close look at those 220-foot limestone cliffs.
Something fascinating about the preserve is how the elevation changes create different habitats, for an amazing diversity of plant life, with many rare species like starry cleft phlox, Eggleston’s violet and tufted hair-grass.
Spring through fall, you’ll be dazzled by the exceptional display of wildflowers and then, in winter, the open views across the Kentucky River.
6. Waveland State Historic Site
In Nicholasville you’ll be a few short minutes from the historic estate of the Joseph Bryan family, dating back to 1845.
Joseph Bryan was the great nephew of the celebrated pioneer and frontiersman, Daniel Boone, and established a plantation here for tobacco and hemp.
On a somber note, this Bryan was a slave owner, and, together with the estate’s Greek Revival mansion, one of the preserved outbuildings is a two-story brick building that served as the slavequarters.
On a guided tour you’ll experience Waveland from different perspectives, admiring the opulence of the antebellum mansion while getting a sense of the lives of the enslaved people who lived and worked on the plantation.
7. Kentucky Equine Adoption Center
The only all-breed equine rescue in Kentucky is on a 72-acre farm on the northern outskirts of Nicholasville.
Founded in 2008, the Kentucky Equine Adoption Center rests in delightful rolling scenery, and offers a home to some 50 equines, ranging from companions to dressage competitors, and from pasture ponies to trail horses.
These horses are in varying stages of retraining and rehabilitation, and the goal is to match them and their needs with the perfect home. April through October, the center offers guided tours of the farm, lasting up to 90 minutes.
You’ll get to see training taking place, witness some of the care given to these horses, learn the story of some of the residents and hear about the center’s many rehabilitation successes. At the end you’ll get to meet some of the center’s horses and interact with them.
8. Jim Beam Nature Preserve
To celebrate its 200th anniversary in 1995, the famous bourbon brand, Jim Beam (based in Clermont, KY), teamed up with the Nature Conservancy to establish this nature preserve in the Kentucky River Palisades.
Right next to the Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve, this preserve is on 115 acres and has a single looping trail, about a mile long.
Without any tough climbs, the walk is a slightly easier alternative than at Tom Dorman. There’s a magnificent lookout over the river, as well as a magical little waterfall, with deep hardwood forest and remnants of old limestone fences along the path.
9. Valley View Ferry
Ten miles out of Nicholasville, on the very eastern edge of Jessamine County, is a river ferry that is thought to be Kentucky’s oldest continuously operating business.
Dating back to 1785 and operating year-round, the Valley View Ferry is the last of its kind on the Kentucky River. Important early passengers included Daniel Boone, James Mason, Henry Clay and Ulysses S. Grant.
On Kentucky Route 169, this is a free service funded by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, with a rudderless ferry, guided by cables erected between two 55-foot towers.
Around 250 cars make the crossing each day, and you can pause to see the ferry in action at a picnic site on the riverbank.
10. First Vineyard
At this estate posted high above the Kentucky River you can visit the birthplace of the Commonwealth’s commercial wine industry.
Following a survey by Daniel Boone, the original vineyard/winery here was in business from 1799 to 1809 and was backed by the likes of Henry Clay and the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury George Bibb.
After that long hiatus, First Vineyard reopened in 2012, growing varieties Alexander, Diamond, Norton and Concord.
At this majestic spot you can taste wines from sweet whites to robust, dry reds, and you’re free to bring a picnic with you.
There’s also a lot going on throughout the summer season, with a craft fair, craft workshops, live music, mystery theatre and a Halloween ball.
11. Chrisman Mill Vineyard & Winery
A pioneer for Kentucky’s modern wine industry, this is home to Kentucky’s only brandy house, created with the foundation of the Hummingbird Distillery, also making rum.
The winery was established in 1996 and welcomes visitors during the summer and fall to try flights of locally produced wines and spirits, as well as hand-shaken cocktails, all in a charming setting.
The tasting room is in an elevated spot, overlooking the vineyards, and you can create your own picnic from the Artisan Deli, or stop by on a Saturday night for wood-fired pizzas.
12. Lake Mingo Park
Just off N Main St in Nicholasville is a 22-acre public park containing a small fishing lake on its south side.
Lake Mingo has a fountain at the center and is often flocked with ducks and geese, as well as the occasional blue heron.
This lake supports decent numbers of largemouth bass, rainbow trout, bluegill and redear sunfish, and is also stocked with catfish four times a year (limits apply).
The remainder of the park is pretty, with benches around the shore, a winding, walking path and amenities for basketball, skating, picnics and disc golf (9 holes).
13. Jessamine Creek Gorge Preserve
In the Kentucky River Palisades near Nicholasville, Jessamine Creek wriggles southwards through a narrow gorge to its confluence with the Kentucky River.
This beautiful and ecologically vital landscape is protected by a 270-acre nature preserve. On this single site are more than 560 plant species, counting seven rare species, as well as endangered bats in the wooded areas.
The diversity of trees, from the floodplain up the moist slopes to the dry rocky ridges, is incredible, running the gamut from sycamore and silver maple in the lower portions, to red cedar and rock elm further up.
Come in winter for the unbroken views, and then in spring when purple phacelia, bloodroot, twinleaf, hepatica, wild ginger and sessile trillium are just some of the many wildflowers in bloom.
14. Connemara Golf Course
This public golf course on the way to Lexington ranks highly among the best courses in Kentucky. Connemara Golf Course was laid out in 1992, on former farmland dating back to the 1830s.
This is an 18-hole par 72, and something you’ll notice right away is that, barring a couple of exceptions, the holes are straight and free of water hazards.
Most of all you’ll need to pay attention to the occasional, sharp changes in elevation in this undulating landscape.
The course is maintained to the kind of standards you’d expect from a private facility, and there’s a driving range and practice green by the clubhouse.
15. Kentucky Wine & Vine Fest
As the site of the Commonwealth’s first commercial winery, Nicholasville is the logical place for an annual celebration of Kentucky’s flourishing wine industry.
Held at City Park, this event is now deep into its third decade and became the state’s official wine festival in 2014.
From early afternoon until dusk, this event is an opportunity for Kentucky’s main winemakers to show off their products, with samples and purchases.
Naturally this is paired with delectable food, together with live music, craft vendors and fireworks to bring the curtain down. Children are also well catered for, with activities and inflatables at the kids’ area.