The Trail’s End Tavern opened in early March at Natural Bridge State Resort Park. | Courtesy of Patrick Gregory

Enjoying a day at one of Kentucky’s state parks now can include an extra stop at the tavern on your way out.

Take the Trail’s End Tavern, which opened this month at Natural Bridge State Resort Park, just 120 miles or so from Louisville, for example. With a full bar featuring a selection of Kentucky bourbons, not to mention draft and bottled beer, the 60-seat tavern also offers full food service and a bar made from white ash found in the park itself. An etched mural of the park’s trails will be added to the bar area soon.

Kentucky breweries such as West Sixth, Goodwood and White Squirrel consulted with park officials to help choose the right beers for the various taverns and restaurants that will carry adult beverages. Ultimately, the hope is to establish a bar of some kind — or at least alcoholic beverage service — in every Kentucky state park.

Why now?

Patrick Gregory

“Over the last few years, different areas of the state have been more open to allowing alcoholic beverage consumption in certain areas, and parks are taking on liquor licenses,” says Patrick Gregory, director of resort parks for Kentucky Department of Parks.

This is one aspect of why establishing taverns seemed like a good idea, especially because many of the resort parks host weddings and other special events already.

“The other aspect is that bourbon is a heritage in this state,” Gregory tells Insider. “To allow part of our heritage to be offered at our parks kind of builds into the tourism model. You come to a Kentucky state park, and you get many of the different experiences the state has to offer.”

And no, this is not your tax dollars at work. Gregory points out the parks department is a “quasi-business” because the parks do bring in money from special events.

“We have zero funding (for the projects), so all of it has been done through park operations,” he says. He notes that even the white ash bar was built by a park carpenter rather than outsourced. “Though we really don’t operate with a for-profit model, it is a way for us to offset some of the park operations so we’re not asking for as much from the state.”

Twelve resort parks out of 17 now have drink service in some form (there are 49 state parks in all). This varies from park to park because not all parks are considered “resort parks,” meaning there is some sort of lodge for events and other services. But sales have been increasing since the first state park lounges began opening last year, and Gregory says he expects total sales to exceed $1 million in 2017.

Kentucky Dam Village in Gilbertsville was one of the first to open, with a full-service Harbor Lights Restaurant and convention center, as well as alcoholic beverage service on the golf course. General Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton, with its Two Rivers Restaurant, is another that opened a lounge last year, along with Lake Barkley State Resort Park.

If you aren’t up for hiking, you can always just stop in at Trail’s End and watch the game. | Courtesy of Patrick Gregory

More lounge and tavern openings are planned for this year and 2018. Next up is a lounge at Jenny Wily State Resort Park, which already has a full-service restaurant. Others include Rough River Dam, Dale Hollow Lake, Pine Mountain, Lake Cumberland, and Barren River Lake, all of which already have full-service restaurants.

Gregory says a challenge, apart from not having funding, has been the way the laws differ in various regions, thanks in part to lingering effects of Prohibition in the early 20th century.

“It really is about finding what is appropriate for each park,” he says. For instance, Natural Bridge has a license that allows alcoholic beverages to be poured anywhere in the park, while Kenlake State Resort Park can only pour in the restaurant.

“If alcohol is legal in the area and the park has a restaurant, there will be the appropriate offering,” he says.

So far, so good in terms of public reception. Obviously, bourbon is a big draw for tourists who visit Kentucky, which was a natural fit. But the beer offerings have been popular as well, particularly the Kentucky-brewed beers.

“That’s a very popular piece, especially for travelers, because they want to try craft brews from the area,” Gregory says.

And so now, when you finish up a hike at Natural Bridge State Resort Park, you can grab a cold one at the handmade bar in the shiny new Trail’s End Tavern.

“That’s a popular place to go to anyway,” Gregory says. “That’s part of the reason we picked it to do early.”

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Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]