Most Americans will be inordinately happy to close out 2021 and explore regional attractions, adventures, and activities opening in 2022. Here’s a sampler of what’s new in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
1. Enjoy some music with that bourbon
Bourbon is busting out all over Kentucky, with distilleries expanding to meet increased interest in the state’s chosen spirit. About 95% of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky.
In Gethsemane (an hour from Louisville and Lexington), distiller Wally Dant is going a step further, creating a family-friendly “bourbon experience” with Dant Crossing, a 350-acre campus anchored by Log Still Distillery (with tastings Monday through Saturday and regular bar hours Thursday through Saturday nights).
Dant Crossing is also home to The Amp, a new 2,000-seat amphitheater that featured artists such as Little Big Town, Clay Walker, and Wynonna Judd in its inaugural season.
Guests can book stays at The Homestead Bed & Breakfast, The Poplar Cottage, and The Mansion. Additional amenities are coming soon, including The Legacy wedding and events venue, a farm-to-table restaurant, more accommodations at The Lodge, and Gethsemane Station, a fully functional train depot with rides to and from the nearby Kentucky Railway Museum. (Designate a driver if you plan to consume alcohol.)
2. Experience the equestrian life
One of international horse racing’s premier events, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships return to Lexington’s Keeneland Race Course in November 2022. Keeneland held the races in 2020 with no fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This fall, the track welcomes spectators back to one of racing’s most famous thoroughbred racing venues—and to the horse-centric community of Lexington.
The area is home to the famed Kentucky Horse Park and some of the sport’s finest breeding farms, including Spendthrift Farm, which will debut an 8,000-square-foot visitors center in 2022.
3. Check out Churchill Downs’ makeover
Speaking of horse racing, fans who attend the 2022 Kentucky Derby at Louisville’s iconic Churchill Downs Racetrack will discover that the grandstand bleachers overlooking the home stretch have been replaced by the exclusive Homestretch Club, a $45 million project that provides access to the complex of trackside lounges, outdoor dining venues, and an air-conditioned seating area, as well as food and beverage service.
The $90 million Turn 1 Experience will follow in 2023 featuring all-inclusive stadium seating that overlooks the first turn with a view of the track’s iconic spires. A redesign of the paddock where horses are saddled, mounted, and paraded is planned in time for the 150th Kentucky Derby in 2024.
4. Hold on for high-end hoops action
It’s been 25 years since Cleveland hosted the NBA All-Star Game, and the city is ready for the return of one of basketball’s most exciting events.
Taking place in the newly remodeled Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the All-Star Weekend begins on February 18 with the Rising Stars and Celebrity games and continues on Saturday with the Skills Challenge, Three-Point Contest, and Slam Dunk Contest. The action builds to Sunday’s All-Star Game, which could feature NBA icons LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Luka Dončić.
5. Hail a half century of thrills
Kings Island, a massive amusement park in Mason, celebrates 50 years in 2022. Management isn’t revealing details, but you can count on special shows highlighting the park’s history. The newest coaster, Orion, is one of only 7 “giga” coasters in the world—yeah, the ones that drop 300 feet or more. This $30 million–plus baby reaches 91 mph during that initial drop. Camp Cedar, the park’s 50-acre outdoor luxury resort, opened in 2021 with 164 RV sites and 73 cabins, plus swimming pools, restaurants, and other amenities.
6. Settle in for outdoor theater
What’s old is new—if you haven’t experienced it during its 50-year run. Every summer the Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre in Chillicothe stages its world-famous outdoor drama, Tecumseh!, named for a revered Native American warrior. The Shawnee leader’s valiant efforts to protect his tribal lands are re-enacted under the stars, complete with cannon fire and battles on horseback.
A music score recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra and narration by Native American actor Graham Greene enhance the script by Emmy winner and 7-time Pulitzer nominee Alan W. Eckert.
7. Let your taste buds be your guide
It’s possible to eat your way across the Keystone State, thanks to 4 new self-guided Culinary Trails focusing on apple products, baked goods, cured meats, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut—and beer. (Philadelphia’s cheesesteaks and Pittsburgh’s pierogies are only the tip of the iceberg.)
Or skip directly to dessert on one of 3 regional Ice Cream Trails, which feature parlors favored by locals and creameries on family-owned dairy farms that produce their own ice cream with flavors you probably won’t find anywhere else, such as French toast bacon.
8. Explore the Erie Zoo
The popular, 98-year-old Erie Zoo reopens in early 2022 with expanded “Wild Open Spaces” for many of its 400-plus animals. The $10 million project is slated to include a spacious giraffe exhibit and new otter and Colobus monkey exhibits.
A special area for endangered sloth bears and an inviting outdoor classroom are also in the zoo’s future plans, along with expanded parking lots and a redesigned main entrance with a welcome plaza, a renovated train station, and a larger gift shop.
9. Set sail for a tall-ship celebration
Tall Ships Erie returns August 25–28, 2022. About a dozen sailing vessels, including Erie’s flagship, the U.S. Brig Niagara, will rendezvous in the city harbor. The 4-day celebration of sail will feature ship tours, cruises on day-sail ships, and a spectacular parade of sails on Presque Isle Bay. Festivities on shore include live entertainment, a marketplace, food vendors, and children’s activities.
In past years, this festival has been the largest of the Tall Ships America events held in Great Lakes ports.
10. Put fat tires to the test on new trails
ATV, UTV, 4x4, and dirt bike tourism is growing in West Virginia—not surprising, given the abundance of gnarly mountain terrain. New trails are being opened to meet demand, especially in the popular Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, which covers 800 miles of trails in 9 southern counties.
The network recently added 100 miles of new trails in Cabwaylingo State Park, and 50 miles of the Ivy Branch Trail near Charleston. The Mower Tract south of Elkins in the Monongahela National Forest added 6 trails in a restored coal mining area.
Locals who live near the trails are responding to the influx of outsiders with new accommodations, restaurants, and shops.
11. Get wild at West Virginia’s lakes
Another fun trend in the Mountain State is adventure lakes. Following the lead of the 40-year-old ACE Adventure Resort near the New River Gorge, 2 state parks opened water-based playgrounds.
The lake at ACE is home to 50 inflatables (including a 25-foot “climbing mountain”), a 40-foot-tall slide, a lake zip line, and a new Splash Pad for young children. Tygart Lake State Park in Grafton reopens in May with more than 20 water toys bobbing on the lake, including a 14-foot-tall “iceberg.”
At Pipestem State Park near Hinton, the new Splash Park wows children with 18 water features. Adult “kids” can enjoy floating mountains, trampolines, and slides out on the lake.
12. Take a flying leap
Bridge Day at the New River Gorge Bridge is back in 2022. Since 1980, the third Saturday in October has been the only day of the year when people are allowed—even encouraged—to walk on the bridge and rappel or BASE jump from it to the river 876 feet below.
In 2019, nearly 100,000 spectators watched more than 300 jumpers from 41 states take the plunge. After a 2-year hiatus, the return of the state’s biggest 1-day festival is also a celebration of the gorge’s new status as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Spanning 70,000 acres of wilderness and offering world-class whitewater rafting, climbing, and mountain biking, the park was included in Time magazine’s 2021 “100 Greatest Places in the World.”
West Virginia resident Dale Ann Leatherman is a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers.
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