With the New Year nearly upon us, let's make a resolution to get out and see more of our beautiful commonwealth. To help you get started, here's a monthly calendar of some of Kentucky's best attractions and events, all outside Lexington and worth traveling to, and an extra one thrown in for good measure.
January: Eagle Watch Weekends, Western Kentucky state parks. There's more to do in January than watch University of Kentucky basketball. You can head to Western Kentucky's state parks to enjoy a tradition that's been going on for four decades. In the Bluegrass equivalent of the swallows returning every spring to California's San Juan Capistrano, majestic bald eagles flock every winter to Kentucky's western lakes in search of food.
Nature lovers may observe this annual ritual by van or boat. Tours ($25 to $50) are two to three hours and led by park naturalists and state biologists.
Eagle Watch Weekends are Jan. 12 and 13 at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park in Gillbertsville; Jan. 26 and 27 at Lake Barkley State Resort Park in Cadiz; and Feb. 2 and 3 at Kenlake State Resort Park in Hardin. (Parks.ky.gov.)
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February: Kentucky bed and breakfasts. If you really want to impress your sweetheart on Valentine's Day, take her or him on a romantic getaway to one of Kentucky's bed-and-breakfast inns. B&Bs such as Halcomb's Knob in Paint Lick (Halcombsknob.com), Maple Hill in Eddyville (Maplehillbb.com) and Spongie Acres in Bowling Green (Spongieacresbedandbreakfast.com) will help you celebrate Valentine's Day with packages that include accommodations and gourmet breakfasts, and perks such as roses, chocolates, Champagne and couples' massages.
March: Redbud Trail, southeastern Kentucky. April is officially Redbud Month in southeastern Kentucky, but get a head start on viewing the beautiful trees during the last two weeks of March. Nearly a half-million trees and seedlings have been planted in the area, and visitors get the full effect by driving the Redbud Trail along three National Scenic Byways: Red River Gorge National Scenic Byway, the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway and Wilderness Road National Scenic Byway.
Must-see drives include U.S. 25 from Berea to Mount Vernon and Ky. 15 East from Stanton to Slade in the Red River Gorge area. (Tourseky.com.)
April: Kentucky Derby Festival, Louisville. Everyone hopes for that coveted invite to the Oaks or the Derby in May, but should it not be forthcoming, there's still plenty of Derby action in April. The Kentucky Derby Festival runs April 15 to May 2.
Marquee events include Thunder Over Louisville (April 20), Great Balloon Race events (April 25 to 28), Great Steamboat Race (May 1) and the Pegasus Parade (May 2). But there are a host of other activities, including the Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront (April 25). (Kdf.org.)
May: Maifest, Covington. If you can't make it to Germany to welcome the spring wines at Maifest, maybe a trip to Northern Kentucky will get you in the spirit. Named one of the top 20 events for May by the Southeast Tourism Society, Covington's Maifest takes up six city blocks in Mainstrasse Village.
Celebrating the area's strong German heritage, Maifest offers German and international cuisine, works by 100 artisans and craftspeople and live entertainment. Kids will find plenty to do at Kinderplatz; teenagers will love the attractions at the Amusement Midway; and adults can raise their steins at the Main Street Bier Garten. Dates for the 2013 event are May 17 to 19. (Mainstrasse.org.)
June: Great American Brass Band Festival, Danville. Danville hosted the vice presidential debate at Centre College this fall, but perhaps the Central Kentucky town's biggest claim to fame is this annual salute to brass bands.
For the past 23 years, this one-of-a-kind festival, committed to preserving all-American brass band music, has brought bands from as far afield as New Orleans, California and Canada to perform in free concerts that have thousands of spectators channeling their inner Music Man.
Dates for the 2013 festival are June 6 to 9. A schedule of performers and events will be announced after the first of the year. (Gabbf.org.)
July: General George Patton Museum and Barracks Project, Fort Knox. This is the month for patriotic events across the state and country, but if you're looking for something with a more recent historic slant, head for the Patton Museum of Leadership (Generalpatton.org) and the accompanying World War II barracks.
The museum is undergoing a major renovation that is expected to be completed by June 14, the Army's 238th birthday. In addition to Patton's personal artifacts, the 33,000 square feet of interactive exhibits will focus on six periods in Army history, allowing visitors to test their mettle as a military leader.
The last remaining WWII barracks at Fort Knox are undergoing a restoration, too, and are expected to be completed and open to visitors by June 14.
August: John James Audubon State Park and Memorial Museum, Henderson. Audubon spent 10 years, 1810 to 1819, in Henderson. What better place for his namesake museum and state park?
Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2013, the park honors the legacy of Audubon by offering activities that the renowned naturalist/artist surely would have approved, from "Owl Prowls" to adult artist retreats. The French chateau-style Audubon Memorial Museum boasts one of the largest collections of original Audubon art in the nation, including a four-volume edition of Birds of North America, and many of his oils and watercolors. (Parks.ky.gov.)
September: Great American Dulcimer Convention, Pineville. Mountain traditions abound in Pineville, none more so than the sweet music of Appalachia. For two days, Sept. 27 and 28, visitors to Pine Mountain State Resort Park may enjoy lively, entertaining concerts and take part in workshops with legendary dulcimer artists.
Music lovers may attend the evening concerts for a ticket price of $10, but a better alternative might be the special package (accommodations for two nights at the resort, two buffet dinners and admission to all workshops and concerts, priced from $139 to $189). (Parks.ky.gov.)
October: Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration, Rosine. Bill Monroe was the father of bluegrass music, so it only seems fitting that an annual festival showcasing the genre he helped popularize be held in his hometown. For four days, Oct. 3 to 6, a "Blue Moon of Kentucky" will be shining down on the ancestral Monroe farm (about a mile from the Bill Monroe Home Place), where 30 of the nation's best traditional bluegrass and mountain music bands will hold sway. (Jerusalemridgefestival.org.)
November: River's Edge International Film Festival, Paducah. There will not be any A-list stars or red carpet walking, but what indie movie fans will find at this film festival, Nov. 1 to 4, is a diverse selection of high- quality films and the opportunity to engage with the filmmakers who created them (some coming from as far as Manchester, England).
During the festival's four days, 50 films will be shown in three locations in Paducah's historic downtown. The festival concludes with an awards ceremony, which, except for the palm trees and paparazzi, might have you thinking you are in Cannes. (Riversedgefilmfestival.com.)
December: Lights Under Louisville. Many cities have holiday light shows, but Louisville is the only one to hold its show underground. Visitors may drive their own automobiles along a 1.2-mile stretch of passageways beneath the city streets. Featuring some 2 million lights and 800 lit characters (many of them animated), Lights Under Louisville has been voted a national top 10 holiday attraction by America's Best Online and has been featured on the Travel Channel's Christmas Crazy. This year's event continues through Dec. 30; the 2013 edition will be Nov. 15 to Jan.1. (Lightsunderlouisville.com.)
For most any time of year: With all the attention focused on Steven Spielberg's epic film Lincoln, why not explore Kentucky's own Civil War heritage? The Mary Todd Lincoln House museum in Lexington (Mtlhouse.org) is a good place to start. The museum is closed through March except for special events and group tours upon request. Continue on to Camp Nelson Heritage Park in Jessamine County (Campnelson.org), the site of an important Union quartermaster depot and Kentucky's largest recruitment and training camp for black troops.
One of the most strategically important battles of the Civil War was in Perryville in October 1862. The Perryville Battle Historic Site (Parks.ky.gov) has some 45 interpretive signs at important points along the self-guided trail.
Outside Central Kentucky, Civil War buffs may visit the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site and the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home in Hodgenville (Nps.gov), then go to Bowling Green, the former Confederate Capital of Kentucky, to take in the 18 stops along the Civil War Discovery Trail (Visitbgky.com).