The blossoming of cherry trees is a traditional sign of spring that draws thousands of visitors to Washington, but you could avoid the crowds by taking in another marker of the change of seasons - the natural show of redbud trees spreading a blush of pink across the scenic hills and hollows of southeastern Kentucky.
Start making your travel plans. April is Redbud Month for the Tour Southern and Eastern Kentucky Association which has plenty of tips for finding the blooms and having a good time. The Web site's introduction mentions four scenic byways for some of the best tours; for details, go down to the bottom of the page to click on "Driving Tours," and then look for "Scenic Drives" on the following page. And while you're on that page, look under "Upcoming Events" for flea markets and the Bluegrass Jam, an informal musical gathering going on through May 29.
Look for "Home" on the upper left corner of the Southern and Eastern Web page to access an interactive map of their regions, including Heartland Waterways, the Cumberlands and Kentucky's Elk Country. Elk, in Kentucky? Yes. Then try the Southern and Eastern's regional videos and photos. But be careful; there are enough other travel ideas on this Web site that you could be distracted from the redbuds that attracted you in the first place.
One of the scenic drives mentioned at Southern and Eastern is the Red River Gorge National Scenic Byway. That route takes you to the unique Red River Gorge Geological Area full of animals and plants specific to the area, and more than 80 natural stone arches. It's part of the Daniel Boone National Forest which offers camping, more than 600 miles of hiking trails, rivers and wilderness areas.
The Red River Gorge is near Natural Bridge State Resort Park home of a 65-foot-high, 78-foot-long stone arch bridge. Stay a while at a park camp site, at the lodge or in a cottage. And look for the link at the top of the page for fishing license information.
Tucked into the extreme southeastern corner of Kentucky, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park preserves the gateway through the Appalachians that allowed early settlers to move west from Virginia. There are rare plants, waterfalls, miles of trails, guide cave tours and the historic Hensley Settlement community.
Across the easternmost corner of the state, Kentucky Appalachians covers a diverse region of old coal mining towns, state parks, river rafting and country music. That musical background is reflected in the Country Music Highway, shown on maps as U.S. 23.
For an intense course in old-fashioned country music, head west a bit to the home of the Renfro Valley Barn Dance a center of the region's distinct musical tradition for nearly seven decades. Click on "The Gatherin" to see if any radio stations in your area still carry this venerable broadcast.
If you need a major city as a base for your travels, just 50 miles north of Renfro Valley is Lexington which styles itself the Horse Capital of the World in the heart of the bluegrass region. Look down the page for information on touring one of the area's major thoroughbred farms, and just below that click on their "Top Ten List" of things to see, including the Woodford Reserve Distillery and the restored Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.