Nothing says "Kentucky" more than horse racing, and spring offers a double dose "” at Keeneland in April and at Louisville's historic Churchill Downs for the running of the Kentucky Derby May 7. But if meandering along Kentucky's back roads searching for covered bridges, exploring its mysterious caverns or sampling its bourbon and distillery history is more your style, then we have suggestions.

OFF TO THE RACES

It's not too early to be planning for the Derby, the first Saturday in May. The stars of the Derby have been the sleek three-year-olds since it began in 1875. But today the thoroughbreds share the spotlight with mint juleps, red roses, big hats and celebrity sightings.

The race, the first part of a Triple Crown victory, is one and a quarter miles in length and lasts about two minutes but the excitement it generates is phenomenal. To be part of it, a basic $40 general admission ticket will get you into the infield, which is full of fun and partying but does not feature a view of the track.

The most popular seats that guarantee a view of the race are the three levels of Clubhouse seats. They are available in boxes of six and range from $599 to $3,600 depending on how close you are to the field and the finish line. The Grandstand seats are bleacher style and range from $599 to $1,400.

At the top of the scale, consider one of the dining rooms that allow for a large party and include a wet bar and food. Quint Derby Experiences offers a variety of packages that include seating and transportation to the Downs

Before the races begin, check out Dawn at the Downs ($20-30), which allows guests to watch the trainers warm up the horses while enjoying a gourmet breakfast bar. Another dining event before the races, the Second Annual Taste of Derby, will take place on May 5. This fun and stylish affair includes live entertainment, a red carpet entrance at 7 p.m., followed by food and wine tasting. Tickets are $275; valet service is complimentary and cocktail attire is required.

Visit www.kentuckyderby.com to purchase tickets. There you can fill out an online ticket request form that will ensure you are notified of select online sales and deals on the coveted reserved seats and boxes. On the official website you can also plan your trip, check out the fashions, get party ideas or place a bet on the horse of your choice. With names like Gourmet Dinner, Uncle Mo, and J P's Gusto, the competition is fierce.

DOWN UNDER AT MAMMOTH CAVE

If your personal style includes hiking boots and flashlights rather than suits or big hats, a weekend at Mammoth Cave National Park or General Butler State Park may be a perfect spring outing.

The Mammoth Cave network boasts the longest cave system in the world. With just under 400 miles of underground passages and an even longer history, the area was made a National Park in July 1941 and is still being explored today. The Park offers a variety of cave tours, including some just for kids.

The caves may be the focus of the Park but above ground, it protects more than 70 endangered or threatened animal species and hundreds of different types of plant life.

Visitors can take advantage of the many trails for hiking and biking as well as horseback riding on trails winding through the 500,000-acre reserve. There are also a variety of campsites as well as several rivers that are perfect for kayaking, canoeing or fishing with the family.

For more information or to plan your visit, go to www.nps.gov/maca.

CAMPING IS BASIC OR LUXURY

AT General Butler State Park

At the General Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton, you can camp the traditional way, with tents and fires, or you can stay in luxury accommodations.

The General Butler Lodge has 53 rooms, each with a balcony so you can experience the great outdoors without necessarily having to sleep there.

There are also 24 cottages of various sizes scattered about the grounds and available for as long as you care to stay. Lunch and dinner are served at the Two Rivers Restaurant, which dishes up delicious and locally- grown food.

The Park hosts a variety of programs throughout the spring and summer months. For a spooky experience with the whole family, spend a few days ghost hunting during the Spirits of Butler Paranormal Weekend. Certified ghost hunters will guide guests through the process of finding clues to or evidence of hauntings. Packages are available that include food and lodging.

For details, visit parks.ky.gov.
 

CLOSER TO HOME

Woodford Reserve
7855 McCracken Pike
Versailles, KY 40383
(859) 879-1812

Event reservations (859) 879-1963
$5 admission includes tasting and souvenir shot glass.

Woodford Reserve's historic 78-acre setting in Versailles, Ky., the home of small-batch, hand-crafted bourbon, is open for tours Tuesdays through Sundays beginning in April. Two events at the beautiful site surrounded by Kentucky horse farms get the season started:

The Woodford Reserve Handicapper Brunch during Keeneland's run, April, 9, 16, 23. The 11 a.m. pre-race Saturday brunches spotlighting Kentucky Proud products include a WR signature cocktail, gourmet brunch, picks from a racing analyst and local handicapper, and tours of the designated Historic Landmark distillery buildings that begin at 10 a.m. $35.

Woodford Reserve Fly Fishing, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., May 14 on the banks of Glenn's Creek in Versailles amid the Reserve's secluded surroundings. The day includes a walking tour of the distillery, brunch, tips and hands-on instruction by two Kentucky fly fishing experts, plus a display-quality carded fly and flavor wheel. $150.

 
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
The Inn at Shaker Village
3501 Lexington Road
Harrodsburg, Ky. 40330
(859) 734-1545, (800) 734-5611
10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $15 for ages 13 and older, $5 ages 6-12.

A new exhibit, "Golden Threads: The Stories Behind the Needle" opened April 1 and runs through December at America' s largest restored Shaker community, where you can get a peek at an unusual piece of American history.

"Golden Threads" includes rarely-seen pieces from the Pleasant Hill collection plus colorful silk scarves, lacy gauze kerchiefs and folk art rugs that dispel the myth of the Shakers as drab and plain folk. The textiles exhibit marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and opens the door to the stories of the people who made and wore the pieces.

The 3,000-acre National Historic Landmark site features 14 original Shaker buildings, including the 40-room family dwelling, costumed interpreters, mid-19th century village life demonstrations of broom making, woodworking, spinning and weaving, an extensive collection of Shaker furniture and artifacts plus historic animal breeds and heirloom vegetables on the village farm.

 
Heaven Hill Distilleries
1311 Gilkey Run Road
Bardstown, KY 40004
(502) 337-11000

Heaven Hill is the nation's largest independent family-owned and operated bourbon producer. At its Bourbon Heritage Center, hosts will take you through a working rickhouse, and you can sample bourbon in a unique barrel-shaped testing room. There are three types of tours available.

 
Maker's Mark
3350 Burks Spring Road
Loretto, KY 40037
(270) 865-2099

The distillery is located on scenic 850-acre grounds framed by magnolias and sugar maples. In the gift gallery, you can buy a small bottle (if you're 21 or older) and plunk it in the "dipping booth," creating a customized red wax sealed bottle that you can sign and date.

Covered Bridges of Fleming County
Fleming County Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 24, Flemingsburg, KY 41041
(606) 845-1223

A leisurely drive along winding backroads is a good way to de-stress, so pack your camera and set your GPS to Flemingsburg for some quaint shopping and a Kodak moment at three covered bridges from the area's past. The county seat since 1798, Flemingsburg features Amish/Mennonite shops, antiques stores, folk artists and crafters. And the area's three covered bridges in the surrounding countryside are worth exploring. At one time there were 400 of these "timbered tunnels" in Kentucky with only 13 remaining.

The Goddard White Covered Bridge, off Ky. Rte 32, is the only surviving example of Ithiel Town Lattice design in the state with timbers joined by wooden pegs. It's believed to have been built in the 1820s and is the only one open to traffic. The Grange City Covered Bridge, off Ky. Rte 111 is an 86-foot span over Fox Creek that has survived four floods. And the Ringo's Mill Covered Bridge, off Ky. Rte 158, erected 1867-1869, was developed because of a nearby grist mill. Both are accessible for photographs, if not for cars.

Maps to the bridges are available at the Chamber of Commerce and the Fleming County Covered Bridge Museum which is open noon-4 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment. (606 845-1223).