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Carter Caves Park: The Lowdown on the Underground

By: David Urmann

There’s something instinctual in human beings that causes us to be fascinated by caves and caverns. In the days when being eaten by a bear at 25 was considered having “had a pretty good run”, a good cave was the equivalent of a 3 bedroom in the suburbs with a fenced in yard and a 2-car garage. Perhaps that ancestral memory is what makes Carter Caves State Resort Park so appealing. Or maybe they’re just cool.

Carter Caves is located 30 miles west of Ashland, Kentucky. It is home to more than 20 spectacular caverns. These subterranean wonders sprawl beneath the forested Appalachian hills, and can be explored via a number of lighted and unlighted cave tours. A small fee is charged for tours to aid in the park’s upkeep. Special tours for beginning and experienced spelunkers are also available (schedule ahead).

Among the most impressive caves is Cascade Cave, with its exceptionally beautiful underground waterfall (which towers over 30 feet high), X Cave (named for the shape of its passages), which is noted for its many astounding rock formations, and Saltpeter Cave, a spot rich in early Kentucky history. The largest cave in the park is Bat Cave. This huge cavern is the winter home of thousands of rare bats, and as such is toured only during the summer.

Carter Caves State Resort Park has plenty of fun to offer visitors aboveground as well. Guests can hike along 20 miles of wooded nature trails and enjoy great Kentucky scenery; the trails range from easy to difficult levels, so there’s something for hikers of every age and ability. Boating enthusiasts can take a relaxing canoe trip down Tygart's Creek. Anglers will be thrilled by the opportunities at Carter Caves Lake, Kentucky's only trophy bass lake, which is home to bluegill, catfish, and crappie in addition to largemouth bass. Golfers are invited to test their skills on the resort’s gorgeous 9-hole regulation golf course, then enjoy a break at its fully-equipped pro shop, where they can get rental riding carts, pull carts, clubs and more (the course is open year-round, weather permitting).

Guests who want to spend more than a few hours at Carter Caves State Resort Park have lots of excellent lodging choices. Lewis Caveland Lodge is an attractive fieldstone lodge that offers 28 rooms with full amenities. The 10 newly built cottages are beautiful 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom affairs with automatic dishwashers, microwave ovens and covered decks with scenic views of the hills. The tent and sleeping bag crowd can hit one of the campground’s 89 campsites and enjoy the 1st-class utilities, which include a dump station, and two central service buildings with rest rooms and showers.

Whether you’re after outdoor fun, natural splendor or just a few days respite from the rat-race, you just can’t top a trip to the Bluegrass State and Kentucky’s Carter Caves State Resort Park.


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