Caving in Carter County
Caving in Carter County
The eastern part of the state of Kentucky is like Swiss cheese…underground that is, for it sports a huge system of caves in its limestone-rich rock. Carter County boasts 200 caves, but most are gated and locked on private property.
At Carter Caves State Resort Park, there are 20 caves and the public can visit six of them. The park’s trained guides offer various tours all year long.
It’s best to start out on one of the three walking cave tours: Cascade Cave, Saltpetre Cave, and X Cave, which require only a light jacket and comfortable walking shoes with tread, and offer electrically lit passageways. The adventurous can then proceed to one of the more exciting and strenuous crawling tours.
Cascade Cave is the largest of all the 200 caves and is noted for its numerous cave formations and large chambers. One is called the Ball Room where underground dances with live bands were held in the ’20s and ’30s. There are formations like “cave bacon” and “soda straws” to marvel at, along with flowstones that look like milky rock that flowed over a surface and froze there, stalactites and stalagmites, and giant columns in the Cathedral Room. The highlight is an underground waterfall more than 30 feet high.
X Cave is also highly decorated with cave coral, remnants of sea creatures, and shellfish that were embedded in the ancient ocean, and the largest single stalactite in the park—30 feet tall by 10 feet wide.
If you like history, Saltpetre Cave can’t be beat, as your guide unravels a fascinating segment of Kentucky’s underground history. Saltpetre Cave was used during World War II as a source of this major ingredient in gunpowder. The caver walks through hand-dug dusty tunnels made by the miners, and everywhere there are remnants of gnarled wooden braces, sieving troughs, and even a “time tunnel” where the miners wrote their names on the wall with the burnt end of a stick.
Wild crawling tours are also offered in Saltpetre Cave as well as Bat Cave, with the latter being a very wet cave. You will get dirty on these tours, which require hand and knee pads to crawl through winding narrow passages. Passageways contain such colorful names as The Toilet Bowl, The Drain, and Gopher Hole.
Around 3,000-4,000 endangered Indiana bats hibernate in Bat Cave, making it the third largest colony in the world. It is closed to the public during winter hibernation, but guests are still treated to viewing some of the critters the rest of the seasons as they harmlessly cling to the cave ceiling.
It’s great fun to round off your caving experience by acquiring a free permit to enter one of the two wild caves that don’t require a guide. They are straightforward and getting lost is not a possibility. Laurel Cave looks like a sculpted underground Utah canyon, with rippled rock curving sinuously and deep stone pools and a gutter-like trough where a narrow creek cut through the limestone.
One of the park’s largest events, in its 26th year, is the annual Crawlathon (January 26-28), which attracts 500 cave enthusiasts each year.
Carter Caves State Resort Park
344 Caveland Drive
Olive Hill, KY 41164
Reservations: (800) 325-0059
Carter Caves State Resort Park can even be enjoyed by the claustrophobic, for they have marvelous hiking trails to three natural bridges including the state’s most massive, Smokey Bridge, with a 220-foot-long tunnel and more than 90 feet high. Horseback riding excursions are also offered, from pony rides to a 2-1/2-hour adventurous ride for the experienced. Canoe trips on Smokey Lake are also available: $10 for adults, $5 for 12 and under.
The beautiful fieldstone lodge provides guestrooms and a dining service, and there are two-bedroom cottages available to rent, or go rustic at the campground, with electric hook-ups or primitive sites.
To participate in guided caving tours, sign up, and cave tickets are acquired at the park’s welcome center. For crawling tours, a dependable flashlight and new batteries are required, but those and knee pads are available at the camp store.
Guided cave tours are $6-8 for adults; $3-$4 for 12 and under. Crawling tours are $10.
Grayson is located about 15 minutes to the east of Carter Caves. Grayson Chamber of Commerce, (606) 474-4401 or online at www.heartoftheparks.com or www.graysonchamber.org.
While in Grayson, check out two great craft shops: Lighthouse Frames & Gallery on Main Street, offering a variety of fine arts and crafts, (606) 474-9254. Homespun Sisters, in Justice Mall, has handcrafted candles and woven homemade textiles, (606) 474-5296.
Higher Grounds Café is a trendy coffee shop and grill, located on Main Street across from Lighthouse Frames & Gallery, offering delicious soups and homemade food as well as wireless Internet, (606) 475-1871.
The town of Carter is located about 15 minutes north of Carter Caves. Make sure and stop by J.F. Lewis & Company if you’re looking for furniture of any type; the family-owned company since 1890 has four warehouses, (606) 474-5912.
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It could be 60 degrees and sunny outside one day, then snow two inches the next—you’ve got to love wintertime in Kentucky.
Of course, that unpredictability can complicate scheduling getaways this time of year, but with an avalanche of indoor and outdoor choices for wintertime fun in Kentucky, there’s no need to put your plans on ice.
Free-flowing streams are abundant throughout the Bluegrass, says Canoe Kentucky Manager Nathan Depenbrock, and without the hot summer sun drying them up, winter can be a perfect time for canoeing. The rental and retail site for canoe, kayak, and raft enthusiasts in Frankfort also offers wintertime canoe courses in five weekly sessions in Georgetown, Frankfort, and Versailles.
Elkhorn Creek, near Frankfort, is one of the most popular canoeing creeks statewide, Depenbrock says. “The contrast of the white snow and the turquoise water is just absolutely gorgeous,” he says.
There are, of course, added safety concerns, such as wearing the proper attire to stave off hypothermia, as well as having canoeing experience and knowing the area and stream conditions that day.
If you’re picturing something warmer and cozier, like watching the snow fall outside from a cabin hideaway, Paw Paw’s Landing in Beattyville is the place. Open since 1999, the cabin is run by Joanne Dunaway, her husband Jimmy, and three sisters. The Dunaway sisters’ father, known affectionately as Paw Paw, built the cabin in the early 1980s in the middle of six scenic acres still populated with deer and turkey, and it’s been transformed into a secluded retreat for anniversaries, honeymoons, and birthdays.
“I decided I wanted to fix a place for hassled couples, girlfriend groups, that sort of thing,” Joanne says. “Fixing a place that was very comfortable, very affordable. … It’s the essence of casual perfection.”
Joanne irons the bed linens with lavender water, and there’s a hot tub, screened-in porch, and continental breakfast provided. The furniture is a mix of elegant antiques and country charm, with plenty of throw pillows and comfortable quilts. A personal shopping service is also available.
“When you’re at Paw Paw’s you’re treated like somebody really special,” Joanne says.
Mixing ice with the comforts of indoors is one slick way to have winter fun without frostbite. Take ice skating lessons or join in public skate sessions at the Northern Kentucky Ice Center in Crescent Springs or the Owensboro Ice Arena.
Jennifer Hodges, skating/aquatics manager at the Owensboro facility, says ice skating is a fun way to meet new friends and exercise more.
“It’s just a great family-friendly atmosphere,” she says. “The kids just really enjoy it. It puts a smile on everybody’s faces.”
Jill Isaacs, public relations manager for the Newport Aquarium, says whether you’re watching a penguin eat its lunch, seeing a new fish for the first time, or touching a shark, there’s always something new to learn from the aquatic environments represented there.
The aquarium offers winter specials on pricing and Behind-the-Scenes Tours of its operations, as well as an enjoyable escape from the elements.
“When you are inside the aquarium and surrounded by fish, you feel like you are in a tropical environment, even if it’s snowing outside,” she says.
Canoe Kentucky, 7323 Peaks Mill Road, Frankfort, (888) Canoeky, www.canoeky.com. Canoe, kayak, raft rentals; retail; winter instructional sessions in Georgetown, Frankfort, and Versailles. Call for info. Winter hours limited.
Selected Kentucky State Parks offer wintertime Eagle Watch Weekends and Elk Viewing Tours. Pre-registration required. Special winter lodge room rates through February 1. Contact individual parks for program information/availability: Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park, (270) 433-7431; Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park, (270) 362-4271; Kenlake State Resort Park, (270) 474-2211; Lake Barkley State Resort Park, (270) 924-1131; Elk Viewing Tours at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, (800) 325-0142. Or go online to http://parks.ky.gov and type in “Eagle Watch Weekend” or “Elk Viewing” in the search box at the top.
Newport Aquarium, Newport on the Levee, One Aquarium Way, Newport, (800) 406-3474, www.newportaquarium.com. Winter Family Hours with free child admission (limit two, 12 and under) per each adult admission January 7-March 4. Adults $17.95, $15.95 seniors 65+. Each additional child $5, limit three. Otherwise $10.95 for children 3-12, ages 2 and under free. Behind-the-Scenes Tours, $10, Monday–Thursday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Friday–Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 4 p.m. Open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Northern Kentucky Ice Center, 2638 Anderson Road, Crescent Springs, (859) 344-1981, open year-round. Public sessions Friday 7:30-9:20 p.m., $6; weekends 1-2:50 p.m., $5 with $2 rentals. Group/family rates, lessons.
Owensboro Ice Arena, 1215 Parkview Drive, Owensboro, (270) 687-8720, www.owensboroparks.org (click on Parks & Facilities, then Ice Arena). Public skating (Central Time) Sunday 1-4 p.m., Friday 7-10 p.m., Saturday 1-4 p.m. and 7-10 p.m. Admission $4.25, rental $2.50, group/family rates, lessons; 2006-07 season runs through March 11.
Paw Paw’s Landing, Beattyville, (606) 464-3935, www.pawpawslanding.com. Two-bedroom cabin rental $198/night, two-night minimum. Phone/online reservations. Adults only, four maximum, no smoking, no pets.
Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
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