Expect the Unexpected
Kentucky’s natural (and occasionally manmade) attractions offer fresh air, exercise, and fun for all ages—for a day or for an adventure vacation—so get out and enjoy it
Zip lining, spelunking and rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking and hiking, wildlife spotting, horseback riding and horse camping, and shooting—rifles, pistols, and bows. When you commune with nature on the adventurous side of Kentucky, it’s all about connecting in a way that is big, brash, and boisterous.
“It’s a good adrenaline rush,” Shane Bull says of Kentucky’s endless adventure possibilities. He would know. As the owner of Mammoth Cave Adventures, the first and only canopy zip-line tour in the state, Bull whooshes from treetop to treetop along hundreds of feet of cable strung above 60 wooded acres located within spitting distance of Mammoth Cave National Park.
“It’s an absolute blast,” he says of his daily zip-line adventures.
“Kentucky got into the adventure tourism market in late 2007,” says Elaine H. Wilson. In 2008, adventure tourism became a cabinet position within the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and, a year later, Wilson became its executive director. An avid adventurer herself, Wilson canoes, kayaks, and fishes, goes whitewater rafting, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and zipping. Kentucky’s Adventure Tourism can be found at www.kyunbridledadventure.com
“There is a real public zest for the zip lining adventure,” she says.
Close your eyes—and whoosh
Bull agrees. His Cave City business, opened in July 2010, has seen steady traffic and Bull expects it will only increase. This past February, they added a four-line course to accommodate families, and in late spring they will add a Tarzan super swing that will shoot adventurers out over the top of a surrounding ridge. Like the five zip lines already in place, this one will vary in length, height, and speed. Adding to the stratospheric fun are three skybridges and an environmental lesson: Mammoth Cave Adventures guides discourse on tree types, the history of the Mammoth Cave area, and the wildlife that inhabits its forests.
“When you step off that platform, there’s not a whole lot you can do but enjoy. It’s exhilarating. You just close your eyes and swing through the trees,” says Shawn Dobson, who has zipped with Mammoth Cave Adventures on two occasions. A resident of Fayetteville, West Virginia, with family in Barren County, Dobson plans to repeat her Kentucky adventures, not only on the zip lines but on Green River, where she loves the canoeing, and also to Dinosaur World.
“The Mammoth Cave area seems like it’s become more geared to adventure-based sports,” says Dobson. “And zipping through the trees—it’s pretty cool.”
On the ground, Bull offers guided horseback riding for all skill levels along wooded trails that traverse terrain from gentle to downright wicked and all with scenic vistas. Tent camping is also available and can be as private as campers wish, with well-treed enclaves tucked into the ridges that put them within 10 minutes of the Visitors Center at Mammoth Cave National Park. For Bull, Mammoth Cave Adventures provides a way for him to branch off his parents’ business—the nearby Mammoth Cave Canoe and Kayak—while using resources already in place on land he purchased a dozen or so years ago. Of course, being located right next door to Mammoth Cave isn’t bad, either.
“It brings the people,” he says.
On—and under—the ground
Although zip lining is currently the “it” adventure among thrill-seekers, there are scads more adventures found all over the state: hundreds of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails jog through forests, state parks, and mountains. Miles of canoe-, kayak-, and whitewater rafting-worthy waterways flow through the state.
You can go camping, fishing, boating, and bicycling; or rock climbing (for all skill levels) in the Daniel Boone National Forest at Red River Gorge. New in the western reaches of the state is a target range, ready for action on Golden Pond in Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. And then there’s the safari—not in the wilds of Africa but right in the wilds of the Bluegrass—to see Kentucky elk. The largest free-ranging herd this side of Montana can be spotted on guided tours during the late fall and winter months at Jenny Wiley and Buckhorn Lake State Resort Parks.
And underground, a whole world sprawls out to challenge subterranean explorers, from the epic labyrinth with its showy formations that is Mammoth Cave National Park—the world’s longest known cave system—to lesser known and much smaller caves like Cub Run Cave, one of a mere handful of caves in the United States that has boxwork, a rare and eerie honeycomb-like formation composed of calcite.
“Here’s a cave that was discovered in 1950 but, due to land disputes, was sealed off to the public for 55 years,” says Wilson. “It offers great guided tours with many views of unique formations and cave wildlife. When I visited, there was a bat constantly flying overhead.”
Off the beaten path, this cave is located in tiny Cub Run just north of the Mammoth Cave area. It is worth the drive up the road to take the 1-1/2-mile tour that shows off cave bacon, cave popcorn, flowstone, rimstone dams, and other stunning features, including a natural pool.
Although Diamond Caverns is his personal favorite, inveterate caver, hiker, and all-around outdoorsman Cory Ramsey, the Outdoor Adventure blogger for Kentucky’s south-central region, considers Cub Run to be the best cave in the area, noting that “It’s just a little harder to get to than the other, more popular locations close to interstate traffic.”
Ramsey, a Bowling Green TV and radio personality who loves to talk hiking and adventure at every opportunity, has appeared regularly on WBKO-TV’s Midday Live with Laura Rogers, and on the radio on the WKLX SAM 100.7 Tony Rose show and the WCKQ Q-104 Rob Collins show in Campbellsville.
Noting he lost track of the number of miles he has hiked a long time ago—he went on 57 hikes in 2010 alone—Ramsey likens Kentucky hiking opportunities to a buffet.
“Like lakes? We’ve got them. Mountains? Have your pick. Plenty of arches and caves and rivers and woods to keep one entertained on the trails. A hiker could spend months in the Daniel Boone Forest alone with all of the side trails there.”
Ramsey follows a “Kentucky First” rule: he limits his ventures into other states because there’s so much to see in his own back yard. In fact, this hiker has done 90% of his hiking in the Bluegrass—and much more is on the docket.
“I love southeastern Kentucky and the Pine Mountain area,” he says. “I’ll go to Bad Branch Falls State Nature Preserve and the Breaks Interstate Park, Red River Gorge, and the Natural Bridge farther north, west to the Tradewater Wildlife Management Area in the Pennyrile Forest, and at some time or another, to hike the North-South Trail at Land Between The Lakes.”
Best-kept secret adventures
With so much of the Kentucky landscape naturally suited to adventure, you can bet there are some best-kept secret spots favored by the outdoorsy set. Parks Regional Director Stefanie Gaither points to Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park in the southwestern part of Kentucky with its miles of trails—from easy to rugged or strenuous—punctuated with scenic overlooks and bluffs.
“This park looks like a Thomas Kincaid painting,” she says. “It is just so picturesque, and being tucked back in a forest really gives you that feeling of being away from it all. You simply cannot ask for better natural beauty and wildlife viewing opportunities.”
But the adventure goes beyond hiking. Gaither considers Pennyrile Forest SRP to be an off-the-beaten-path opportunity for canoeing, fishing, boating, and horseback riding as well.
“The really awesome thing about this park is that there are wonderful cabins along the lake and private boat docks so you can access the cabins from the road or water.”
New to the park this spring will be horse camping. Dale Hollow Lake SRP and Taylorsville Lake State Park already have horse camping—and Carter Caves SRP will be adding it this spring as well.
According to Gaither, there will be eight new campsites for equestrians at Pennyrile Forest with sewer hookups, upgraded water and electric, and a new bathhouse. All of the sites are pull-through and will have hitching posts.
Horseback riding trails and terrain vary at the parks with horse camping: Dale Hollow Lake has 16 miles of moderate trails—the ones along the cliff lines afford spectacular views of the lake; Taylorsville has more than 21 miles ranging from easy walking trails to steep inclines; Carter Caves currently has 10 miles on park property, but the trails are being expanded to up the adventure and challenge; and Pennyrile has 40 miles, marked and mapped, wending through the western Kentucky woods.
“Lots of people love to camp and ride for a complete outdoor experience,” says Gaither.
It seems like it would be impossible to keep roaming herds of 500-plus-pound elk a best-kept secret, but Gaither says the guided tours to view the noble beasts at Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park in eastern Kentucky are exactly that—not to mention utterly fascinating. According to Tesa Turner, group sales coordinator at the park—and passionate ATVer and camper—the natural history presentation that is a component of these tours covers the elk restoration project and its origins: the preserve sprawls over reclaimed surface coal mining land not far from the park, ideal grazing terrain because it is flat.
“The project started with seven elk in 1997 and they’ve thrived beyond anyone’s expectations,” says Turner. “There are thousands of elk now.”
Turner says visitors can get within yards of the free-range elk and, in late fall and winter, see them in significant numbers. The animals have flourished to the point that Turner says she fully expects them to show up in the park at some point and join the wildlife already there—whitetail deer, wild turkeys, possum, raccoons, bobcats, a few black bears, birds, and an eagle whose family the park employees are hoping will grow.
Kentucky is blessed with an abundance of adventures to keep thrill-seekers connected with nature throughout the year. From gentle trails on the ground and below, to rough-and-tumble “trails” in the trees, there is an adventure experience for every skill and endurance level, one that can be shared with family and friends or alone as a way to make friends and meet fellow outdoor enthusiasts. You already have something in common with the guy or gal standing in line with you.
The Office of Adventure Tourism was added to the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet in 2008, with a strong presence on the Kentucky Department of Travel’s Web site that is directly accessible online at www.kyunbridledadventure.com or www.getoutky.com.
Eight bloggers share their experiences on the Outdoor Adventure blog (http://adventureblog.kentuckytourism.com), located on the site, including outdoorsmen Cory Ramsey and Seth Wheat, who is also the adventure tourism assistant. The Outdoor Adventure blog was created in June 2010 with Ramsey contributing its first post. Bloggers, whose adventure profiles include hiking, caving, rock climbing, fishing and angling, whitewater rafting, and more, typically blog a couple times a month—or when time between adventures permits.
Reading the blog is an excellent way for would-be thrill-seekers to familiarize themselves with all the adventures Kentucky has to offer.
Both Wheat and Elaine Wilson espouse the “Leave No Trace” philosophy of responsible enjoyment of the outdoors and purposeful stewardship.
“I view all (outdoor) activities with a sense of reverence toward the environment,” says Wilson. “I do so with concern that if I don’t, the place I visit may not give me the same beauty, peacefulness, and connectivity I seek when that visit comes around again.”
Adventure Hot Spots
Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park
4441 KY Highway 1833, Buckhorn
(800) 325-0058 or (606) 398-7510
www.parks.ky.gov (choose Parks tab, then Resort)
Guided elk tours are offered in fall and winter months, with the first ones scheduled for Sept. 17-18 and running through March 17-18, 2012. A package includes overnight accommodations, dinner, bagged breakfast, transportation to and from the elk preserve, and a natural history program is available. Call park for dates and details.
Cub Run Cave
15101 Cub Run Highway, Cub Run
Tours 1 to 1-1/2 hours long. Winter tour hours (until Memorial Day weekend) Wednesday-Sunday: 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m., Central Time. Summer tour hours (beginning Memorial Day weekend): seven days a week, 9:30 a.m., 12 noon, 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m. Gift shop 10 a.m.-4 p.m. winter; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. summer. Check Web site for admission fees. Call ahead for weather conditions; they close for snow, ice, or heavy rain.
Daniel Boone National Forest
1700 Bypass Road, Winchester
Visit Web site for information, maps, and brochures and to click on the four individual ranger districts: Cumberland, London, Stearns, and Redbird. More than 1 million people visit annually to backpack, hunt, fish, camp, and picnic, or go rock climbing and boating. The forest encompasses Cave Run Lake, Laurel River Lake, two wilderness areas—Clifty and Beaver Creek—and the nearly 280-mile Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, among other natural wonders.
1900 Mammoth Cave Parkway, Park City
Open year-round: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through Labor Day; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Labor Day-Oct. 31; and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 1-Mar. 14. Visit Web site for tour and admission details. Discounted tickets available when buying online.
Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area
100 Van Morgan Dr., Golden Pond
(800) 525-7077 or (270) 924-2000
Facilities include Elk & Bison Prairie, Homeplace, Nature Station, and Planetarium. The Golden Pond Target Range includes two ranges for simultaneous shooting, a 175-yard rifle range with six shooting benches and a 50-yard pistol range with four shooting benches. There is also an archery practice range and a field archery range trail. ADA-compliant paths have been added to the shooting benches and backstop.
See Web site for Calendar of Events and list of activities, including target practice, and applicable fees.
Mammoth Cave Adventures
1994 Roy Hunter Rd., Cave City
Book the “From High Above to Down Below” Kentucky Adventure Package, including one canopy zip line tour at Mammoth Cave Adventures, a canoe trip on Green River from Mammoth Cave Canoe and Kayak, a Diamond Caverns cave tour, admission to Dinosaur World, and admission to Kentucky Down Under. This two-day adventure package costs $114 per person (regularly $130.75).
Mammoth Cave National Park
1 Mammoth Cave Parkway, Mammoth Cave
There’s more than spelunking at the park where more than 600,000 visit annually: boating, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, camping, bicycling, and special events. Of course, some 400,000 or so take cave tours, which run the gamut from crawling to walking and electric light to lantern cave tours. Call or visit the Web site for tours offered, operating hours, and admissions.
Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park
20781 Pennyrile Lodge Road, Dawson Springs
(800) 325-1711, (270) 797-3421
www.parks.ky.gov (click on Parks tab, then Resort)
There are more than 23 miles of trails, from the 0.1-mile Thompson’s Hollow Trail (moderately strenuous) to the 13.5-mile Pennyrile Nature Trail (moderately difficult), and several rated easy. Visitors can also rent pedal and rowboats and canoes.
KENTUCKY STATE PARKS FAMILY ADVENTURE QUEST
A combination photo and trivia scavenger hunt, this adventure leads you through various parks and historic sites as you seek the answer to trivia questions and search for the perfect photo opportunity.
The adventure quest is a team quest, but it isn’t a race. You and your team of two to six have until December 1, 2011, to complete as many challenges as you can and get your pictures sent to the Department of Parks. Some challenges may seem easy and straightforward, but some will require cleverness and, most importantly, a sense of adventure.
The Family Adventure Quest is a great way for families to enjoy Kentucky State Parks and spend some time outdoors, but it’s also perfect for couples, friendly competitions, and scout groups.
The quest is made up of 25 total challenges. For completing 20 challenges your team will earn a $50 Kentucky State Parks gift certificate. For those teams who complete all 25 challenges, you will earn an $85 Kentucky State Parks gift certificate. To get your teams registered and learn more, go online to www.parks.ky.gov/adventure or call (800) 255-PARK.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: >ADVENTURE RACING
For information about Kentucky’s first adventure racing—teams for mountain biking, trekking, and canoe paddling—when the United States Adventure Racing Association holds its national championship, October 6-8 at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, go to Adventure racing comes to Kentucky.