A forest full of fall color, a programming lineup full of family fun
Throughout the 2,000 forested acres of Carter Caves State Resort Park in Olive Hill, Mother Nature puts on quite a dramatic show, saturating her canvas of hardwoods in shades of coppery orange and flaming red.
“Some folks would agree that fall is arguably the best time of the year to come to Carter Caves,” says Park Naturalist Paul Tierney. “Milder temperatures for camping, constant temperature inside the caves, tons of family programming and color. A diverse flora creates diverse color and Carter Caves boasts some of the most spectacular color changes in the state.”
Under the forest floor, the color palette inside Cascade Cave and X-Cave, where guided tours are offered year-round, tends more toward neutrals, but the display is no less impressive. A dragon springs from his lair in the former, looking as though he could breathe fire, and an illuminated 30-foot underground waterfall elicits plenty of oohs and ahs. In the latter, cavers encounter descriptively named geologic marvels like the Giant Turkey, the Pipe Organ and duck!—Headache Rock.
Founded in 1946, Carter Caves State Resort Park is one of only two Kentucky state parks with caves visitors can explore. (The other park is Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park and its wild Cindy Cave). The Carter County region has the highest concentration of caves in Kentucky, with an expansive system of natural caves that also includes the undeveloped Bat Cave, the longest cave in the park, and the cold and dusty Saltpetre Cave. These cave tours, offered Memorial Day through Labor Day, are strenuous and rugged, the passages wet and muddy.
Two other caves within the park, both available for self-exploration, are the undeveloped Laurel Cave (open May 1-Labor Day), and Horn Hollow Cave, which is open year-round.
Aboveground within the park is no slouch in the natural wonders department either.
“One of the things that makes Carter Caves ‘uniquely Kentucky’ are its resources,” says Tierney. “There is as much to see and do aboveground as there is below, with over 30 miles of hiking trails and some of the largest and most impressive natural arches and geology.”
Hike the 3.6-mile Three Bridges Trail, traveling alongside sandstone cliffs, to see the natural bridges named Raven, Fern and Smoky (the largest). Cross two suspension bridges on the 4Cs Carter Caves Cross Country Trail. The 8.3-mile trail dips into Tygart State Forest and meanders into the park’s backcountry. Although less than a mile in length, the Box Canyon Trail is one of the park’s most scenic, providing views of the Cascade natural bridge, canyon and wind tunnel.
Carter Caves also offers a diverse lineup of programming.
“There are special events designed for families going on nearly every weekend,” says Tierney.
Adrenaline junkies won’t be able to resist Carter Caves Adventure Experience on Saturday, Sept. 23: Tomahawk throwing, tree climbing, cave tours, rappelling, archery and other big thrills are on the agenda, along with an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.
On October 7, 13 and 21, the park offers its popular Spooky Cave-In movie series that queues up family-friendly flicks and offers drinks and snacks for purchase. (Movie titles are posted on the park’s Facebook page.) Cascade Afterhours: A Night of Legends and Stories takes place on Oct. 6, 14, 20 and 27 and the month wraps up with the park’s Halloween Campout Celebration on Oct. 27 and 28.
Throughout fall months in the park, expect to see wildlife busily preparing for the winter.
“You’re sure to see white-tailed deer roaming and foraging, turkeys and other critters enjoying the last few days of somewhat warm temperatures and bats in their frenzied attempt to put on that last little bit of hibernation weight.
“On an evening trip to the Bat Cave, you might see them congregating at the entrance, dancing their dances, courting and preparing for a long winter’s nap,” Tierney adds.
Experience some of Mother Nature’s best handiwork during autumn along with a variety of programming at Carter Caves State Resort Park. Besides leaf peeping, the park offers guided cave tours, fishing, hiking, birding, miniature golf, paddling Smoky Lake and self-guided rappelling and rock climbing. For more details about specific cave tours and other activities and for event and ticket information, visit https://parks.ky.gov.
Carter Caves State Resort Park
344 Caveland Drive
Olive Hill, KY 41164