Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kentucky Places: Carter Caves State Park

Carter Caves State Park near Olive Hill is often overshadowed by its more famous cousin to the West, Mammoth Cave, but it is well worth the visit. Like Mammoth, it is swamped with tourists in the summer, but since they are mostly there for cave tours or at the campground or lodge (neither of which are anything special), you'll pretty much have the trail system all to yourself. If you are really outdoorsy, you need to float Tygart's Creek from Olive Hill down to the park, but you'll have to do it in the winter unless you want to drag your canoe the whole way. It's about a 15 mile trip or so, but the clifflines are fantastic. Winter is the best time to see the cliffs while hiking, too. I suggest checking out the 4Cs trail for a view of some of the rugged backcountry of the park. If you want to go underground but avoid the tourists, they actually do have cave tours all winter, as well. Check out Cascade Caverns which is a pretty nice "tourist cave" with lights, big rooms, and no crawling. The days of crawling tours might be coming to an end anyway because of "White Nose Syndrome", a disease which is wiping out the nation's bat population and is probably spread by people visiting caves (as well as bats flying around, of course).

On your way from I-64 to the park you'll pass a bunch of touristy stuff like "rock shops", where you can buy rocks if you are so inclinded. There's also a little tavern (since Carter County is dry I guess that's not the right word) which usually features the musical stylings of the Git-R-Done Band, which is pretty good. If it's open when you go, there is a little trailer with BBQ and ice cream in the front yard of an old house a couple of miles before the park entrace which has the best food I've found around there.