A post from Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt
“You can take a hike in the winter and see all the cliff lines and other geologic formations from far distances due to the leafless forest landscape,” said Park Adventure Officer Coy Ainsley. “You have a better chance of getting a last-minute reservation in the lodge and cottages, can experience the park with less visitors and enjoy some warm-up time in front of the fire in the lodge lobby.”
Winter travel has its advantages. And if it snows?
“Carter Caves is a beautiful place under a blanket of snow,” said Ainsley.
Founded in 1946, Carter Caves State Resort Park is home to an expansive system of natural caves; in fact the Carter County region has the highest concentration of caves in Kentucky. And the park is one of only two in Kentucky’s state park system that has caves visitors can explore.
Follow the stone staircase into X-Cave and the Great Chandelier—the largest formation of stalactites in the cave. The 45-minute tour meanders through two narrow, vertical-joint passages marked with such descriptive formations as the Pipe Organ, Giant Turkey and Headache Rock, each a geologic marvel in its own right. Be prepared for 75 steps and to duck and stoop in different parts of the cave as well as inch sideways through some of X-Cave’s skinnier passages.
Scenic Cascade Cave offers a tour with its own arresting formations, including a dragon lunging from the ceiling in the Dragon’s Lair that looks like it is about to breathe fire. The hike is generally an easy one, in spite of the 250 stairs throughout the cave, and leads cavers to a reflecting pool in the Lake Room, the North Cave’s Cathedral and the Dance Hall—where a previous owner once held dances. The pièce de resistance? The illuminated 30-foot underground waterfall. The 75-minute tour covers a distance of less than a mile and, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a resident bat named Bruce.
Both Cascade Cave and X Cave are open year-round for guided tours with trained interpretive staff members who cover the history and geology of the caves as well as cave ecology. Dress for the weather as parts of both tours take place outside and cave temperatures can dip as low as 30 degrees.
Explore the caves, then head to the park’s beautiful, glass-fronted fieldstone lodge for some downtime, so inviting with rockers and overstuffed sofas and chairs. A wall of windows frames the landscape beyond, parts of it marked by cliffs and caves, arches and natural bridges. Relax by the fire in the lobby, play boardgames or binge on favorite shows. (Wireless Internet service is available throughout the lodge.)
Wintertime at the park is a quiet time of year, a chance to slow down and catch up with reading, photograph the park’s winter landscape, hike the trails to spy wildlife, stargaze the night sky and browse the gift shop for Kentucky handcrafted items.
Some of the 28 rooms at Carter Caves’ Lewis Caveland Lodge have a private patio, opening to views of the winter woodlands. (Note: Lodge rooms are available Wednesday through Saturday night in winter.) Cottages are open year-round, as is the campground with its choice of primitive, RV and equestrian campsites.
Kentucky State Parks pride itself on serving Kentucky Proud products and using local meats and produce when possible in dishes that showcase the region as well as Kentucky fare: fried catfish and hushpuppies, fried chicken, pinto beans, baked spaghetti, barbecue ribs, banana pudding.
One item that is synonymous with Kentucky cuisine and served at all Kentucky State Park lodge restaurants, including Tierney’s Cavern at Carter Caves, is the Hot Brown. Pure down-home deliciousness, this hearty dish is made with roasted turkey breast and country ham stacked on toast points and topped with crispy bacon and a juicy tomato slice and smothered in cheese sauce.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday and for breakfast and lunch on Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Carter Caves is less than a 25-minute drive to Morehead and two activities ideal of wintertime, both located at Morehead State University.
The Space Science Center’s 100-seat state-of-the-art digital planetarium offers full-dome planetarium movie feature shows at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month throughout the year and a 6:30 p.m. laser show. The shows are open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets can be purchased at the door by cash or check. Note: credit cards are not accepted. See the schedule at www.moreheadstate.edu/events/#f1=star-theater.
At the Kentucky Folk Art Center, see works from a 1,400-piece permanent collection of self-taught art displayed in the first-floor gallery. In the second-floor gallery, changing exhibits show off folk art, fine art, textiles and photography. The gift shop is considered to be one of the finest in the region, with original folk art, crafts and jewelry as well as books, toys and other items. Learn more at www.moreheadstate.edu.
Susan Reigler’s The Complete Guide to Kentucky State Parks was published in 2009, when there were 49 state parks and state historic sites (there are currently 45), but it remains a valuable guide and planning resource and one enhanced by beautiful full color photography.
For more information about planning a visit to Carter Caves State Resort Park or any of Kentucky’s 45 state parks, visit https://parks.ky.gov.
Kentucky State Parks’ Kentucky Hot Brown
- 2 slices white bread
- 1 1/2 oz sliced turkey
- 1 1/2 oz sliced country ham
- 1 C cheese sauce (see recipe below)
- 2 strips bacon
- 1/4 C shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 slice tomato
Hot Brown Cheese Sauce*
- 1 quart milk
- 2 oz melted butter
- 1/2 C flour
- 8 oz easy-melt American cheese
- 2 tsp chicken base
Melt butter and mix in flour. Add in 1 quart of milk and 2 teaspoons chicken base. Cook until thick. Add 8 ounces of easy-melt American cheese and blend until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.
*NOTE: Prepare cheese sauce ahead. Sauce will make 5 to 6 Hot Browns.
Cook bacon and drain. Toast bread and top with sliced turkey and ham. Cover with about 8 ounces of warm sauce. Top with sliced tomato. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese. Place bacon on sides. Bake in 350-degree oven till hot and cheese browned.
About Guest Blogger Kathy Witt
Award winning writer and author Kathy Witt is a member of SATW Society of American Travel Writers and the Authors Guild
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