Carter Caves State Resort Park
Carter Caves State Resort Park is about 2 1/2 hours east of Louisville, straight out I-64. There is a lot you can do at this state park, but it is known for it’s caves. The Carter Caves region has the highest concentration of caves in Kentucky.
Our most recent activity at Carter Caves was their paddling trip. I HIGHLY recommend this pre-planned activity. We made reservations about a month before the trip, and we were blessed with some beautiful weather. We met at the Carter Caves Welcome Center parking lot where we left our cars. The staff took us down to Tygart Creek with kayaks, canoes, life vests, and helmets with headlamps for our lunchtime activity. We brought our own water, lunch, and change of clothes in a waterproof dry bag (our friends had legit dry bags from Amazon, we used gallon ziplock bags and grocery bags. Both worked great). A couple of people on our tour did bring their own kayaks and life preservers, but the park-owned equipment was in great shape.
The staff brought the kayaks down to Tygart Creek and helped us get loaded up. Right off the bat was one if the more difficult riffles (rough water due to shallow areas or debris like rocks and trees that cause little rapids). Experience is required for the Tygart Creek Paddle Trip, but most of us on our tour had very little experience. We did great on most of the riffles (which vary based on recent rain and water height), but we did have one kayaker who capsized and another who came pretty close. But it only made the trip more enjoyable.
Everyone in the kayaks get wet as water comes into the boat as you paddle and as you maneuver through some of the bigger riffles. Many of our group changed into dry clothes out of their dry bags at lunch.
Speaking of lunch, at about halfway on our 6-mile paddling trip, we stopped on some land by a privately owned “cave tunnel.” It looks like a cave but doesn’t actually get pitch dark because it opens up on the other side. This was my kids’ favorite part of our day. They have never been allowed to roam around a wild cave and explore on their own. The staff was there to guide us through but were ok letting the kids explore the rocks, tunnels, cave spiders, bats, and even a snake by the exit. The helmets and headlamps Carter Cave provided worked great!
We ate lunch, used our nature pit stop (no bathrooms on the trip), walked around the cave area, and then headed back to our kayaks and canoes. After paddling the rest of the trip, the staff met us at the end of our journey with transportation for us and our boats back up to the Welcome Center. Once there, we changed into our third set of clothes for the day which we had left in the car.
If you want to explore some caves without the paddle trip, there are two caves that are open year-round for guided tours: Cascade Cave and X-Cave. From Memorial Day to Labor Day you can also tour the Saltpepper Cave, do flashlight tours, or experience more spelunking style in undeveloped passages in a couple of caves with headlamps and knee pads.
Above ground, you can experience the beauty of Carter Caves on 33 miles of wooded nature trails. These trails have many fascinating geological features including natural bridges, arches, caves, sinkholes, cliffs and a boxed canyon. Trails range from easy to difficult hiking level ability.
Aside from hiking and exploring, Carter Caves, there are a ton of other activities to do. Experienced rappelling and rock climbers can climb and rappel at a nice sandstone cliffline area with a day permit.
For animal lovers, in addition to fishing and birding, Carter Caves also has a horse stable where you can go on a 45-minute trail ride for $22 per person at the time this article was written. We are definitely hitting the horse stables on our next visit!
While at the park, you can also play on the playgrounds, eat at the picnic areas, play an 18 hole round of miniature golf, do some gem mining, or you can check out a couple of racquets to play tennis.
There is lodging, camping, and a restaurant at Carter Caves State Resort Park. On our most recent trip, we decided to stay overnight the night before instead of getting up super early to be at the Welcome Center by 9:30 am. We stayed at a hotel less than 20 minutes from the park because it had an indoor pool for our arrival night. However, on our next trip, we will most likely stay on-site and enjoy Carter Caves’ other great activities.
Carter Caves State Resort Park is such a gem of a park to have in our state. The staff is great, the grounds are wonderful, and there is so much to do. I highly recommend checking it out.
Look at this other great place to visit for the weekend with the family.