Carter Caves State Park: Wonder underground

See a subterranean waterfall and mine for gems at this getaway in northeastern Kentucky.
May 03, 2018 03:46 PM

Carter Caves is one of Kentucky's many resort-style state parks, created with both nature and leisure in mind. Aside from its awe-inspiring caverns, the park offers nature trails, a lake, an onsite restaurant and lodge, and a full slate of above-ground activities for both kids and adults.

Facts and Figures

  • Carter Caves spans about 2,000 acres, or 3 square miles
  • Its "Bat Cave" does indeed have bats—an estimated 40,000 of them hibernate there in winter
  • One of the caves was used to mine saltpeter for gunpowder during the War of 1812


The park was established in 1946, after Carter County and other counties in the region donated land to Kentucky to create a state park. Over the next two decades, the state spent $1.5 million to build this resort park, including the 45-acre man-made Smokey Valley Lake, picnic areas and other improvements.

Things to do and see

Of course, the caves should be at the top of your list for this park. Two of the most popular are accessible year-round via guided tours: X Cave, named for the way its two passages cross to form an X; and Cascade Cave, featuring a 30-foot underground waterfall.

Other caves are open seasonally or have some restrictions, so check with the Welcome Center before you go. The Bat Cave, for example, involves strenuous tours where visitors are warned they'll get wet and muddy.

Above ground, there's even more to do. Hike on more than 26 miles of wooded trails, many of which are rated easy to moderate. Go on a guided horseback ride or take the kids on a pony ride. Challenge the family to a game of mini golf on the park's 18-hole course, or fish on Smokey Valley Lake, with a valid license from the park––there's loaner equipment if you don't have your own.


Open year-round, the park's campground has 89 sites with utilities, plus 30 tent sites without; restrooms and showers are available. Reservations are recommended, especially in the peak season between May and September.

Best Time to Go

Peak season is May through September, and that's when you'll be able to experience the park's activities and amenities at their fullest. Crowds are thinner off-peak, but some caves and activities are unavailable.