Carter Caves State Park and Campground, Olive Hill, Kentucky


The red dot is Olive Hill, Kentucky, our last stop.

The red dot is Olive Hill, Kentucky, our last stop. Photo from http://parks.ky.gov/parks/resortparks/carter-caves/

This is our final stop in Kentucky and what a great place to end: Carters Cave State Park and Campground, Olive Hill, Kentucky. I’ll call it the Campground in the rest of the post. What a wonderful summer we’ve had!

Since Bill is the driver and is good at researching places visit, he sets our itinerary. I’ve never had a problem with his choices, except I really wanted to see some family members in Louisville. It was just too far north and too much traffic for his comfort. 😞 Plus, we had decided we wanted to do a lot of hiking in the mountains this summer….

Olive Hill is another very small town, but with an amazing natural resource to draw tourists! The population in 2013 was 1,160. It is 1.822 square miles and is only at 748′ elevation. But to get to the top of the tourist attraction, it is at 1024′ (or so). We might as well have been in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado the way it felt the day we climbed drove to Campground in our motor home!

Here are a few excerpts of it’s interesting history, written by Mike Barker and from the official website:

Any history of Olive Hill must start with a look at the history of Kentucky and Carter County. Some of the first explorers probably came to Kentucky in the late 1600s, but Kentucky did not become a state until 1792 when it was added as the 15th state to the union. Carter County was officially mapped in 1785, but there is evidence that land grants were given to Colonel William Grayson as early as 1785 for his service in the Revolutionary War. In 1838 the area was chartered as a county. The grandson of Colonel Grayson, a William Grayson Carter, led the effort to form the new county. The county was made up from parts of Greenup County and Lawrence County. The new county made Grayson as its county seat and the county took the name of Carter County from William Grayson Carter.

The City of Olive Hill began as a rural trading post established by Robert Henderson at Cold Springs about 1800. The second house was built about 1807 by George Henderson, a brother to Robert Henderson. Then about 1810 Gabe and James Henderson built homes on a small stream near the current city limits, and this stream later bore their name, Henderson Branch….

Civil War

During the Civil War, Kentucky was a border state and hoped to remain neutral. By being neutral, many communities established home guards which had southern or northern leaning. The home guard would protect the community from the other side. Early in the war, famous Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, on one of his raids through Kentucky passed through Olive Hill. Some of the local home guard fired on his men as they were passing through. There were no casualties from the ambush and the home guard was greatly outnumbered so they quickly retreated. General Morgan’s men camped near Olive Hill, where Union Captain James Scott’s family lived. Morgan upon learning the wife of Captain Scott was at home, ordered his troops to ride by the house to salute the wife, but after they had camped for the night, he was still angered by the events of earlier in the day, and sent an order for his Confederate troops to torch the town. Lingering hard feeling from the war lead to many family feuds for many years after the war had ended….”

Oh my, how absolutely awful the Civil War was.  We’ve visited enough Civil War battlefields and museums to understand it was horrific how neighbors treated neighbors, how brothers fought brothers, how fathers fought sons….I can’t imagine! Please wake up America, we can’t have another civil war…..

Let’s focus on this sweet little town. Although it had its share of major disasters, but it abounds in faith. The first one was when it was torched during the Civil War. Another devastating fire occurred in 1917, prior to record snowfall in January and subsequently flooding after heavy rains. Apparently it is in a flood zone. The first recorded flood was in 1908 then again 1913, 1917 (with the two other disasters), 1937, 1939 1942, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1952, 2002, 2003, and 2010.

But it has natural resources and it’s location helped build it into a vibrant community. The first boom to the town was when the railroad came through in 1881. Then the timbering industry took off. Again, from the website: “About 1893 it was discovered that the hills in and around Olive Hill contained large quantities of fire clay, a material that is used in the production of fire bricks, which are used to line blast furnaces.” And thus, mining began. And with that, another natural resource was discovered, limestone. But around 1964, things began to look bleak as the brick making industry began to close down. But it has one thing still going strong, it’s faith:

Olive Hill always placed a great deal of emphasis of the spiritual side of life. As soon as the town moved from off the hill to its current location, churches sprang up almost immediately. Some of the first churches were the Methodist Church, Christian Church, The First Baptist Church, Nazarene Church and the Pilgrim Holiness Church.”

We were here Tuesday through Friday, so we didn’t get to visit one of the churches. But we did get to experience a part of a vibrant First Baptist Church – but more later in this post.

While most of the industry left the area by 1971, one thing that remained:  Carter Caves State Park and Campground! We didn’t tour any of the caves as we noticed they had 100’s of stairs. I loved how they also said there would be some stooping, but they added, you would have to duck walk in places!

In part, due to our short stay, we didn’t go to town to explore. We came for the hiking, but after reading the official website, we could have easily done so on one of the hikes since we did come down the mountain hill!

Bill had to decide between this park and Grayson State Park before we head through West Virginia on our way to Virginia. Grayson was more for fishing so it was a no brainer since this park had lots of hiking opportunities.

Our drive here was just under 100 miles, our new ideal! We left early so we knew we would be able to get in a hike since our stay was short. BTW, we used Google Earth while trying to decide if we would stay here. Funny, it did have the “blue line” meaning the road actually driven, not just satellite images. But for some reason, it didn’t focus, it was skewed, at least on our computer we thought. Hummm, wonder if that meant anything? The good news was that it was only a few miles from Interstate 64, so how bad could it be???

Here we go up to the park.

We’re ready to enter the park. Breathe deep, only two more miles left to get there. Note we’re at 701′ elevations.

We will admit, the two plus miles from I-64 were a bit hairy in that the roads were somewhat narrow, and through a small town, but at least it was a state road. Still, for some reason we really weren’t feeling at ease ….then I noticed the big curve above on the GPS screen and we still have two more miles to get to our destination. Wonder what that means?

Now we see how the Google Earth man had such blurred pictures.

Now we see how the Google Earth man had such blurred pictures. Note the “walls” by one side of the road. I think the person working for Google Earth and driving the camera car is from these mountains of Kentucky and is doing it at about 65 mph!

Ok, maybe you figured it out, the drive UP the hill was unnerving…and now we know why the pictures were skewed! The ascent for just two miles was over 300′. Now in hiking terms, that just means a good workout. In driving a 40′ motor home towing a 3,500 pound car it means it is no easy task with sharp (and blind) curves all the way up!

And so many blind curves!

And so many blind curves!

I’m the most able navigator, which means, I am taking pictures the whole way up and calling out the stats on the GPS while trying to keep Bill calm. All Bill is saying, “Why people on our tail?” AND “What do I do if another vehicle comes at us?”

And of course, Bill’s worst nightmare:

OH NO!!!!

OH NO!!!!

All I said was slow down when this truck came barreling towards us (we’re under 20 mph by now), at least we have the hill to fall in to and he’s the one who will go over the cliff if we collide! Oh, and it is a deer-crossing! Thankfully, no deer jumped out. But we had one do so on a similar road, at night, when we were just a little lost in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, driving from Steamboat Springs back to Beaver Creek. That was before we were into RVing and blogging. But did write about our second time there. If interested, click here. All that to say, we’ve been on worse roads, but only in a car! A motor home is another story!

The truck driver was more experienced. He hugged the guard rail and gave us plenty of room. Are we there yet? Just 6/10 ths of a mile left, but….

Hairpin curve

That my friends is a hairpin curve! Ah, but the song playing, Trust in you! Yes, I trust Bill!

IMG_5062

Finally, we made it!

A small train of vehicles were piled up behind us. I don’t know why Bill cares! Everyone tells him to not worry about it….but for some reason, I guess they get just a bit too close for his comfort. That’s a pull over lane behind the sign, but not nearly big enough for us to pull into to let them by!

We unhook the car as soon as we get to a level place with lots of road on all sides. Bill now is concerned, “Will we actually fit in this campground?” I said, “We have to, the site we selected said it was 47′ and we’re only 40′” or so….

It looked like a level campground. And I saw a few motor homes – that always gives Bill comfort. I drove ahead to the site and realized it was going to be a conundrum to get in.  It was listed as a pull thru site….but we can’t get on that little road behind it to pull thru!  He’s going to have to back in and squeeze around a tree!

Reserved for us!

This is the pull thru site. To get on that little road behind it, you have to make a very sharp right turn and probably hit an RV or two!

A neighbor came over to tell us his brother, in a similarly sized motor home, was able to change his site for the same reason. He recommended Site 56 to us. So off we went to the Office and to officially check in. We didn’t see the office as we entered the campground because a big truck was parked in front of it!

As it turned out, someone was coming in the next day to 56. They gave us a list of about 10 other available campsites and told us to go pick one we think we will fit on! After that reception (not too accommodating in other words). We drove around and found Site 40 to be the most promising. We had more to look at, but Bill was ready to get out of the driver’s seat!

We fit and room for the car!

Easy back in and we fit with room for the car! Nice and flat sites as advertised.

Bill walked off the site and decided we could fit, at least our wheel base! 😬

So what if we hang off the site? There is plenty of room behind us....

So what if we hang off the site? There is plenty of room behind us so we’re no bother to others.

We found most everyone to be friendly. We were running out of friendliness as we left at 9:00 am, hoping to be set up by 1:00 and hiking soon after.  It was now about 3:00! We needed to eat and I am anxious for a hike. All that sitting as a navigator makes me need to stretch my legs!  And Bill needed a good walk in the woods to help him settle down. It all was a bit harrowing…

I looked at the hiking paths on the brochure we got upon check in.  It looked like good descriptions of what to expect and where the trailheads were. So we talked about them over our supper. Bill agreed the “popular” moderate 3.25 mile Three Bridges Trail loop sounded good.  The trailhead was at the Lodge, so we drove on over, missing the fact we could have walked to another one not far from our campsite. But at least we got to see the lodge and golf course.

IMG_5101

Nice trailhead and flat trail….to start anyway. It’s now about 4:15. Plenty daylight left. Does it look like Bill is going downhill?

Not as big as Natural Bridge State Park, but we are headed to another natural bridge, we think!

A rock shelter, but not as big as Natural Bridge State Park. But still cool and we are headed to another natural bridge, we think!

The Smokey Bridge has to be close, it said it was only 1/10th of a mile. And that is about where I am now standing. Certainly that’s not it?!

So the path changes and it is more like a hike by now

So the path changes and it is more like a hike by now and we’re glad we have our poles. Oh, and good blazes marking the trails.

That Smokey Bridge has to be somewhere around here…..We only see this observation deck and a lot of stairs across a ravine, but no bridge….

We know Smokey Bridge has to be around here somewhere. But we can't see it, but see this observation deck. We think.

We know Smokey Bridge has to be around here somewhere. But we can’t see it, but see this observation deck. We think.

We kept walking for about 1/2 mile. It is very hot and humid. Then the path came out to the road we drove in on.  We couldn’t see where the trail entered the other side of the road. We had to walk in the hot sun looking for it. Yes, at 5:30 pm the sun is still hot and bright. I think the fact that we were up so early, the not so easy trip here, moving the bus, and the trail being tougher than described, we return to the car. We pray we can  conquer the trail tomorrow. BTW, we never saw the Smokey Bridge. I guess our brains weren’t really functioning properly or something….

Our stats

Our stats say we only went 1.7 miles, our elevation went from 811′ to 1,001′  for a gain of 291′. That’s just a bit more than what the motorhome did!

This was not a walk in the woods, it was strenuous at times! Pretty steep descent, even though it was flat for a little while. And then a nice ascent, then a descent, then another ascent and we had to do it all over again! Good night! We’ll finish our stay here next post and we will see the three Natural Bridges. Then we will move on to Virginia!

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

7 thoughts on “Carter Caves State Park and Campground, Olive Hill, Kentucky

  1. I have family in Olive Hill Ky. Been to Carter Caves before.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought of you two as we drove the two miles to our present park here in Iowa. We knew the road was narrow and full of switchbacks. Not fun but luckily there weren’t many people coming out because we did need both lanes to make several of the curves. Definitely a motorcycle road! But as John says to calm me, the road is the same width as the highway. Glad you made it safely and found a new spot that was easier to get into:) Sorry about your hike. Hope you can find the bridge before you leave. Have fun and stay cool:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love how John calmed you!!! I’m the one reassuring Bill he can do it while I’m praying out loud. 😁
      It’s those blind curves, too! Yikes.
      I’m almost done on the next post-we ended up conquering the trail and it’s going to be one of all all time favorites – without vista views. 😞
      We’re working on staying cool. Guess it’s been pretty hot every where. Next summer, we’ll be so much wiser.

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  3. […] nights here, July 21-28, 2016. It was a  230 miles drive from Carters Cave State Resort Park. Click here if you missed that […]

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  4. […] 50 amps but had to do without sewer hook up. We learned we can easily go three days to a full week. Click here to read the first of two posts about this wonderful State Resort and click here to read our park […]

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