Escaping the Wintertime Blues at Carter Caves Resort State Park

Lana Richardson is an avid backpacker and outdoorswoman, adventuring through Kentucky's outdoors and beyond with Libby, her German Shepherd.

There is a saying that there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.  This is how I feel about hiking.  While some are quick to shy away, wintertime hiking has much to offer. Even familiar places can become new landscapes, transformed by snow and ice. As long as you dress and prepare properly, hitting the trail in winter can be as positive and enjoyable as any other season. Since moving to Kentucky a few years ago, I’ve realized how much great hiking is available locally and I created my own Kentucky hiking bucket-list. The more I hike here, the more trails I find to add to my list. Carter Caves Resort State Park was one of the spots on my list. Along with David Rogers, a seasoned hiker and photographer, and my German Shepherd Libby, a real-life adventure dog, I bundled up and journeyed to Carter Caves. 

Upon arrival, we took a quick .5 mile hike on the trail behind the visitor center to the park's Natural Bridge, the only natural bridge in Kentucky to support a paved highway and a view that exceeded my expectations. It felt like a small double entrance cave you could walk through that had a creek running through it, and even a natural sky window. A charm and natural symmetry that would be difficult to capture in one photograph! 

After we checked out Natural Bridge, we hit the 3.5 mile 3 Bridges trail. The trail was snow covered and icy in some spots. There are three types of snow you can hike in: soft snow is relatively easy to tread through, packed snow can be walked on, and the third is the kind that you crunch through, nearly taking your boot with each step. The third is the snow that we encountered. Through this, our overall pace was about 1 mile each hour. We had the entire trail to ourselves, feeling free as we made our way through woods. Peacefulness surrounded us and we occasionally stopped to listen to the wildlife, or to simply be in the moment, soaking in the warm sunshine that had been hiding for a couple of weeks.

The trail overlooks a number of vistas of Smokey Valley Lake and has many beautiful features in any season. The first bridge we came to was Fern Bridge, an arch with a bridge inside. It felt like a scene from "Frozen," as it was completely iced over. Warning: always look above you to watch for falling icicles! Here in this spot nature rewarded us with the true exhilarating spirit of winter.


We continued to hike the trail slowly to the next arch, Raven Bridge. The best view of this arch is found by following the blue blaze trail up a hill and a few steps. It was a unique sight as it was two rocks slightly resting on one another with an untouched blanket of snow.


The third arch on the 3 Bridges Trail is Smokey Bridge. This by far is the most scenic of the three. It is very intricate, with many features to explore. I began by walking down into the bridge. As I was taking in the enormity of it all, I looked up and David was about 80 feet above me, having crawled through a small cave on the outside and ending up on the inside on the arch, proving that you can find adventure anywhere, you just have to seek it with your eyes open. 

I love it when I spend a full challenging day of hiking to then be rewarded with a scenic view, or in this case a geological wonder.  Near this massive rock arch in the middle of the forest is a short waterfall and yet another small cave. Of course, we donned headlamps and crawled into the cave to explore. We spent some time at Smokey Bridge exploring, resting and discussing its history. It took us a while to feel like we could leave the spot. We were drained from the serious hiking we’d done and felt like we’d earned the magnificent view!  As we hiked out through the snowy landscape, tired and happy, we hoped more people would explore the winter woods and witness the magical ice-bound beauty. 


It was an eventful winter day, and I can’t wait to visit again in all seasons! Carter Caves is located in Olive Hill, Kentucky just off Interstate 64. Its offers cave tours, hiking, camping, lodging, fishing and canoeing. My motto is that life is better spent outdoors. No matter what the weather, there are amazing places in Kentucky just waiting for you to discover them.  

What's on your Kentucky bucket-list?