Trip to Kentucky and then Camping on the Cumberland Plateau

We just returned from a long trip to Kentucky and Tennessee. We drove it for the first time in three years. While we are still taking lots of precautions around social distancing and wearing masks, we decided the risk of travel would be worth it. It definitely was.

We headed out really early on Tuesday, leaving the house at 4:20 am. We made it to Lexington, KY for lunch and once there, we got some Greek takeout and sat in a park to eat. It was nice to be outdoors, and Lexington was really lovely. We continued down the Bluegrass Parkway to my parents’ place where we were met with grilled pizzas, cold beer, and an arsenal of Nerf guns on the patio. That’s pretty much where we spent the next five days. The weather was glorious (and so surprising for Kentucky at this time of year!).

Gilbert continues his wood chopping!

We checked out the garden, ate a lot of young zucchini and yellow squash, and caught up. I was thrilled to see my grandmother, even though her place doesn’t allow visitors. We were able to sit near each other and talk on our phones through the door. She told me about some of her camping trips, which got me excited for ours. Wednesday, Patrick and I ran errands for my parents, which took a good chunk of the day.

We did some swimming on Thursday at my friend’s place. We hadn’t been in a pool in so long. The kids were in heaven, and so was I. We packed a picnic, put on sunscreen, and swam the heck out of it for five hours. It was great to catch up with my friend and her son. I had just seen them in January, and it’s fun to see kids grow so fast. We had a blast!

Look at that KY sky!

We got back to dinner with my parents on Thursday night, and planned out Friday which would be a busy day. My mom did work on Seamus and Porter, while I visited with GiGi and the others hung out at the house with Neeley, Snakey (who was friendly this visit!), and Charlie. We played some tennis Friday afternoon, despite the heat. On Saturday, we checked out the Aviation Park in Bowling Green and walked around WKU, letting the boys observe the summer tradition of running through the fountain. Bret invited us to check out the work he’d been doing on his shed, so we stopped in there. It looked amazing! I’d seen it in January, but he’s worked really hard on the space. We then had lunch with my parents and then went to hang out in our friends’ yard for the afternoon. That was fun, as they had a hammock the boys liked, had put out some yard and card games for the kids, and some fruit and cheese and beers for us. It was great to catch up with people, and as you’ll know from my other whirlwind trips to Kentucky, this was a pretty tame schedule. In a pandemic, you have to slow down.

Quick visit with Uncle Bret.

Sunday was rainy, but we gathered up our stuff and checked out of the hotel. A note on the hotel: we decided to stay in a hotel because there are so many of us, and we were worried about close contact with my parents. The hotel was great. We got a two bedroom suite, and while I usually love the big breakfast, I was very pleased with the grab and go ease and options at the Towne Place Suites. The pool was closed, in observance of the KY orders, so that was a little bit of a bummer, but better safe than sorry. We found easy ways to occupy ourselves in Bowling Green, and the hotel was a quick 20 minute drive to my parents’ house. I’d definitely stay again. We took some precautions, like always wearing a mask when out of our room, taking the stairs (to the 4th floor) rather than the elevator, and halting housekeeping service while we were there. I felt safe.

We had a Father’s Day lunch with my parents and were on to our next adventure! We had booked a week of camping at Fall Creek Falls State Park back in mid-May when it looked like we might have some options for fun in the summer after all. We added the leg to my parents later. I had been camping at FCF as a kid, and I remembered it being a lot of fun. The campsites were small and tightly packed, but we had more than enough room. Right across from our site was a big field where the kids could run and catch fireflies as the dusk arrived. We all had a blast, which I knew we would, but it was beyond my expectations!

On Sunday, we must have found the only dry window in which to set up camp, since it had rained before we arrived, and it rained right after we got everything set up. That was fine, though, as it stopped before bedtime, and the kids got to play a little. Monday, we got some recommendations from our departing neighbors, so we headed out to the Cascades in the park first thing.

Camp life.

The Cascades are a beautiful waterfall with several swimming pools at the bottom. That evens out into a splashy area for the little kids. Don’t go too far, though, because it drops into another giant waterfall just beyond. We played there a long time, moving over rocks and checking things out. Seamus and Gilbert swam across the river to a spot where they could waterslide down the waterfall. Then it started to rain. We ran up to the car, where it really began pouring.

Looking for something to do, we drove over to Fall Creek Falls to look at the overlook. By the time we were there and poking around, it had quit raining, so we decided to do a hike down to the bottom of the falls. Seamus and Gilbert were fine, always a bit ahead of us, but Porter and Harlan did great! They kept nattering to each other about the rocks they were clambering down and I told Porter he was a mountain billy goat, and he took a lot of pride in that compliment. It was a fun hike. When we got to the bottom, Seamus swam across the pool so he could climb up under the waterfall. I went around with Harlan when he wanted under it too. It came down with a lot of force and he didn’t want to stay there long! Porter came up, and I taught him how to find cracks in the rock to jam his feet into so he wouldn’t slip. We climbed back up to the top of the trail, stopping in one spot, “The Refrigerator” where cool air coming off the rocks was 20 degrees cooler than the air around it. Very exciting!

It started to look like rain again, so we debated what to do next. It cleared off though, so we had a picnic at George Hole, and let the kids swim there a long time. Seamus swam across the pool (sensing a theme?) to the cliffs where he climbed up a little to jump off into the water. We hung out there a long time, heading back to camp for dinner, some Harry Potter story time and bed. Porter has been very interested in Harry Potter, and I read the first book to him. We listened to the audio book for the second book, and now I’m reading the third book. I told them that I’d take them to Harry Potter World when we get through all the books. I think that will take a while, but also, it has to be open, and we have to feel safe going! But how fun! Our neighbors on both sides of camping remarked on listening to us read to the kids. Sweet.

On Tuesday, Seamus, Gilbert, and Patrick did the high ropes course. It did not look like a great day for it, but the rain held off until the very end of their time. Porter, Harlan, and I went to the small nature center and looked around at the dioramas. In the afternoon, we sat a long time letting them play in the field. We tried hiking the Paw Paw trail, but it was humid and the kids wanted to play in the creek, so we did that instead, and looked at the overlooks for Cane Creek Falls. We headed back to the Cascades and were amazed by how the rainfall had changed the water flow. So many waterfalls! We had a fire that night to roast s’mores.

Playing in our own little waterfall.

On Wednesday, we took the kayaks out on the lake in the morning. The kids were so excited to do that. We practiced falling out of the boat and getting rescued. It was very different from our outings on the Potomac. Very smooth, calm water, and we could paddle around looking at the cabins on the other side of the lake.

Kings of the Kayak

We saw a bald eagle circling. In the afternoon, we drove the park’s scenic loop, and looked over some truly nauseating overhangs. I had to step back. Buzzards Roost was beautiful. At the end of the scenic look, we hiked a short walk to Piney Falls overlook. My only sadness the whole time was that the suspension bridges in FCF were all under construction, to be ready Labor Day. I guess we’ll just have to go back sometime.

Overlook at Piney Falls.

On Wednesday evening, our neighbors told us about their great day trip to Rock Island State Park. We’d heard about this twice, so we decided to go there the next day. It was about a 40 minute drive and was totally worth it! Twin Falls was amazing. We got there and the signs said the gorge was closed, but we asked at the visitor’s center, and that helped us figure it out. The TVA dam that’s there releases water sometimes, and on the days it does, you can’t walk or paddle into the gorge. We did the downstream trail, a 1.6 mile lollipop trail along the river with a good look at the falls. Then we went to the swimming beach. Patrick saw the boat launch ramp and got us all fired up to go kayaking. I’m so glad we did! We paddled upriver, saw a blue heron flying, watched fish jumping out of the river, and most fun of all, we were able to paddle underneath little waterfall seeps that were coming down the cliffs. It was cold, which was just what we needed! We played in the smallest rapid at the end of the gorge a bit before turning and heading back downstream.

We went to a picnic area for lunch and hiked to a gorge overlook. It was very beautiful. Then we wanted to see Great Falls, so we made one last stop. Getting the kids out of the car for that was a challenge, but we persevered. Worth it! The sirens came on while we were there, signaling when they would release water from the dam. A maintenance person let Harlan push the button for the dam sirens at the overlook. That was a treat! He said it was only a foot release, and that it would be another 30 minutes before they did it, so we left because the kids were fading fast. Porter and Harlan fell asleep in the car on the way back to camp. More fire, more s’mores, and we were ready for bed!

Friday was a slow day. We finally noticed that everyone around us had packed up their campsites, so we walked the camping loop and noticed that everyone coming in was only staying two nights. Looked like it was about to become a rowdy party. We discussed our options, and decided to pack up. The kids played and helped, but it still took us more than two hours. I had signed Porter and Harlan up for finger painting with a ranger at 1:00, so we decided to stay for that and Patrick and the older boys would hike the Cable Trail to the base of Cane Creek water falls. It was supposed to be a fun rock scramble trail, and it was. Harlan just mixed paint for a while, and Porter made a masterpiece depicting a Quidditch tournament. We were on the road by 2:00. We made it home at 12:30.

It was an amazing experience as a family. I feel ready for anything now.


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