Maybe I’m the only one who never thought to combine the ideas of state parks with resorts, but when it comes to providing comfortable lodging combined with a lush outdoor setting, Kentucky has already been there and done that.
Of the 50 state parks in the state, 17 of them are considered resort parks. This means that there are lodges to accompany the outdoor recreational opportunities spread across this southern state. Of the 17 Kentucky state resort parks, 15 of them have cabins or cottages. What defines a resort park from any other state park is a lodge offering on-site accommodations. They aren’t necessarily fancy, but they are convenient and comfortable, offering easy access to some of Kentucky’s most famed natural features.
I had the chance to stay in two of the resort state parks: Natural Bridge State Resort Park and Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.
The first thing I noticed upon our arrival into Natural Bridge State Resort Park was the fact that we didn’t have to slow down to pay a fee or flash a pass card. We just cruised into the parking lot and came to a halt before the long, low-lying lodge. Kentucky’s government requires that public parks must be free and available to the public, so anything that anyone would pay would be to stay, not to play. That is, accommodations at a lodge in a resort park like Natural Bridge cost money, but that’s the only fee you have to fork over to enjoy the trails and other activities on the property.
The lodge at Natural Bridge has outward-facing doors. Upon entering, I was greeted with a fairly standard hotel room but with a bit more space than average to move around. The pattern on the bedspreads and curtains is aged, the toilets are industrial grade and the rooms are generally a bit worn, but these details are hardly a reason to be concerned about the accommodations. The heating and cooling system worked great (I should know … I cranked up the heat to defrost my airplane-frozen toes), and the view from my balcony was a bit obscured by trees but totally and completely wild.
In the central lounge of the lodge is a lobby perfect for a meeting spot and a restaurant that looks out over a body of water, though the bridge itself is not visible from there. The menu at the restaurant offers a variety of comfort foods and a buffet with fresh though standard meals, making it easy to warm up in the morning and chill out at the end of the day. Most importantly, though, the lodge at Natural Bridge State Resort Park does exactly what it’s meant to do: Provide lodging within a few steps of what the park has to offer.
“We know we don’t have the newest technology. The televisions don’t have game consoles hooked up to them. We know that, and we don’t want to offer those things. We don’t want people in their rooms. We want them outside.”
The general manager of Cumberland Falls State Resort Park summed up the accommodations at the park much better than I ever could.
At Cumberland Falls, I checked in at the front counter and then made my way down a hall to room. Inside, I once again found comfortable but common accommodations: A warm shower, a cozy bed, a thermostat that worked and plenty of room to move around. My room had a window that looked out onto the patio, which sounds good in theory, except that the room was at ground level so I had to close the curtain immediately upon moving in as lots of people spent time relaxing on the deck and they could easily see into my room.
Because I had to close my room off to the sunlight, I actually spent my free time on the patio, which had lots of lounge chairs and a great view of the Cumberland River. There wasn’t a lot of shade available, so I had to get creative with my chair positioning, but once I found a way to stay out of the sun’s rays, I spent the better part of two hours just relaxing outside.
The resort at Cumberland Falls has a similar restaurant to that found at Natural Bridge, and, in fact, the menu was the same. So if there’s one thing consistent across the state’s parks, it’s the food, which was common and filling though nothing spectacular at Cumberland Falls as well. The lodge is well situated in the park, and several trails take off from the parking lot, though it is not a runner-friendly park because of the steep and slippery paths. The waterfall is about a half-mile walk from the lodge. If getting people outside is the general manager’s goal, consider it a success.
Though I tend to be a camper when it comes to exploring state and national parks, I adore the idea of enjoying an array of adventurous activities while still indulging in a cozy bed at night and a hot shower in the morning. Kentucky did something right by building lodges in its state parks, and even if they do feel just a bit dated, they get two wildly enthusiastic thumbs up from me.
My stay in Kentucky was sponsored by the Kentucky adventure tourism board but all opinions are my own.