I didn’t plan to explore the Daniel Boone National Forest on that day two years ago, but apparently I covered most of one quadrant. 😉 I went to the open house for the Great Saltpetre Cave, which is far enough into the national forest that there’s no cell phone signal. So when I headed back to Lexington, I was on my own. After half an hour, I finally had GPS again and was eventually guided into Berea, where I relaxed with coffee at Berea Coffee & Tea on Main Street.
The scenery was absolutely stunning along this drive on 2-lane mountain roads (mostly unmarked) that had me wondering when I last had my brakes checked. No place to pull over to check a map to figure out where the heck I was. Honestly, I was relieved that I didn’t end up in Tennessee! I wasn’t too worried, though–I figured these roads would eventually take me to a town, hopefully in Kentucky!
I wasn’t able to go to this year’s Open House last week. I’d definitely like to go again though. This is put on every year by volunteers from the Rockcastle Karst Conservancy. They conduct group tours all day, both days. There were big crowds when I went in 2017.
The Great Saltpetre Cave is owned by the Rockcastle Karst Conservancy and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was an important source of saltpetre for the production of gunpowder during the War of 1812. Sixty to seventy men worked to mine the saltpetre, necessary because British blockades prevented saltpetre shipments from overseas. Many of the workers at the cave were enslaved men. Parts of the mining operation can still be seen in the cave.
Visitors can enjoy free soup beans (cooked over an open fire in a big iron pot!) and corn bread, or visit the food concession stand operated by the Livingston Fire Department. They suggest that you should feel free to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the open fields and wooded hiking trails. Admission is free, but they welcome donations.
It’s a good idea to follow them on Facebook, where you’ll find detailed information about how to get to the cave.* They were also very responsive when I messaged them with questions about handicap accessibility.
Directions to great saltpetRE cave preserve:
From the north, take I-75 to Exit 59 (the 2nd Mt. Vernon exit). Turn left to go under the interstate. (From the south, take I-75 to Exit 59 (the 1st Mt. Vernon exit from this direction). Turn right.)
Turn left just before the Shell station. This will be 1004. This road winds through the countryside, sometimes on ridgetops and sometimes down in valleys. You will come to a railroad track, followed immediately by a concrete bridge over a small river and a T intersection on the other side of the bridge. Turn right, continuing on 1004. This is now called Big Cave Road. You are about halfway there. Continue winding through the countryside. When you see the next concrete bridge, the road will rise beyond it, and at the next bend in the road will be the entrance to GSP. You will see a sign. It is a total of 9.1 miles on Route 1004.
2019 Open House info from their Facebook page:
Open House weekend is the one time each year that the preserve is open to anyone to stop by for a tour of The Great Saltpetre Cave.
We’ll be open both Saturday and Sunday from 10am with the last tour starting at 4pm – drop in anytime between then.
Join us for:
Free guided tours of the cave
Free soup beans and cornbread
A food concession stand operated by the Livingston Vol. Fire & Rescue
A souvenir concession stand
Friendly conversation under the shelter
The cave has electric lights and is walkable featuring a generally flat floor and wide open spaces (outside of the optional ‘Pinch Em Tight Alley’). Dress for the cave environment is comfortable shoes and a light jacket (the cave is 57°F year round), and the tour last one hour.
Admission is free but donations to assist with the preservation and upkeep of the cave and preserve are always appreciated!
Accessibility: Handicap parking is provided with a gravel path to the cave entrance. While slightly bumpy, the majority of the cave can be maneuvered through in a wheelchair.
The Great Saltpetre Cave is on the National Register of Historic Places and just like other caves, smoking, vaping, spitting, littering, writing on the cave walls, disturbing wildlife, and taking anything out of the cave (with the exception of trash – we like that!) are not only frowned upon, but illegal as well. Animals, with the exception of service animals, are not permitted in the cave.
Open House occurs rain or shine, with the exception of severe weather in which case we’ll post an update here.
If you’re traveling a fair distance to visit, there are a handful of campgrounds in the area.
Please do not wear flip flops.