What we’ve missed the most over the past two years and change is the thrill of exploring a new destination, which is why we were extra excited to arrive in Bowling Green two weeks ago. Not only were there pops of color around every bend, Corvettes that can clip up to 110mph without even breaking a sweat and a charming square peppered with a wealth of small businesses, but Bowling Green is also home to Lost River Cave, which boasts the coolest cave tour in Kentucky.
Our visit to Kentucky was part of a project with Visit Bowling Green. All opinions are our own.
Getting to Bowling Green
We pass Bowling Green every time we drive from Tennessee up to Kentucky and on into Cincinnati, but we’ve never stopped until now. Bowling Green is just one hour north of Nashville, making it an easy destination to anyone already in Tennessee or flying into our state via its largest transportation hub, Nashville International Airport (BNA). Bowling Green is also 123 miles (just under 2 hours) south of Louisville and 161 miles (2.5 hours) southwest of Lexington.
The origins of Lost River Cave
While, sure, Mammoth Cave may be the largest in the state, the coolest cave in Kentucky we’ve had a chance to tour by boat is the seven-mile-long ecosystem known as Lost River Cave in Bowling Green. Not only do you get to see the stunning land that surrounds Lost River Cave, but you also get to climb aboard a boat and cruise through a subterranean wonderland.
Historically, the cave was used by Native Americans, European settlers and Civil War soldiers, both with the Union and the Confederacy. It also doubled as a hideout for Jesse James and a vibrant underground nightclub for the swinging 1930’s generation. The cave’s history dates back as far as 8500 B.C.—the Native Americans used the cave for shelter and also buried the dead there—but some of the county’s earliest industries, too, used the cave entrance in the 18th century.
Not jiving with the idea of going underground? That’s fine—there’s plenty to do above ground via the 72-acre park and education center that rounds out Lost River Cave’s multifaceted offerings.
The Lost River Cave tour
The guided tour of Lost River Cave takes a little more than an hour and requires a bit of a walk, starting with a 20-minute stroll along the river’s edge while listening to science facts and history of the attraction.
Once you make your way to the mouth of the cave, your tour guide will load your group onto a boat for a 25-minute ride through the cave. The cave tour is available to all age groups; on our tour, participants ranged in age from 3 to 70, and each person was given a flotation device to sit on even though the water depth in the cave is only five feet at its deepest. You’ll want to wear sturdy shoes since footing in the cave can be unsteady.
There’s plenty of wildlife inhabiting the cave that you might just see if you keep your eyes peeled; our sightings includes crickets, crayfish and raccoons, but there’s also a species of fish that live in the cave and can only be found there since they are adaptive.
The grounds also include 2.5 miles of nature trail and 72 acres of park, so whether you choose to do the Lost River Cave tour or not, you can still enjoy walking around and soaking in the scenery. The walking trails and Nature Playscape are open year round, while other attractions like gem mining (March to November), the Scarecrow Trail (October) and the Butterfly Habitat (Memorial Day to Labor Day) are seasonal. There’s also a great gift shop where I stocked up on dinosaur merch and trash panda toys for my niece and nephew.
Due to the slope down to the cave and the fact that there are stairs and a bit of walking involved, if you have mobility issues, the tour isn’t for you. However, you can still enjoy the grounds and the area around the visitors center, which also has a free video tour of the cave.
Lost River Cave is managed by the Friends of the Lost River, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that was formed in 1990 after Western Kentucky University was bequeathed the property by the owners in 1986. The site had been used as a dumping ground for decades and was in a serious state of neglect when the university acquired the original 25 acres. Inspired by a love of the land and a vision for a sustainable future, the organization has steadily purchased adjacent land to expand its footprint and to prevent commercial development around this natural resource. With more than 100,000 visitors a year and not a speck of trash within the watershed, it’s a joy to see this land successfully preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Other things to know about the Lost River Cave experience
Are you claustrophobic and think you can’t do this cave tour? As a fellow claustrophobe, let me just tell you: You absolutely can. The beginning of the tour requires you duck to squeeze between the narrow part of the cave entry until you’re on the other side, but once you make it past that, the cave is, well, cavernous. There’s plenty of breathing space, and while it’s dark, there are permanent lights that will keep you feeling sane.
The cave tours are offered multiple times a day nearly every day of the year, save major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas weekend and New Year’s Eve. While you can walk in and get on a tour, you may find yourself waiting, so it’s best to make a reservation in advance as Lost River Cave is a popular attraction with a lot of demand, particularly in the heat of summer because the temperature down there is a steady 57 degrees.
Like all caves, Lost River Cave is cool and comfortable all year. You’ll want to wear pants and take a sweatshirt or jacket.
What do you think: Is this the coolest cave in Kentucky? Would you take the boat into Lost River Cave?