Hart County, Kentucky By Tyler Glass
Kentucky has always been known for its open spaces, bourbon, horse racing and more. I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky and have probably visited almost every county here. In August, I was able to check off another area that I hadn’t really explored before – Hart County. Hart County is located in south central Kentucky and just 90 minutes south of Louisville. I was invited down to explore all that the area had to offer, from safaris to caves, staying in unique lodging situations like a covered wagon, and even a treehouse. Here is a look into my 4 day experience exploring Hart County, Kentucky.
Hart County is home to a plethora of caves, and is just on the border of the largest cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave, which lies in part of the county. On our trip, we first visited Hidden River Cave. This particular cave sits just under the town of Horse Cave, Kentucky. The cave opening is massive and we were actually able to repel into it, as well as zipline over it.
After taking our harnesses off, we were able to jump on a 45 minute tour into the cave itself. The tour company also offers a 4 hour cave exploration tour, where you are really able to experience what it is like to move through a cave with nothing but a headlamp. I’ve done that particular cave when I was a teenager, and it was both exciting and a bit intense. At one point on the tour, you crawl through a crevasse that’s probably only 2 feet high, and is sometimes filled with water.
Right across the street from the cave entrance are some unique restaurant options, like “The Feeder Restaurant”, formerly Turtlelini’s Pizza, a small Italian place that had some amazing food (more to come about The Feeder Restaurant). We decided to hop over there for dinner.
As mentioned before, Mammoth Cave is the largest continuous cave system in the world, and was just recently discovered to be even larger than previously thought. We were able to do the guided walking tour, which lasted about 2 hours and I highly recommend it. The cave itself is not only beautiful, but rich with history as it was once used by native Americans as shelter, and later used as a hospital for tuberculosis patients.
There really is nothing like southern cooking. Hart County has plenty of options for dining and we were able to experience all of them. On our first evening, we found ourselves in The Feeder Restaurant. The fettucini alfredo was amazing as we sat in the quaint, Italian restaurant. We were the first ones there, but a crowd soon gathered around us and the room became packed for dinner time.
Another favorite of ours became the Farmwald’s Restaurant and Bakery. Horse Cave is home to a large Amish community in which they own and operate restaurants, stores, and even a wildlife safari park. You can get breakfast, lunch or dinner options at Farmwald’s and even walk around the shop where they feature homemade pies, jelly, crafts and decor. The store is located right next to Kentucky Down Under.
Lastly, if you’re looking for traditional, southern cooking, you have to check out 5 Broke Girls. We were lucky enough to experience karaoke night, where the atmosphere was electric and felt like we were in a room with one big, happy family. Everyone cheered each other on as they faced their fears and sang in front of 50+ people. Though I didn’t have the guts to hit some notes myself, I might swing by there again sometime soon to give it my best. I highly recommend the chicken fried steak – a staple of southern cooking.
Hart County is home to two wildlife parks. The first and most well-known is Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo. KDU features birdlife, kangaroos, wallabees, wolves, lemurs and more. Most of the animals have been rescued and have adapted to captivity. While here, you can walk through the kangaroo enclosure and feed, and even pet, the animals.
One of Hart County’s newest attractions is the Dutch Country Safari Park, an Amish-owned business. Here you can drive your car through an enclosure that features ostriches, wildebeests, camels and more. The park owner is hoping to grow rapidly, bringing in more exotic animals and expanding over the 25 acres of land they still have to fill. Children can ride a small train around the park, and visit the petting zoo as well.
On our last big day in Hart County, we rented kayaks to float 10 miles down the Green River off Lynn Camp Launch. The trip took us about 4 hours but was really relaxing, quiet and overall, really beautiful. About halfway down the river, you pass 300 Springs Waterfall. This cascading falls is probably around 30ft. tall, and runs down moss-filled walls. The waterfall has spurred the growth of so much vegetation in the area that it has created its own little world. It almost looks like it doesn’t really belong in Kentucky, rather in Oregon.
We ended the day with a nice bike ride through the town. Our treehouse was a short ride away so we decided to head down there for dinner one evening, because the weather was just too perfect to drive. Horse Cave is the perfect size for an evening of riding, enjoying the sites, grabbing some food, and just relaxing.
Overall, Hart County was a great experience for us. I have driven through the area countless times over my life, but never once thought to stop here. We stayed in a covered wagon and a treehouse at the KOA Holiday right off the I-65 exit. This campground features bathrooms with showers, mini golf, and a swimming pool. I expect this area to blow up over the next few years. Considering it is host to some of the best caves in the world, good food, great family fun, and that southern, hometown feeling.