This summer, my family and I were looking for a fun weekend adventure. After our Bowling Green trip last winter, the kids and I have been fascinated with exploring caves. And Kentucky has more caves than just about any other state. Since we’re in Nashville, it’s only a 90-minute drive, so we reached out to our friends at Hart County Tourism to book a trip and explore the best things to do in Horse Cave Kentucky, so we could experience all of the fun. We appreciate the generosity of Hart County Tourism and all of the attractions that we visited during our stay.
Where is Horse Cave, Kentucky?
Horse Cave, Kentucky, is in the middle of Kentucky, about halfway between Louisville and Nashville. It’s about 90 minutes from either city. Horse Cave is also about 30 minutes from Bowling Green, which is a city that we visited last winter. I love how close Horse Cave is to Nashville. It’s close enough for a weekend getaway and, yet, its outdoor focus feels like light-years away from the city life of Nashville.
The best things to do in Horse Cave Kentucky
Hidden River Cave & American Cave Museum
Due to the limestone rock throughout Kentucky, its ground has a tremendous amount of natural caves across the state. The local cave in Horse Cave is called Hidden River Cave. It is one of the best things to do in Horse Cave Kentucky because it is a hidden gem. The wide-mouth cave entrance is below street level, so you could easily drive right by it and not realize what’s underneath.
Hidden River Cave tours were very popular when the cave first opened in 1912. Groundwater pollution, low visitation during World War II, and a lawsuit against L&N Railroad led to its closing in 1943. The sewage problem was solved in 1989, and the cave reopened to the public in 1992 (almost 50 years after it closed). Now, thousands of visitors and schoolchildren tour the cave year-round.
There are over 200 stairs to get down to the entrance of the cave. If you have trouble with stairs or unstable footing, exploring the Hidden River Cave is not recommended. The kids and I took a group tour of the cave and had such a great time. It’s astounding to me how these caves are formed over millennia primarily by water and gravity.
Inside the cave, you’ll find the world’s longest swinging underground bridge. It felt a little wobbly at first, but we had fun with it. And the historic Sunset Dome was majestic. It’s hard for iPhone pictures to truly capture how beautiful this dome is in person. You have to see it for yourself.
Guided tours are 1-hour long and are available daily. They operate every hour and no reservations are necessary. It’s $25 for adults (ages 15+), $12 for children (ages 6-14), and free for kids (ages 5 and under). Active military with ID are free and discounts are available for active/retired military family and friends.
Hidden River Cave also offers 3-4 hour off-trail adventure tours ($53 per person) for spelunkers who want to explore the depths of the cave. These tours require reservations 48 hours in advance and must be a group of 2 or more. The cave and museum are pet-friendly, so you don’t have to leave Fido at home.
At the end of the tour, you have the option of riding a zip line and rappelling down the rocks. Timothy was ready to do the rappelling until he looked over the edge and then said “no thank you!” But, he was excited about the zip line. Scarlett, on the other hand, took some convincing (aka bribery). After Scarlett did the zip line, I had to buy her a fox stuffed animal from the gift shop inside the American Cave Museum. The museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm and requires a $6 entrance fee for all ages.
Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo
The Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo is one of the best things to do in Horse Cave Kentucky. Its owners bought the land and created a petting zoo for animals primarily from Australia. As you walk through the 60+ acres, you’ll find kangaroos, wallabies, ostriches, lorikeets, and so much more.
We learned about Kentucky Down Under during our Bowling Green trip over winter break in December 2020. After our first visit, we knew that we wanted to come back and spend more time with our kangaroo friends. It’s amazing that we can walk right up to kangaroos and albino wallabies and feed them right out of our hands. They’re completely gentle and it’s so cute when they grab your hand to ask for more food.
I also like going into the Land of Lorries cage. You can feed the lorikeets sugar water from a little plastic cup. The birds make themselves feel right at home and can get quite personal. One of them was biting the strings of my mask and another literally licked my ear.
There are numerous other animals at Kentucky Down Under, including a cow that you can milk, a camel, and birds. There’s also an exhibition where you can see sheep getting shaved for their wool and a show where native lizards and snakes from Australia are brought out for you to see up close.
Your admission also includes the ability to tour the Mammoth Onyx Cave. This was the very first cave that the kids and I explored when we visited in December 2020. It’s still one of our favorites because it opened our eyes to the wonder of underground caves.
Tickets to Kentucky Down Under are $26 for adults (ages 15+) and $16 for kids (ages 4-14). Ages 3 and under are free. Discounted admission for seniors, military, first responders, commercial truck drivers, and college students is available for $20 each.
Dutch Country Safari Park
One of the kids’ favorite activities in Horse Cave was visiting the Dutch Country Safari Park. It’s a new attraction that includes a 3/4 mile drive-through Safari Park and animal encounter areas where you can pet the animals. At the park, you’ll find zebras, camels, water buffalos, Flemish giant rabbits, African Crested Porcupines, and more.
Timothy and Scarlett thought it was so funny when the camel tried to put his head into our car as we drove through. Scarlett’s dreams came true when she saw the “rainbow unicorn” that matched the kitty on her shirt. And they loved being able to hold the Nigerian dwarf goats in the petting zoo. I was afraid that they’d want to take one home with us! Timothy thought they were pretty awesome too.
Inside the building, there are smaller animals that you can touch and hold, including birds, bearded dragons, and hedgehogs.
Dutch Country Safari also offers quick train rides that include a lollipop surprise at the end. Rides are $3 for each child.
The park is open Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm. It is located at 2125 L&N Turnpike Road, Horse Cave, Kentucky. Admission is $16 for adults (14 and up), $11 for kids (ages 5-13), and free for kids 4 and under. Seniors (55+) and military are $14 each.
You can also buy a season pass to enjoy the park year-round ($30 for adults and $19 for children). If you plan on coming to Dutch Country Safary at least twice within a year, a season pass makes a lot of sense.
Making s’mores by the campfire
After our adventures for the day, we chilled out by the campfire next to our covered wagon at Horse Cave KOA. Our friends at Hart County Tourism provided some marshmallows, chocolate, and Graham crackers so we could make s’mores. You need to bring your own skewers or buy some from the KOA front desk.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is the home to the largest cave system in the U.S. Over 300 miles of the cave have been documented and they still haven’t found the end of it. The national park is open 24 hours a day, but the visitor center typically closes by 5 pm. There is no gate, so visitors are free to come into the park to explore its natural beauty and walk its many trails. Parking is free as well, but you have to pay a fee if you want to camp.
There are numerous cave tours available throughout the year. Some are seasonal, so which ones are available depends on when you are visiting. Cave tours have limited capacity and must be booked in advance.
Even when visiting Mammoth Cave National Park during the summertime, you should bring a light jacket when going on a cave tour. Temperatures vary widely in the cave and deep cave temps are around 54* even when it is 90* on the surface.
There are 11 different tours available, depending on your interests, length of time, and mobility. There’s even an Accessible Tour designed for those with disabilities, limited physical mobility, or other reasons to avoid stairs. Different tours are available based on the season. Check the tour calendar to make sure the tour you want to do is running during your visit.
Prices vary for each tour and range from $11 to $35 for adults and $9 to $27 for youths. Discounts are available for Senior and Access Pass Holders. We did the River Styx Modified Tour during our visit and it was about 2.5 miles over 2.5 hours.
There were approximately 600 stairs on our tour, including 155 at Mammoth Dome. Our tour took us down several hundred feet beneath the surface. In the early stages of the tour, the cave is both tall and wide. Other parts of the tour are a challenge to navigate. One section is called “Fat Man’s Misery” because the path is very narrow and the roof is low. Towards the end of the tour, there was an auditorium area where visitors can sit on benches while the guides speak. The yellow and red markers in this picture show how high the flooding can get during storms.
Where to stay in Horse Cave, Kentucky
When you visit Horse Cave, Kentucky, there are numerous options for hotels, camping, and Airbnb. There are only a few points and miles options for Choice, Hilton, and IHG. There are no Hyatt or Marriott options unless you drive further to Bowling Green (about 30 minutes away).
Horse Cave KOA
During our stay, we “glamped” in this covered wagon at the Horse Cave KOA. It was such a cool experience for me and the kids. Inside, there was a king-size bed for me and bunk beds for them. Plus, it had a mini-fridge, coffeemaker, and microwave. But, our favorite part was sitting on the deck by the fire roasting marshmallows and soaking in the view. At Horse Cave KOA, you can also rent cabins, treehouses, a spot for your RV or travel trailer, or a place to pitch your tent. Read all about our stay and see more pictures in my Horse Cave KOA review.
Holiday Inn Express Horse Cave
As a fan of IHG, it is good to see them represented in Horse Cave. Rooms at Holiday Inn Express Horse Cave include free breakfast. There’s also an indoor pool and hot tub to soak in after a day exploring the local area. Rooms are around $100 or 15,000 points per night. Points and cash options are also available.
Booking a hotel that offers free breakfast is one of the many ways that we save money on food while traveling.
Quality Inn & Suites
This Choice Hotels option is located at the entrance to Horse Cave KOA. Rooms at the Quality Inn & Suites are just over $100 or 16,000 points a night. It offers free breakfast and has an indoor pool.
Hampton Inn Cave City
Although located in the next town over, this is a good option for travelers who prefer Hilton. The Hampton Inn Cave City offers free breakfast and an indoor pool. Rooms start at $130 or 29,000 Hilton Honors points a night.
The Bald Thoughts
We had a wonderful time during our visit to Horse Cave Kentucky. The caves were fun to explore, and we loved petting all of the animals. While we normally stay in hotels, the camping experience in a covered wagon at Horse Cave KOA was such a unique treat.
We only got to experience a sampling of the best things to do in Horse Cave Kentucky, but we packed in a lot of adventures during our three-day visit. I think that most families should budget for 3-5 days when they visit so that you have enough time to do everything that you want here without feeling rushed.
Thanks again to our friends at Hart County Tourism for their hospitality. I love being able to take kids on educational trips that are a lot of fun. And it’s awesome that Horse Cave is just a 90-minute drive from Nashville, so it’s an easy option for a weekend getaway.
About The Bald Thoughts Team
BaldThoughts.com is a travel blog showing readers how they can take fantastic vacations using very little of their own money.
About Lee: As you can see, I don’t have any hair. Being bald and having thoughts on a lot of topics, especially Travel and Personal Finance led me to create this site. I’ve been married for a few years, and we have a couple of kids and a dog. I used to work in corporate finance for a regional bank in Los Angeles. When it was made clear that it was time to leave, I quit my $200,000 job and moved to Nashville. Now, I write travel and personal finance articles full time and host the weekly We Travel There with Lee Huffman podcast.