Last fall my son and I made a trip to Mammoth Cave to camp for a day. We couldn’t get a cave tour for the day we were at Mammoth Cave so I started to look at alternatives.
Mammoth Cave is very close to Bowling Green KY so I started to look at a place called Lost River Cave. Lost River Cave is located right in the middle of everything in Bowling Green. You will be driving down and see restaurants and stores and then a sign for Lost River Cave.
During the prohibition, the cave was a bar and club. They hand-cut steps into the cliff to get down into the cave (down a straight drop). There were cabins for people to stay in on top of the ridge. It closed down after the interstate was built because not much traffic came by that location and once prohibition had ended there was not a real need for secrecy that the cave offered.
The cave also has a river running out of it. They built several mills to generate electricity but the river would flood and tear down the mill.
While it was not in use it became a major dumping site. People would dump their trash, appliances, and even cars off the side of the cliff toward the cave. It wasn’t until the 1990s that some people from the university and volunteers decided it was time to clean the cave out.
They hauled over 50 tons of trash out of the cave.
After the cave was cleaned there was a non-profit formed to offer tours and promote the area and that is what you see today.
They have a wonderful gift shop filled with tons of T-Shirts and souvenirs. They also have a natural playground area just outside of the gift shop for kids to get their energy out while they wait for the scheduled tour.
On-site they also have gemstone mining and during the summer months, they have a butterfly garden and zip lines. We didn’t get a chance to try out any of those so you may double-check if those are available before your visit if those interest you.
There are also some trails on-site to see some sinkholes and I believe there is even a bike path around the area if that interests you. We saw several people out riding their bikes.
The Lost River Cave Tour
The tour was phenomenal. The guides are energetic and you can tell they love their job. Since the tour groups are limited they try to get to know everyone and each tour guide has a little mini megaphone so that it is easy to hear them.
You start the tour at the top of a trail and then you work your way along the river and towards the cave. The guides provide some interesting stories and history about the river, sinkholes, and cave history.
The entrance to the cave that used to be a nightclub is still set up as an entertainment venue. You can actually rent out the space for special events. In fact, it was set up for a wedding when we did the tour.
Once you get to the entrance you are asked to wear a life jacket. The water in the cave is only about chest deep but for safety reasons, everyone must have a life jacket/float. The rest of the tour inside the cave is via boat. When you enter the boat the tour heads back into the cave via the river.
An interesting fact that was given about the boats is they used to be owned by Mammoth Cave. At Mammoth Cave, they gave boat tours in the cave also but a study was done and they found out that the boats were disturbing the wildlife in the cave so they shut that tour down. And Mammoth Cave donated the boats to Lost River Cave.
When you start out in the boat there is a very low clearance part of the cave. You literally have to duck down extremely low so if you have difficulties bending over this cave tour might not be for you. Once you make it past this early low point the rest of the cave is surprisingly large.
Inside the cave, there are several cool formations and some great sights to see. One thing to note is if there has been a lot of rain they cannot do the cave tours because the boats cannot get into the cave.
Lost River Cave Tips
Make sure and get there early. If you can reserve a tour online early go ahead and do it. We booked an early tour and when we got done the place was packed in October.
There are plenty of places to eat and shopping very close to the cave. If you get there and find out your tour is much later you have plenty of options close by.
Tip the tour guides. Most of them are students and can only do it part-time so tip them well if you enjoy your tour.
Buy something from the gift shop. They have some great pieces and since this is a non-profit all the proceeds go back into the cave and the area.
If you have mobility issues this tour might not be right for you. It does require you to get into a boat and duck down inside the cave. You might still be able to experience the history and the outside part of the tour but riding in the boat into the cave could be a struggle.
Lost River Cave Info
For more information go to https://www.lostrivercave.org/
Lost River Cave is located at 2818 Nashville Road Bowling Green, KY 42101
Their phone number is 270-393-0077