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Discover 10 Incredible Caves in Kentucky

Kentucky is a state in the southeastern part of the United States, bordered by the Ohio River in the north and the Appalachian Mountains in the east. There are many spectacular places to visit in Kentucky— from the popular cities like Louisville, which attracts horse lovers from across the globe, to the quiet communities tucked within the rolling pastures.

While the state is famed for its bluegrass and horse racing, there are also many other great places and things to explore in Kentucky that will let you experience its beauty and much more. Kentucky has an incredible collection of caves and caverns— thanks to its karst topography, rich in limestone that facilitates continuous subterranean erosion.

Here are 10 incredible caves that you should visit in Kentucky.

Lost River Cave

Lost River Cave is a dramatic seven-mile cave system with the largest natural entrances in the eastern United States. It was once listed as the “shortest, deepest river in the world” by Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The cave is home to the only underground boat tour in Kentucky. Apart from taking a boat tour, you can still enjoy the cave’s spectacular sights, chills, and thrills by taking a guided walking tour along the river’s edge instead.

  • Address: 2818 Nashville Rd, Bowling Green, KY 42101, United States
  • Website: Lost River Cave
  • Phone number: +1 270-393-0077
  • Entrance fee: $22.95 for adults 13+, $16.95 for children between 4 and 12, and $5.95 for children 3. Admission costs may change depending on the season.
  • Google Maps link: Lost River Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave is one of the largest cave systems in the state’s south-central region and in the world. It’s home to thousands of years of human history and prehistoric wildlife. In 1981, the cave was named UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990.

The name “Mammoth” described the massive size of the cave’s chambers and avenues in the early 1800s. So, it’s not linked to the giant prehistoric elephant-like animal we know.

The facility offers cave tours, ziplining, and fossil-spotting activities. Various fossils from the ice age dwellers, including those of more than 40 shark species, have been found in the cave.

  • Address: Kentucky 42259, United States
  • Website: Mammoth Cave
  • Phone number: +1 270-758-2180
  • Entrance fee: Free. However, there are charges for cave tours, reserve picnic shelters, and stay in campgrounds
  • Google Maps link: Mammoth Cave

Crystal Onyx Cave

Crystal Onyx Cave is a living, growing cave located on Prewitts Knob. It’s one of Kentucky’s premier show caves that was first discovered by prehistoric people several years back and later rediscovered in the 1960s by a modern man. The cave features various formations, including sinkholes, domes, stalactites, and many other natural wonders.

  • Address: 425 Prewitts Knob Rd, Cave City, KY 42127, United States
  • Website: Crystal Onyx Cave
  • Phone number: +1 270-773-3377
  • Entrance fee: $16 for adults, $13 for children between 4 and 12, and free for children below 3.
  • Google Maps link: Crystal Onyx Cave

Diamond Caverns

Diamond Caverns is another incredible cave adjacent to Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site discovered in 1859 when a man saw sparkling calcite formations that resembled diamonds in a pit underground. The cave became a tourist attraction site almost right away after its discovery.

Diamond Caverns is home to a thousand spectacular formations and numerous intricate drapery deposits lining the cathedral-like chambers. Lights have been placed in the cave to illuminate the pathways.

Hidden River Cave and American Cave Museum

Hidden River Cave is the perfect place for you if you want a family adventure below and above the ground. It has one of the largest free-standing domes and the longest underground swinging bridge in the United States. Be ready to get muddy while scrambling along the riverbanks. You may be required to duck, walk, and bear crawl at some point just to get through a few places. You’ll see sparking cave formations and mysterious cave animals along the way.

Discover the science and history of America’s natural caverns at the American Cave Museum. You can take a self-guided tour of two floors featuring exhibits on archaeology, karst geology, and more. There’s no entrance fee to the museum for all ages.

Cub Run Cave

UPDATE: Permanently closed.

Cub Run Cave is one of the most amazing caves in Cub Run, Kentucky. The cave was first discovered in 1950. The public accessed the cave briefly before it was closed for the next 55 years and finally reopened in July 2006. Since 2019, it has been closed again.

Cub Run Cave features incredible rock formations, including cave popcorn and cave coral. Inside the cave is a natural pool formed by a dip in the cave’s ceiling. Cub Cave is among the only four caves in the United States with such a rare formation.

  • Address: 15101 Cub Run Hwy, Cub Run, KY 42729, United States
  • Website: Cub Run Cave
  • Phone number: +1 270-524-1444
  • Entrance fee: : $18 for adults. $11 for children ages 4 to 12. Free for children below 3.
  • Google Maps link: Cub Run Cave

Sand Cave

Sand Cave is located in Cumberland Gap National Park on the Ewing Trail, which begins in Virginia. The cave was discovered in 1925 by Floyd Collins, whose main aim was to find an unknown cave along the trail to Mammoth Cave or possibly another entrance to Mammoth Cave. On his way out, Collins was trapped in a small passage. After surviving for more than a week, Collins died of hunger and thirst. He lives to be remembered as the “Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known.”

Sand Cave is the best place for hikers and horseback riders. You can access the cave through Thomas Walker Civic Park in Ewing, Virginia. The cave itself boasts unique helictite and gypsum formations. You will see three states; Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee on the top of the formation.

The Great Saltpetre Cave

The Great Saltpetre Cave is a large limestone cave in southeastern Kentucky. It was a location for partially filming the 1997 Steven Seagal film “Fire Down Below.” The cave also served as an important source of saltpeter, a key component of gunpowder, during the War of 1812. Soldiers that worked in the cave also lived there due to the pleasant temperatures, giving respite from hot summers and cold winters.

Louisville Mega Cavern

Louisville Mega Cavern is a limestone mine that stretches underparts of the Louisville Zoo and the Watterson Expressway. It’s been classified as the largest building in Kentucky because of how it was constructed. The cavern offers tram-guided tours, mega bike tours, underground aerial ropes challenge course, a 90-minute excursion through the cavern, and an exhilarating zipline adventure.

Carter Caves State Resort Park

Carter Caves States Resort Park offers fantastic natural beauty and opportunities for hiking. The park also features a pool, lake access, equestrian trails, and lodge and cabins. Cave tours are offered year-round through the unique geology created by nature over millions of years.

Take a hike through the 33 miles of wooded nature trails above Carter Caves and discover other fascinating features, including a boxed canyon, cliffs, sinkholes, arches, and natural bridges. Grills, picnic tables, and playgrounds are located throughout the park.

Final Thoughts

The caves in Kentucky are the unique ones in the world. They offer a great way to explore nature away from crowded cities. They have become a top-draw tourist attraction, who not only come for Kentucky Derby but also for spelunking. The caves mentioned above have been fully explored, though other hidden caves are located throughout the state and are usually off the beaten path.

Mammoth Cave National Park remains the world’s longest cave system, which often receives tons of visitors year-round. You may skip Mammoth Cave National Park in favor of the other lesser-known caves, especially if you also want to avoid the mega-crowds that Mammoth Cave tends to draw.

Top image: Stanislav Vitebskiy via Flickr / Creative Commons.

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