A Weekend Adventure In Cave City, KY
Need to check Kentucky off your list? Looking for a quick weekend trip close to home? Nestled exactly between the cities of Louisville, KY, and Nashville, TN, you’ll find Cave City.
Just an 85-mile drive on I-65 from either Nashville or Louisville, Cave City has everything you need for a weekend adventure.
Go spelunking in the 400+ mile, 10-million-year-old Mammoth Cave, or visit its less busy neighbor, Crystal Onyx Cave. Wander through Dinosaur World and flood your Instagram feed with laughs photographed in front of 150 life-size dinosaur models. Kids might even enjoy a trip to the wild west at Guntown Mountain.
And all of this can be found nestled between two of the coolest cities in the South.
Things to do in Cave City, Kentucky
Whether you’re staying right in Cave City for a night or planning on spending a few days exploring Kentucky’s various lakes and camping grounds, there’s plenty to keep you busy in the Cave City area.
For starters, it’s called Cave City for a reason. We could write a whole blog post only on the caves (in fact, we might – stay tuned).
Here are the coolest, most unique reasons to visit Cave City:
Mammoth Cave is the number one reason people visit Cave City, and it has lead to the development of what is now a great tourism town.
What you may not have known is that Mammoth Cave is more than just a cool exhibit – it is completely natural, it’s the longest cave system on earth (stretching over 400 miles), and it is over 10 million years old. Plus, it sits inside Mammoth Cave National Park, which also contains 53,000 acres of forest.
There are about a dozen miles of paved trails inside the cave, and there are several different tours you can take to explore them. The tours are based largely on experience level, so make your choice carefully. Some tours are last a full three hours, while others are only hour-long treks. Some require more stairs or more ducking and crouching than others, so be careful which one you book.
Click here to view the current tour schedule and make a reservation. Reservations are not required but highly recommended, especially during the summer months.
Crystal Onyx Cave
The first thing you should know is that Crystal Onyx Cave and Onyx Cave & Rock Shop are two different things! Crystal Onyx Cave technically came first, in 1960. Tour guides here will take you in small groups on slow-paced tours, making this a great choice for the less physically able. They are family owned & operated. You don’t actually need a reservation for Crystal Onyx tours, which take about an hour. They are open every day from March through October.
Onyx Cave & Rock Shop
Onyx Cave & Rock Shop offers much shorter experiences than the other area caves. Those with only a few hours to spend in town might enjoy dropping by Onyx Cave & Rock Shop for a 30-minute cave tour and a few minutes in the rock shop.
Dinosaur World Kentucky is a surprisingly fun time. You’ll spot it from I-65 and think it’s made for small children and moms with a few hours to kill, but it’s actually pretty cool. You’ll wander through the beautiful trails (especially nice April through October) and spot 150 different life-sized dinosaur models. The indoor prehistoric museum is also interesting, offering a glimpse at various fossils and brief histories about them. Kids can also participate in fossil digs and gem excavations.
Kentucky Action Park
Mammoth Cave has truly turned Cave City into a destination, leading to businesses like Kentucky Action Park finding their footing. At the park, you can take on horseback riding, mini-golf, go-karts, bumper cars, climbing wall, trampoline, old-time photos, and even glass blowing. There’s also an alpine slide that takes you down a quarter-mile of the mountain. Action-adventure seekers might also opt for the Kentucky Action Park zipline (300 feet high)!
Bonus: Kentucky Action Park can take you to Outlaw Cave, the only wheelchair-accessible cave in the area. It’s easily the best cave for anyone visiting Cave City who doesn’t want to do a lot of walking or stair climbing.
Green River Canoeing
Visiting Cave City in the warmer months? Green River Canoeing will take you right through Mammoth Cave National Park. You’re likely to spot beavers, deer, wild turkeys, birds, and reptiles as you wander down the river. Their trips are suitable for any canoeing or kayaking skill level.
Mammoth Cave Wildlife Museum
Instead of going to a zoo, where animals are kept from their natural environments and forced to interact in ways they never would in the wild, visit the Mammoth Cave Wildlife Museum. Kids can learn and observe what these life-like animals are like, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not they are mistreated.
Check out pictures on Trip Advisor.
10 minutes from central Cave City is the historical site of Bell’s Tavern. This tavern was a hot spot for Mammoth Cave visitors until it burned down in 1860. Today, the stone walls are overgrown with ivy – creating a beautiful, picturesque detour for you and your family.
Unless you want to spend an hour or two wandering around the park or letting the kids play at the nearby playground, you only need a few minutes to check this out. Use it to kill time on a slow day or make it your final pit stop before heading back to Nashville or Louisville.
Treasure Trove Park
If you have extra time during your Cave City adventure, you may want to spend a few hours at Treasure Trove Park. The “park” is broken up into 20 different buildings. There’s the ancient Rome and Egypt museums, the First Responders Museum, the gem mining section – a little bit of everything from all different walks of American history.
Click here to see a map of Treasure Trove Park.
Guntown Mountain was shut down in 2013 but reopened in 2018. Today, they have a haunted hotel, blacklight minigolf, two escape rooms, a nerf gun war room, old-time photos, and more all wrapped into an old western town. You can even drop by their souvenir shop for country ham!
What to Eat in Cave City
Cave City is definitely not a large town, and you won’t need more than two days there; maybe more if you plan on exploring every inch of Mammoth Cave. You won’t likely find your new favorite restaurant in Cave City, but there is an abundance of fast food (McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut) and a Cracker Barrell.
That said, a few unique eateries stand out among the others:
Bucky Bees BBQ
For classic Kentucky barbecue, you’ll want to stop by Bucky’s Bees. With red-checkered tablecloths and loaded potatoes piled high with pulled pork, you’ll definitely get a unique experience here. Order pulled-pork tacos or get your sandwich with a side of hot, greasy, and crispy tater tots.
This is probably not the place you want to go early in the day, since you’ll probably leave feeling ten pounds heavier (and very satisfied).
Have you ever had shrimp stuffed inside a pineapple? You probably wouldn’t guess that your first time trying that delicacy would be at a Mexican restaurant in Cave City, Kentucky, but here we are. Find unique entrees like that or opt for your usual Mexican order. Either way, you won’t be disappointed at El Mazatlan.
This dimly-lit country steakhouse is located right next to Mammoth Cave, so it’s a great place to grab a meal after a long day of spelunking. Grab a southern-style steak with a side of broccoli or hit the salad bar, and finish your meal off with a slice of derby pie (chocolate and walnut – a Kentucky favorite).
Sitting right next to Dinosaur World, southerners and out-of-towners alike might find this meat-and-three style restaurant quite charming. Offering true southern comfort food, Watermill is a fantastic place to load up on biscuits, eggs, and ham before a long day exploring (though they offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
The Dog Pound
For cheap eats that will fill you up quickly, head over to The Dog Pound. A loaded hot “Chicago Dog” with onions, mustard, celery seed, tomatoes, relish, pickles, and sport peppers will only cost you $4. Of course, you can always opt for a plain ol’ hot dog with ketchup, mustard, or relish for $2.
Where to Stay in Cave City
Most Cave City visitors will be happy staying in nearby Louisville or Nashville, as long as you have a car. However, one night in a Cave City hotel or rental property doesn’t have to cost you more than $80.
Top hotels in Cave City, KY:
- Baymont by Windham Cave City ($61/night)
- Comfort Inn & Suites, Cave City ($78/night)
- Holiday Inn Express, Horse Cave ($94/night)
Top Airbnb’s in Cave City, KY:
- 2 bed, 1 bath, Glasgow home ($70/night)
- 2 bed, 1 bath, “Cozy Mammoth Cave Hideaway” ($72/night)
- 2 bed, 1 bath “Cozy Mammoth Cave Cottage” ($82/night)
- Small Farm Winery, Whole House ($160/night)