Lost River Cave

Take a boat tour under Bowling Green, Kentucky

By Hope S. Philbrick

One of the largest cave entrances east of the Mississippi River leads to a watery passageway 60 feet below Highway 31W.  At Lost River Cave, step into a tour boat, dip your head briefly to avoid bumping into wishing rock, and float into a vast cavern where formations and fossils await discovery.

Prepare to say, “Wow.”

It kind of blows your mind to realize the cavernous space in which you now float is underneath a busy highway.

Boating in a cave proves to be a peaceful, easy-on-the-knees alternative to walking.

This cave has a rich history: Native Americans found shelter in it for thousands of years. In the 1790s, European settlers built a water-powered mill inside the cave. In the fall of 1861, Confederate forces used Lost River Cave as a temporary shelter. One year later, 44,000 Union troops from the 14th Corps camped at Lost River before moving on to Nashville for the Battle of Stone River. A “Nite Club” located at the cave’s entrance was a ballroom and hang-out for socialites from the ‘30s through ‘60s and is now a venue for special events.

What Distinguishes This Cave…

Lost River Cave boasts Kentucky’s only underground boat tour on a river that for many years Ripley’s Believe it or Not ranked as the shortest, deepest in the world. (The river is now known to be seven miles long and 15 feet deep.)

Various bat species, camelback crickets and blind crawfish live in Lost River Cave. You can also see fossils of coral that died before the dinosaurs.

What To Do…

The 68-acre nature preserve also offers walking trails, wildlife habitats and a butterfly junction.

The Lost River Valley is home to the Blue Hole Trail, a two-mile loop through the karst valley. The trail gets its name from the hue of the water from to its natural calcite concentration. Each hole has folklore associated with it, including one story about young women who would look into the water with hopes of seeing a reflection of the face of the man they’d marry. Allow time to hike or you’ll miss some key features of this place: “The Cave Valley is almost a mile long with canyon bluffs on either side. There are four places where you can see the Lost River through ‘blue’ holes. You will see some of the most striking features that you can see no other place in the world,” said Dr. Nicholas C. Crawford, professor of hydrology and director of The Center for Cave and Karst Studies, Western Kentucky University.

Odds of Encountering Children…

High. For the best odds, visit when school is in session.

Getting There…

From I-65 take exit 22 onto Scottsville Road. Turn left onto Cave Mill Road, continue to 31W and turn right to Lost River Cave—look for the sign between other businesses, this isn’t in a remote spot as you might expect.

Open daily (except Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s). However, heavy rainfall can flood the cave and make it impossible to give boat tours—so call ahead to verify that they’re running if your heart is set on a boat tour.

More Information…

Historic Lost River Cave & Valley

Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Read More about the subterranean world “Under Kentucky”

– Photo Courtesy Bowling Green Area CVB

Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.

HopeP_144Hope S. Philbrick is founder and editor-in-chief of Getaways for Grownups. She became a freelance writer and editor because she believes that work and fun should not be mutually exclusive. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications nationwide. When not writing, she can usually be found on the road or savoring something tasty.

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