Lost River Cave, KY

Lost River Cave, KY

Kentucky – or at least the area around Bowling Green – is has a lot of caves. We knew we would pretty much have to visit one while we were there, but were more than a little intimidated by the size of Mammoth Cave National Park. We decided to visit Lost River cave instead, which offered tours of a cave by boat. It seemed unique and sounded like it could be fun.

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We made the right choice! The cave and the area surrounding it have a great history. On our cave tour, we learned that the river has four exposed blue holes. One of these was the cause of the Lost River being listed by Ripley’s Believe it or Not as the “Shortest, deepest river in the world.” Plumb bobs indicated that the blue hole was 427 feet deep, while the river itself is only 350 feet long. However, the measurements were faulty. The blue hole is linked to a further underground river, and the plumb bobs that were dropped in to measure the depth were swept away rather than hanging straight. The real depth of the blue hole is only ten feet.

We started our tour at the cave entrance, where a dam built in 1872 still stands.

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cave entrance 2

After a brief introduction, we were led to the boat that would take us into the cave:

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At one point, we had to duck a little because the water was high and the cave ceiling was low. Our guide was practically laying across the back end of the boat and guiding us through the narrow opening.

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The cave was damp and dark, as you would expect a cave to be. I don’t really remember much about the cave itself, except that sailing into it on a boat was pretty cool.

The guide spoke a little about the cave’s history during the Civil War, including the fact that it was under the control of first the Confederates, and then Union soldiers. The Union soldiers, in fact, used the location as a camp, and soldiers names and ranks have been found written inside the cave.

Shortly after the end of the Civil War (1868), there was a bank robbery in Russellville, Kentucky. Jesse James and his gang were believed to have been responsible. It is widely believed that Jesse James hid out in the cave to escape capture by law enforcement following the robbery.

But what fascinated me the most was that the cave had been used as a nightclub! Known as the Cavern Nite Club, the venue was popular because of its cool temperatures. In 1939, Billboard Magazine named the Cavern Nite Club as the only air-conditioned nightclub in the U.S.

By the 1960s, nightclubs were a thing of the past. People were entertained at home by way of television and radio. Additionally, an interstate highway was built in the area, pulling traffic away from the site of the cave. And the advent of air conditioning meant that people were less likely to be drawn to the naturally cool environment of the cave. For several decades, the area fell into ruin and became a dumping site. Thankfully, a group of concerned citizens formed a non-profit group in 1990 to bring the site back to its original state. Three years later, Lost River Cave was opened to the public.

Today, there is still a big area suitable for dancing, with a large chandelier overhead. It is a popular (and unique) wedding venue.

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After our tour, which lasted about 45 minutes, we visited the butterfly garden, which is another attraction at the Lost River Cave property, and did a little gem mining. The gift shop was very nice with a wide variety of souvenir items. All in all, it was a very enjoyable excursion and I recommend it, especially for families.

Lost River Cave is located at 2818 Nashville Road, Bowling Green, KY 42101. Telephone 270-393-0077. Hours vary by season.


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