Bowling Green, Kentucky may not be the first place you think of for your family vacation, but there are plenty of activities nestled in the rolling green hills of Kentucky’s Cave Country to make for a memorable quick getaway or stop on a longer summer road-trip. Caves, cars, and Americana epitomize the attractions you will find among the green rolling hills. So plan on giving yourself at least two days or a long weekend to explore the city and the surrounding attractions with the kids.
Mammoth Cave National Park
A “grand, gloomy, and peculiar place,” the number 1 attraction near Bowling Green, the only national park in Kentucky, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot. 2016 was the 200th anniversary of visits into Mammoth Cave, and the 75th anniversary of its establishment as a National Park. There’s no fee to enter the Mammoth Cave National Park and activities on the surface (nature walks and hikes) are free of charge. To enter the cave itself you need a ticket for a scheduled tour. It’s suggested to purchase your tickets ahead of time as they will sell out. Tours range in price from $13 – $18 and take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to complete.
Lost River Cave
Kentucky’s only Underground Boat Tour and the enchanting Butterfly Habitat await you at Lost River Cave – a 90-acre reserve in the middle of the city with nature trails, springs and the mysterious blue holes. A comfortable 57 degrees year round, the boat tour offers a visit into the timeless world underground, and a walk along the river’s edge will bring alive stories of Native Americans, Early European settlers, Civil War troops and the notorious Jesse James. Note, Lost River Cave served as an underground nightclub during the Prohibition Era, and hosted performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and Dinah Shore. It still holds weddings, proms, and dances to this day – just check out the Kentucky Bridal Suite below.
National Corvette Museum
If Mammoth Cave is the number 1 attraction, the National Corvette Museum is a close second – and probably tops the National Park among car fans. The National Corvette Museum contains 80 models of the beloved sports car from the very first, built in 1953, to concept cars never commercially produced. In addition to admiring the Corvettes, you can sit and pose inside one for photos, and even take a drive at the Motorsports Park (for an additional fee). Complete your pilgrimage to sports car Mecca with a tour of the Corvette Assembly Plant to watch the step-by-step process of piecing together the Chevy classic. Tying together Bowling Green’s cave and car culture is a new permanent exhibit at the museum “Corvette Cave-In: Skydome Sinkhole Experience.” Documenting (in an interactive way) what happened when a sinkhole opened beneath the museum swallowing 8 valuable cars into its maw.
Beech Bend Park, Raceway, and Splash Lagoon
Nestled in an elbow of the Barren River is Beech Bend Park, a quaint family run entertainment complex that includes an amusement park, water park, and drag strip. The small amusement park is perfect for families with younger children. Notable rides include a Sea Dragon swinging ship ride originally located at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in California, and the Kentucky Rumbler wooden roller coaster that reaches speeds near 50 mph.
Amusement park admission also grants access to the Splash Lagoon Water Park that recently received the largest expansion in its history. Splash Lagoon added Cyclone Saucers, the first ever Flying SAUCER water slide in North America, as part of a new four-slide complex. On Cyclone Saucers, swimmers fly around the edge of three “flying saucers” at high speeds while dropping 55 feet. The other new slides include Tidal Wave, Riptide, and Polynesian Plunge.
However, the truly unique aspect of this Bowling Green entertainment complex is Beech Bend Raceway, one of America’s oldest, continually operating drag strips. Races take place every weekend between March and November, and many events are nationally recognized car shows. There’s even an opportunity to drag your own car out on the strip. The campground next door creates a family-friendly spot along the Barren River to enjoy the parks, races, and outdoors.
Hot Rods Baseball
It doesn’t get more American than baseball, and Bowling Green is home to the Bowling Green Hot Rods that play minor league games in a state-of-the-art downtown ballpark. The Hot Rods play 70 home games each year, and the minor league environment is perfect for family fun. The Bowling Green Hot Rods offer interactive games and contests, musical performers, post-game fireworks, zany mascots, and themed nights (such as Star Wars Night). Tickets start at $5 and children under 5 years old are FREE. Making it an affordable outing for the family.
Trains and Historic Railpark
Long before interstates, people visiting Bowling Green arrived at the L&N Passenger Depot constructed from Warren County limestone. This 1925 structure was restored and revived to house a two-story self-guided museum where visitors learn the history of the tracks asking questions of a “real Railroader” through interactive galleries. Exhibits highlight the African American experience during segregation, the Civil War and the Railroad, the Business of the Railroad, and each showcases items used in the individual railcars.
Housing one of the region’s largest model railroad displays inside, outside is where the Historic Railpark currently displays seven restored cars for touring including a Diesel Locomotive, a 1911 L&N Presidential Office Car, a 1949 Pullman Dining Car, a 1953 Luxury Pullman Sleeper and a 1921 Post Office Car. Also on display are a rare Jim Crow Segregation Car, a WWII Hospital Car and a Chessie Class Caboose.
Farms and Agriculture
Before you roll your eyes, I have two words for you. Ice. Cream. Chaney’s Dairy Barn was selected by multiple sources as the best homemade ice cream in the state of Kentucky. In the summer time Chaney’s drops a screen over the side of their barn and host “Ice Cream and a Moooovie” nights. Bring your kids for the ice cream, but be sure to check out the bucolic setting of this 5th generation family farm run by the Chaneys for over 125 years. Go on a farm tour and teach your kids the source of their food.