Bowling Green Kentucky is a charming small city about an hour south of Louisville with a wealth of fun things to do with kids (and without). It’s got caves, Corvettes and cakes, along with some yummy food and friendly people.
Disclosure: The writer was hosted for this trip.
Things to Do in Bowling Green KY
Bowling Green is the fastest growing city in Kentucky. It’s in the heart of Kentucky cave country – 30 minutes from Mammoth Cave National Park and home to Lost River Cave. It’s also the place where Chevy builds its Corvettes. They’re honored in the National Corvette Museum, which is built over a cave that collapsed back in 2014, taking 8 precious Corvettes with it.
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The south central Kentucky city of 60,000 is also the birthplace of Duncan Hines, the man behind the cake mixes. His childhood home is a funeral home now, but if there’s no service happening, stop by and ask to see the famous kitchen. Or head to the Kentucky Museum, which has a whole exhibit about the man behind the cakes.
Explore a Cave. Or Two.
Mammoth Cave is the Big Daddy of All Caves. It’s the world’s longest known cave system. Operated by the National Park Service, Mammoth Cave has several different tours guided by those awesome National Park Rangers. They’re full of history, stories and other interesting tidbits.
Lost River Cave
If you prefer your caves on the damp side, opt for a visit to Lost River Cave. This one is located right in the Bowling Green city limits. The park is not part of the national park system. Instead, it’s owned and run by a private non-profit.
The park is free to visit, walk the trails, visit the butterfly habitat and play in the “natural playground.” That’s where the park operates a trading post for children every other Saturday from April through October. Kids can trade items like a leaf, acorn, or snake skin for a new item.
The park is also home to a zipline and a gift shop filled with unique souvenirs.
The Lost River Cave Tour is a 30-minute underground boat ride deep into the cave. Our knowledgeable guide told an entertaining mix of facts, lies and legends. No, despite the rumors, there is no proof that Jesse James and his gang hid out in this cave in 1868 after robbing a bank.
TravelingMom Tip: Check the forecast before promising the kids a boat ride through the cave. The cave ceiling is quite low in one place. You’ll need to duck low to pass. For that reason, the tour shuts down after a heavy rain.
Learn about Trains
The Historic Railpark & Train Museum features five fully restored historic railcars – a post office car, Duncan Hines dining car, high-class and low-class sleeping cars and the railroad president’s private car.
The highlight (for me) is the post office car. It illustrates the challenging working conditions for the postal workers. They picked up mail in towns along the rail line from Louisville to Bowling Green – sometimes without stopping – and sorted it between towns. Along the way, they protected the mail from frequent robbery attempts, risking their lives to ensure the mail got through.
We got a tour from one of the grizzly old volunteers. He was a terrific storyteller, but the tour took so long we didn’t have time to visit the rail museum before it closed. So be sure to leave enough time to do both. Or skip the docent-led tour and wander through the cars at your own pace, reading the information posted along the way.
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Oogle a Corvette
You don’t have to be Corvette crazy to enjoy the National Corvette Museum, but I suppose it would heighten the experience. You also don’t have to be Corvette crazy to be a little sad to see the mangled sport cars that were sucked into the sinkhole that opened up below the museum in 2014. There’s a whole exhibit on the 48-second disaster when the Earth swallowed 8 one-on-a-kind Corvettes.
The gorgeous sports cars are built in the Corvette assembly plant down the street. It’s sometimes open for tours, but has been closed the last two years as the plant was retooled to build the all-new 2020 model. It’s expected to reopen for tours some time in 2020.
If you’re lucky enough to own a Corvette, you can drive it on the adjacent NCM Motorsports Park raceway.
Ride a Wooden Roller Coaster
This a fair-weather-only activity. The small Beech Bend amusement park is open daily in the summer and weekends only in the spring and fall. It was already closed for the season when I visited in early November, so I wasn’t able to see it for myself. But I’d love to go back. It features thrill rides (including one purchased from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch) and tamer family rides. Even better on a sultry Kentucky summer afternoon, the Splash Lagoon water park is included in the ticket price. It has a lazy river and a wave pool.
See a Robot Milk a Cow
Chaney’s Dairy Barn is the place to see the Laley Astronaut Robotic Milker. Pay a few bucks to take the self-guided tour. The cows that get milked by the robot produce the milk sold on site as well as ice cream that has an almost legendary reputation in Bowling Green.
Visit a Salt Cave
While kids are welcome at the Be Happy Yoga Studio and Salt Cave, I recommend leaving them with a sitter. Being childless will make it much easier to luxuriate in the experience of a yoga class in the salt cave (think yoga on the beach with the added benefits of a lung and skin treatment courtesy of the salt).
The owners imported six tons of Himalayan salt and hired a salt cave designer to create this unique experience. Put on your “salt socks” (supplied by Be Happy) and venture inside for a meditation session in a zero gravity chair or take a yoga class on the shifting salt.
Salt caves are believed to alleviate symptoms of asthma, allergies, respiratory issues, anxiety, depression and other ailments. Supposedly, miners who worked in salt caves were demonstrably healthier than people who did not work in the caves.
Eat Some Yummy Food
Bowling Green is a surprisingly good foodie destination. We tried four family-friendly restaurants in Bowling Green during our whirlwind visit.
Lost River Pizza
I’m from Chicago so I’m a pizza snob. I was traveling with a woman from New York. So, also a pizza snob. But we headed to this sweet little pizza place anyway and were not disappointed. The pizza needed more sauce, but it came in some interesting combinations, like a BBQ brisket pizza with apple chutney or wild boar and pickled banana peppers. The kids menu includes the usual — a “hot rod” burger, hot dog, and chicken fingers — as well as some interesting choices like a kiddie calzone.
White Squirrel Brewery
This is a super casual place with really good food and interesting local beers. In the summer, there’s an outdoor patio that looked like a fun place to spend a warm evening. The chicken and waffles with blueberry syrup was tasty and more than enough to share.
Would it be the Sweet Home Apple Courbon Crepes? The Bananas Foster French Toast? The Veggie Bennie Florentine? Whatever you order, get a blueberry muffin on the side. It made me groan with pleasure.
This is a steakhouse with a slightly more upscale but still very family friendly feel. A local recommended the chicken pot pie. It’s not something I would normally order, but I was happy I did. It was rich and creamy and the crust was just right. The meal starts with a yummy jalapeno cornbread. Don’t worry, the waiter will bring more if you ask nicely.