Plan a family vacation to this lesser-known Southern travel destination. Home to Corvettes, caves, and cool fun, you can find plenty to do in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
I don’t like trite phrases like “hidden gem” and “off the beaten path.” However, if you’re looking for a lesser-known Southern travel destination, put Bowling Green, Kentucky, on your shortlist. Here are some thought starters on what to do in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I won’t tell anyone if you call it a hidden gem.
My family and I visited Bowling Green in early summer and enjoyed the warm days that were decidedly less humid and sweltering than the summer ones we are used to in San Antonio. This part of Kentucky is cave country. Summers are green and lovely, and the people are friendly and excited to chat with visitors.
National Corvette Museum
If you love cars, you might already know that Bowling Green is the hub for manufacturing Corvettes and that the National Corvette Museum is a major mecca for anyone who loves this iconic sports car.
Not a car lover? You might still love the National Corvette Museum, so don’t leave it off your list of what to do in Bowling Green. Corvette’s history and culture offer something for everyone.
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The National Corvette Museum has one notable gallery dedicated to the sinkhole incident of 2014. This region of Kentucky is cave country, and a sinkhole opened in the museum’s SkyDome early in the morning, swallowing eight of the classic cars. No one was in the building, and the museum’s security cameras captured part of the incident. That video is available in the gallery.
Three of the Corvettes were restored and are on display in the museum. Also displayed is the “as is” wreckage of a Corvette pulled from the sinkhole. You can still see the dirt.
Check out Corvette Row
I recommend carving out at least three hours to explore this museum. The exhibits are very well done and have a lot of information; several exhibits are interactive. You’ll also want some time to browse in the gift shop and check out what/who is on Corvette Row.
All Corvettes are made in Bowling Green. For an extra fee of (around $900), new owners can take delivery of their new vehicle at Corvette Row and have an elevated, personalized experience.
The National Corvette Museum also has a rotating exhibit. Check the museum’s website for current info.
Explore Lost River Cave
Bowling Green has a lot of caves, and Lost River Cave is one of the area’s most famous underground caves that’s open to the public for exploration. Lost River Cave is an underground river cave, just as the name suggests. A tour begins at the visitor’s center, which also houses a gift shop and restrooms. There’s an incline to get down to the entrance to the cave, so if you’ve got any mobility issues, you’ll need to plan for that.
Your tour guide will give you a brief history of the area and how the cave became a tourist attraction, and then you’ll be ready to board your john boat to explore the cave. This activity is very safe. Your chances of falling into the water are slim to none; even if that were to happen, the deepest parts of the cave are only five feet deep. Guests under 12 are required to wear a flotation device.
In addition to the cave, there’s also an interactive outdoor play area and shaded walking trails. Cave tours are around $22 per person.
Beech Bend Amusement Park and Splash Lagoon
If you are traveling with kids—especially during the summer—put Beech Bend on your list of what to do in Bowling Green. Even though you might have a theme park or water park in your neck of the woods, this activity is a day maker for kids of all ages.
Beech Bend offers a variety of ticket options to purchase online or at the gate. Tickets are in the $35-$45 ballpark. Kids under two and veterans/military are free. The online and two-day tickets offer the most savings.
Beech Bend also has a drag strip and a campground.
Explore Downtown Bowling Green
Whether you’re looking for a restaurant or want to shop for some locally made goods, check out downtown Bowling Green and Fountain Square. Candlemakers on the Square is a must-do if you’re looking for made-in-Kentucky handcrafted items, including hand-poured candles on site. This store sells a variety of merchandise and not just candles.
Little Fox Bakery is a don’t miss if you’ve got a sweet tooth. They’ve got a variety of baked goods that change daily. If you’re gluten-free or vegan, this mother-daughter-owned bakery has options.
Bowling Green Hot Rods Baseball
Summer means baseball, so if you’re a baseball lover, check out the Bowling Green Hot Rods schedule to see if you can take in a home game when you are in town. There’s nothing like a ballpark hot dog. Grab some bug spray (Kentucky summer evenings can be muggy and buggy) and root for the home team.
Explore Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is less than a half hour’s drive from downtown Bowling Green, so spending your days inside the park and your nights in the city is entirely doable. Lodging is available inside the park. The Wi-Fi inside the park is spotty unless you’re at the visitor’s center.
The big thing to do at Mammoth Cave National Park is to explore the world’s longest cave system. Plan to book your cave tours at least a month in advance. See a listing of what cave tours are available here.
We took the Gothic Avenue Tour. Read each tour description to understand the tour length, stair composition, restroom availability, and more. Most cave tours involve stairs to get into and out of the caverns.
Outside Options at Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park also has plenty of things to do on the surface. The park has over 80 miles of hiking trails, river trails, and various ranger-led activities. The activities vary daily, and one of the rangers told me that on days when there are lots of cave tours on the schedule, there are fewer guided walks and other ranger-led programs.
The biggest surprise in visiting Mammoth Cave National Park was how busy it was. Since I hadn’t heard of Mammoth Cave National Park until I started searching for things to do in Kentucky, I assumed it was an underrated, sleepy national park. However, people come from around the world to see Mammoth Cave, a popular summer tourist attraction.
We stayed in the Mammoth Cave Lodge in a Sunset Terrace Rooms. It was a standard double room with an outside corridor door. The room was a little bit dated but clean, and the beds were comfortable. There’s cable TV, a mini fridge, a coffee maker, and Wi-Fi, although the Wi-Fi isn’t optimal, as mentioned above.
I look forward to visiting again after the total renovation of the main lodge.
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Bowling Green is a Great Weekend Trip from Nashville
Aside from Mammoth Cave National Park, you can hit most Bowling Green points of interest in two or three days, which makes it a great weekend trip or a stop on a multi-leg road trip. We squeezed in our visit to Bowling Green between trips to Hot Springs and Pigeon Forge, and it worked out great. Bowling Green is only about an hour’s drive from Nashville, so it’s doable if you’d like to stack a second destination onto a Music City trip. You can also pair a visit to Bowling Green with a more traditional Kentucky experience. Bowling Green shows you another side of Kentucky if distilleries and derby are what drew you to the state.
Let Wander with Wonder help you plan your next family vacation with ideas on other things to see in Kentucky and even more small towns across the US.