Combine adventure, history, the arts and good food on this four day South Central Kentucky Travel Itinerary. Visit Bowling Green, Horse Cave, Lake Cumberland, Bardstown and beyond. While you can do this in four days, (because we did and filmed it!) we recommend spending more time in a few places, especially Lake Cumberland where you should rent a houseboat and relax.
Day 1- Horse Cave: Small Town Adventures
Arrive in Lexington and drive 110 miles crossing into Central Daylight time to reach Horse Cave, Kentucky. Grab lunch at Turtlelini’s Pizza & Pasta (103 S Dixie St, Horse Cave) This locally-owned casual restaurant features delicious homemade pizza, pasta, sandwiches, a salad bar, and more.
Next, visit the American Cave Museum and get ready to rappel the mouth of Hidden River Cave, one of the largest cave openings in Kentucky. Located between Nashville and Louisville and close to Mammoth Cave National Park in South Central Kentucky, Hidden River Cave is located right smack dab in the small town of Horse Cave.
Hidden River Cave is an 8-mile labyrinth dissolved by a subterranean river flowing beneath this historic small town. On-trail and off-trail tours are available. Adventure enthusiasts can also zipline across the mouth of the cave and rappel down the face of the cave. If you choose an off- trail Wild Cave Tour, wear sturdy boots and clothes you don’t mind getting muddy and bring a change of clothes.
After your caving adventure, explore downtown Horse Cave. If you can’t find a local to tell you the best spots, you can do it on your own with a cell phone walking tour, which showcases the history and culture of this small town. The tour is linked to a website that is full of stories about tobacco farming, cave wars, Harlem Globetrotters, the Kentucky Repertory Theatre, the town’s narrow streets and feuds. The tour begins in downtown Horse Cave and takes about 30 minutes. You can even scan bar codes with your smart phone and go directly to the website while you’re touring.
Other special events to consider in Horse Cave include painting parties at Sims Studios & Art Shop (108 East Main Street, Horse Cave). Jammin’ on the Porch at The Bookstore (111 Water Street Horse Cave) Bluegrass Jam Sessions happen on Thursday nights and are free from 6- 9:00 pm every Thursday year round.
Day 2- Lake Cumberland: Houseboats, Jet Skis and Key West in KY
Get ready to take to the water on Lake Cumberland. Drive 90 miles to the State Dock (5465 State Park Rd. Jamestown, KY) in Jamestown for a houseboating adventure. Rent a boat to cruise the lake, go fishing or jet skiing. Enjoy lunch at Fishtales at Wolf Creek Marina, a tiki hut restaurant, which reminds me of a little bit of Key West in Kentucky.
We took out a houseboat and jet ski at Lake Cumberland, but you can also try kayaking, pontoon boats, paddle boards and even a party barge.
Spend the night on your houseboat or drive onwards to Bowling Green for your next adventures.
Day 3- Bowling Green: Food, Fast Cars and Fun
Have a farm fresh breakfast at Boyce General Store (10551 Woodburn Allen Springs Rd, Alvaton, KY), which has been a pillar of the small community of Boyce outside of Bowling Green since 1869. Owned by a husband and wife couple, this restaurant and general store has been a lot of things over the years, but it’s remained part of the community since its inception. Feast on a good country breakfast, including farm fresh eggs, bacon and other culinary delights, many of which are sourced from local farmers.
Head into Bowling Green, where cool Corvettes mix with diverse restaurants and art. Bowling Green is the third-most populous city Kentucky after Louisville and Lexington and an hour’s drive north of Nashville. Learn about history in Southern Kentucky at the Kentucky Museum (1906 College Heights Blvd. Bowling Green, KY) at Western Kentucky University and then step inside the impressive National Corvette Museum (350 Corvette Drive Bowling Green, KY). Stroll among the over 70 Corvettes showcased and check out the history of the Corvette. The National Corvette Museum displays Corvettes through the ages, including one of a kind concept vehicles. One area that’s definitely popular for travelers is the Skydome, which has been repaired since the floor collapsed in 2014 due to a massive sinkhole. Don’t worry no one was hurt, but the same can’t be said for the cars. Eight Corvettes were swallowed by the sinkhole!
Drive just outside of downtown to The Downing Museum (4801 Morgantown Road, Bowling Green, KY) at The Baker Arboretum, where Kentucky born artist Joe Downing, a WKU alumnus and brother of the late WKU President Dero Downing, has works on display. Colorful, creative, unusual and cool, works include oil on canvas, art on 200-year-old barn doors (pretty cool) and beyond.
Head into downtown Bowling Green tonight for an upscale dining experience at The Bistro (1129 College St, Bowling Green, KY), where Bosnian born chef Sasha Mandrapa cooks up Mediterranean inspired dishes like Penne Rustica, where prosciutto, chicken and shrimp are served up in an au gratin sauce or seafood and grits, with shrimp, oysters and étoufeé. This restaurant is popular with locals, tasty and housed in a two-story restored 1893 Fletcher House.
Day 4- Bardstown, Bourbon and a National Park
Head out of Bowling Green to Hodgenville, just 75 miles away. This will take you back into Eastern time zone. Start the day at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park (2995 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville, KY), getting a feel for how Kentucky shaped a future president. See how a young Abraham Lincoln and his family would have lived in a single room log cabin. Stand in awe of the memorial, which over 120,000 individuals from across the country, including thousands of schoolchildren, contributed to build.
Next, enjoy the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” Bardstown, located in Kentucky’s famed Bourbon Country at the head of the popular Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
You can’t come to Bourbon country and not taste bourbon or at least tour a distillery and in Bardstown you have five from which to choose. Barton 1792 and Willett Distillery, Heaven Hill, Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam are located in Bardstown. We visited the Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distilleries (1311 Gilkey Run Rd, Bardstown, KY), where you can taste bourbon in a barrel-shaped tasting room. In this unusual setting, learn about American whiskeys and why Kentucky is such a good place for a tasting.
Next, stroll over to My Old Kentucky Home State Park (501 E. Stephen Foster Ave. Bardstown, KY), where American songwriter Stephen Foster was inspired to write the ballad “My Old Kentucky Home,” which many from outside of Kentucky know from the Kentucky Derby. It’s played at Churchill Downs every year. Travelers can tour this Federal Hill Mansion and hear the song from guides in period costumes.
Wherever you end up in South Central Kentucky, enjoy the experience. Grab a glass of bourbon, relax on the lake, enjoy soaking in history and seeing what small town life is like in this part of Kentucky.