Though “dark” and “damp” may be common descriptors given by the novice cave visitor, seasoned cave enthusiasts know that the landscape of each cave differs dramatically, yet with a mysterious beauty anyone can appreciate.
“They all have their own unique flavor or character,” says Gary C. Berdeaux, a noted cave photographer and managing partner of Diamond Caverns in Park City. “…They transcend gender; they transcend time, race, ethnicity.”
Touted as the fourth-oldest show cave in the nation, Diamond Caverns will celebrate its 150th anniversary of tours this year, after it was first discovered by a young slave boy lowered into the caverns by a rope, exclaiming that the calcite formations inside resembled diamonds.
It’s Berdeaux’s goal to preserve and present natural cave wonders as public treasures for generations to come, through his photographs and by sharing the cave with visitors.
With its slogan, “Discovered 1859, rediscovered daily,” Diamond Caverns is open year-round, with a moderately strenuous half-mile cave tour led by guides knowledgeable in the history and geology of the area. There’s a state-of-the-art lighting system showcasing the formations inside the caverns, and the temperatures there remain a steady 58 degrees.
“So in the summertime that feels refreshing and cool, and in the wintertime that feels nice and warm,” Berdeaux says.
The Cave City area of Kentucky welcomes about 2.5 million visitors annually with half a million cave tours conducted in all. About 370,000 visitors per year visit Mammoth Cave National Park, the second-oldest tourist attraction in America, says Brian Dale, executive director of the Cave City Convention Center and Visitors Bureau.
Vickie Carson, public information officer at Mammoth Cave National Park, says several tours of different lengths and difficulty are offered there, from short quarter-mile level walking tours to more grueling 5.5-mile, six-hour treks requiring some crawling and climbing.
When planning to visit any cave, it’s a good idea to do a bit of advance research so the type of cave tour you choose matches your physical capabilities, she says.
“We try to let people know ahead of time before they go in,” Carson says.
Cave visitors should wear practical walking shoes with a good tread, and dress in a light jacket or layers for the cool conditions, Carson says. She warns against talking someone into going into a cave who seems hesitant or downright unwilling to make the trip.
“They probably won’t like it because not everyone likes caves,” Carson says. “They are a strange and fascinating landscape. It’s a little bit like going to the moon, I guess.”
The area’s caves can be considered some of the last unexplored areas on Earth, Dale explains, as they’re continuously being newly navigated by cave explorers going up and down different underground levels and finding new interconnecting passageways among them.
“They’re still making more discoveries, trying to link different cave systems together,” he says. “I think caves are popular because it’s kind of like scuba diving–there’s so much mystery and unknown.”
1900 Mammoth Cave Parkway
Park City, KY 42160
On Wednesday, August 19, Diamond Caverns will offer half-price admission to the caverns in celebration of its 150th anniversary. The privately owned cave is open year-round except for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s days. It is not handicapped-accessible, and features a guided, half-mile, hour-long tour.
Tours depart every 20 to 30 minutes. Snapshot photography is permitted. Admission is $16 adults, $8 children ages 4-12. Group/student rates are available. Hours vary seasonally, posted online.
A gift shop on-site has souvenirs and a lobby with historic cave memorabilia from Diamond Caverns and others.
Other Area Caves to Explore
Crystal Onyx Cave
Cub Run Cave
Hidden River Cave & American Cave Museum
(270) 786-2634 or (800) 762-2869
Lost River Cave
(270) 393-0077 or 866-274-CAVE
Mammoth Cave National Park
(270) 773-2560 or (800) 798-0560
(click on “Outlaw Cave Tours”)
For a list of attractions in Kentucky’s cave country, visit the Web page for the Cave City Convention Center and Visitors Bureau at www.cavecity.com. Many attractions offer military discounts on admission.
Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
It took Jeremy and Joanna Hinton a few years to define and then refine their vision, but the owners of Hinton’s Orchard & Farm Market, a 48-acre “agri-tainment” enterprise in Hodgenville, have achieved it: lots of quality foods and fun for families on the farm.
“We wanted to create a fun, safe place for families to visit and enjoy some time in the country,” says Jeremy. “We also wanted to have fresh, high-quality products available for them to purchase while here.”
Fresh peaches, apples, strawberries, seasonal veggies, pumpkins, Indian corn, a fall palette of mums, jams, cider, and fruit butters. Corn maze, pumpkin patch, grain bin turned play area, and hayrides. A commercial kitchen turning out pies, cakes, cookies, turnovers, and caramel apples sold to hungry visitors in the market, where you can also buy local meats, cheeses, dip mixes, and peanut brittle, as well as goat milk soaps and lotions.
Handmade wood crafts, including toys supplied by Jeremy’s dad, Eric Hinton. A beekeeper in residence. A greenhouse spilling over with perennials, annuals, vegetable plants, herbs, and hanging baskets in the spring. Lunch served weekends in the fall. All brought together by two people who wanted to work together on a farm and whose combined backgrounds were ideal to bring their vision into sharp focus.
Jeremy, an eighth-generation farmer from LaRue County with a degree in agriculture education from the UK College of Agriculture, and Joanna, a native of Marion County who graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in history, set their sights on a singular goal when they married in 2002. The couple have two young children (the ninth generation to farm the land, they hope) and lots of dreams matched in equal part by energy and work ethic.
Recently, Joanna made the decision to leave her day job to concentrate on marketing the Hintons’ farming enterprise, improving the curriculum-based content of their school tours, and increasing the number of students who visit the farm on field trips, among other jobs.
“Her presence on a daily basis will also allow me to focus more on production and expand the crops that we grow,” notes Jeremy. “We are a family farm so we like for one of us to be around the market most of the time.”
In the meantime, the Hintons are working on creating one special event each month through the growing season. In July, the second Peach-a-palooza got under way, its focus firmly fixed on the fruit, and live music, too. The Second Annual Apple Festival is in September, followed by the Sixth Annual PumpkinFest in October. Earlier in the year, the couple hosted an April Easter Egg Hunt and a Strawberry Festival in May. Music, food, hayrides into the orchard, and other farm activities are event staples.
Labor Day weekend is the official kickoff for fall fun. Hinton’s FarmLand–encompassing an expanded play area, hayrides, straw pile, and a new and improved corn maze with elaborate design and interactive stations–will make its debut. That includes the grain bin, its “corn box” filled with granules kids can shovel, as well as drive toy tractors, wagons, and dump trucks through. A soybean maze will be part of FarmLand fun for smaller children.
Hinton’s Orchard & Farm Market
8631 Campbellsville Road, Hodgenville
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 1-6 p.m. Sundays in September and October only. Admission for Hinton’s FarmLand is $5 per person with discounts for groups of 10 or more.
Other “Agritainment” Venues
Christian Way Farm
19590 Linville Road, Hopkinsville
Call for hours July-September. Open 10-5 p.m. Saturdays from September 19-October 31 for Pumpkin Days (wagon rides, corn maze, pumpkin patch). Enjoy picnics, feed the goats, hold a baby chick, play in the cornfield, shop the country store in the old tobacco barn, and see antique farm equipment. Harvest Praise held Saturday, October 17, with Pumpkin Day activities and Christian music and food.
180 Stone Road, Georgetown
Open 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 12-6 p.m. Sunday. Certified kitchen for making fudge and apple pies and serving lunch; apples, peaches, and pears; small fruit, lots of vegetables; U-pick pumpkins; farm tours, birthday parties, and festivals; children’s play area with “apple cider slider,” rope maze, corn maze, Animal Land petting zoo, and hay castle.
1029 Vigo Road, Shelbyville
(502) 633-4849 or (502) 633-0724
Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Farm-fresh produce, berry picking, flowers, petting zoo, horse-drawn hayrides, observation beehive, fall pumpkin patch, and 4-acre corn maze.
2836 State Route 1, Greenup
Fall turns the farm into a playground with Amish-made monster truck, plane, train, boat, and tractor; two playhouses and a ring for riding tricycles (supplied); barnyard zoo, hay bale maze, and wagon rides. Pumpkins, gourds, straw, corn stalks, and mums for sale. Hours: 3-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; all day on weekends in October.
Find more agritourism farms at www.kentuckyfarmsarefun.com.
Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.