The Best Caves in Kentucky, USA: Complete List

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Kentucky, USA is a hotspot for caving. Due to its unique karst geology, which is rich in porous limestone and encourages the long-term process of subterranean erosion, Kentucky is home to a remarkable variety of caves.

People have flocked to such caverns throughout history for various purposes. Besides practical (shelter) and spiritual reasons (medicinal healing practices and burials), many also came for pure recreation. Today, tourists can follow in the footsteps of these early explorers and admire ten million years of nature’s handiwork.

Here are some amazing caves that are found naturally in Kentucky.

Carter Caves State Resort Park

Visitors to this well-liked state park will discover more than 20 caves in one location, with this county having the highest density of caves in all of Kentucky.

A massive stone pillar at the entrance of Carter Caves in Kentucky.
Carter Caves

The cave crawl, available to those who pass the “squeeze test,” is the area’s main adventure attraction for thrill-seekers. If you’re the type to enjoy a challenge and cramped quarters, you’ll enjoy this. One of the best parts of Kentucky caves, even when not in wild caves, is the opportunity to test your spelunking skills.

Visitors can take a more leisurely self-guided (and upright) tour if they are less willing to seek such a physical thrill.

Cascade Cave, which has a variety of beautiful geological formations and culminates in a 30-foot underground waterfall, receives high praised by those in the know.

Other caverns, including the historically significant Saltpetre Cave and the easily navigable but stunning X-Cave, work together to provide various entertainment options for people of different skill levels and interests.

More than 26 miles of clearly marked hiking paths, a nine-hole golf course, and plenty of options for kayaking, biking, and horseback riding are all available outside.

Learn more about the Carter Caves here.

Crystal Onyx Cave

Crystal Onyx Cave, located in Cave City, Kentucky, is a mesmerizing underground wonder. Discovered in 1960 during the expansion of a quarry, the cave was opened to the public in 1990. What distinguishes Crystal Onyx Cave is its abundance of rare and delicate onyx formations, which adorn the cavern’s walls, creating a visually stunning and otherworldly environment.

This breathtaking array of colors, includes white, amber, and shades of red and brown. The translucent quality of the onyx makes the formations boast an ethereal glow, unlike anything most visitors have ever seen in person. Visitors can enjoy guided tours that teach about the geological processes that shaped these formations over millions of years.

Crystal Onyx Cave holds historical significance as well, serving as a shelter for Native Americans and early settlers hundreds of years ago. These inhabitants left evidence of their presence in the form of artifacts and historical remnants. This adds a layer of cultural richness to the cave, connecting visitors to the human history intertwined with the subterranean landscape.

An image shows a walkway leading to a staircase inside Crystal Onyx Cave in Kentucky.

Learn more about Crystal Onyx Cave here.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

The Gap Cave, as it is known locally, is thought to be between three and five million years old. However, due to natural water erosion, it is still forming today.

In more recent history, the iconic Cumberland Mountain Pass, an important Civil War monument, was noted for having an ever-evolving system.

The North and the South held control of the area through a series of conflicts until the Union armies defeated the Confederacy in 1863. In fact, “Soldiers Cave,” located in the Gap, may have served as a battlefield hospital.

Carol Borneman, Supervisory Park Ranger for Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, says “Gap Cave is steeped in rich history.”

Soldiers from the Union and the Confederacy investigated the cave during the Civil War. Many even inscribed their names on the wall or ceiling of the cave using candle flames.

The names of around 300 service members have been noted. The length of this cavern, explored thus far, stretches to about 14 kilometers.

A two-hour small-group trip is available for visitors to explore the three floors of the subterranean space. Enjoy the wonderful sights of some quite unique formations and underground waterfalls.

This is a spectacular Kentucky cave for history buffs and cavers in general, due to its massive size.

A picture of the cave formations inside Cap Gave of Kentucky.
Gap Cave

Diamond Caverns

Those who first saw the glistening calcite formations inside this cave in 1859 compared them to a collection of diamonds. The Diamond Caverns in Barren County, Kentucky offer the kind of sights you wish you could see when caving.

Diamond is the fourth-oldest such touring cave in the nation and the second-oldest cave attraction still in operation in Kentucky. Each of its cathedral-like chambers is home to a variety of spectacular formations. As a result, the term “Diamond Caverns” was created.

Visitors can view nearly half a mile of lit pathways that exhibit stunning column formations, curtain or “drapery” deposits. In addition, you’ll enjoy a rainbow of colorful calcite thanks to the modern internal lighting system.

A picture showing the massive stalactites and cave formations inside Diamond Caverns.

Diamond Caverns has been open to the public for more than 160 years. It’s a testament to its diversity that it still holds surprises for all of us. In 1999, just as a transfer to new ownership approached completion, they found a sizable new cavern! This new cavern is still largely unexplored today.

Diamond Caverns promises many more such discoveries in the ensuing decades. This two-level trip can be physically taxing because it has about 350 steps, but the scenery is well worth it.

Hidden River Cave/American Cave Museum

Hidden River, one of the longest caves in Kentucky at around 10 miles, lurks beneath the city of Horse Cave and borders Mammoth Cave. These two systems are so closely related, that local tour guides grew accustomed to hearing the same refrain from tourists.

Aside from the Mammoth system and potential connectivity, Hidden River Cave has a rich history. It was once a source of drinking water for Horse Cave. Still, over the first half of the 20th century, commercialization led to pollution, ultimately forcing the cave’s closure for several decades.

All of this was altered by new conservation initiatives in the late 1980s, notably after the American Cave Conservation Association moved its national offices to the community.

This allowed for the environmental safeguards that the cave desperately required, as well as the establishment of a museum, educational system, and other voluntary conservation initiatives.

The largest single cave room in the entire Mammoth Cave region, as well as several tourist attractions, including a 100-foot-long swinging bridge—the longest such suspension bridge inside a cave system—are all featured in the cave as an attraction today.

Hidden River Cave in Kentucky features a famous upper chamber/ceiling as shown in this picture.
Hidden River Cave

Lost River Cave

Lost River Cave, a stunning seven-mile cave system that includes Kentucky’s only natural cave boat trip and ends in a vast, cathedral-like cavern, offers visitors to the state’s southernmost city of Bowling Green an exceptional experience.

A guided walking tour along the river’s bank is an alternative for those who would like to keep their feet firmly on solid ground. You can still experiencing all the sights, sounds, and chills of the cave (it’s a cool 57 degrees year-round).

Historical commentary is provided during the tours on the cave’s colorful past, which includes its use by local Native American tribes, early European settlers, Civil War soldiers, and even the notorious Jesse James.

Along with the many attractions of the cave, visitors to this 72-acre park will also discover a network of above-ground trails that wind through seven different natural ecosystems, the Flying Squirrel Zipline (and the more miniature Lightning Bug Zipline for children ages 3–10), a seasonal butterfly habitat, and an extensive information center.

Louisville Mega Caverns

The Mega Caverns in Louisville, Kentucky were once a limestone quarry. Today, this cave system houses an expansive entertainment and adventure destination, among other things. Attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists per year, the sheer size and the diverse range of fun activities are sure to delight you and your family.

Covering around 100 acres, the Mega Caverns are often described as an underground city. Guided tram tours provide the opportunity to gain insights into the cavern’s history, geology, and repurposing. Walking around inside creates a sense of awe and wonder as visitors traverse its underground passages.

More adventurous activities include zip lines and obstacle courses, suspended within the cavern’s cavernous chambers. While wild caves can be challenging on their own, these additions give you an exciting and unexpected dimension to the experience.

Perhaps more interesting is the variety of uses the environment provides to locals.

For example, utilities are 75% to 85% cheaper than building above ground. The cavern is tornado and hurricane proof so any important documents won’t get damaged, like in an expensive vault. Alcohol and chocolate are two other popular items delegated to the 58-degree underground storage room.

Learn more about the Louisville Mega Caverns here.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave can be reached by car from Louisville in about 90 minutes. It features over 412 miles of documented caverns, making it the world’s longest-known cave system.

According to the park research, there may be another 600 miles of unexplored caves. This enormous cave system in the state’s south-central region must be included on any Kentucky caving list worth its salt and lime (stone).

Mammoth Cave is one of the most well-known attractions in Kentucky. It was designated an International Biosphere Reserve site in 1990 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. The site includes ziplining, tons of fossil hunting, cave excursions, and spelunking.

Picture showing the walkway that people use during the tour of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

Recently, park experts uncovered a “trove of fossil gems”. They found more than 40 different shark species and a variety of other fossils from ice-era residents.

For history buffs, this is an exceptional place to take in some of the world’s most wonderful examples of preservation.

Just ask Molly Schroer, management analyst for Mammoth Cave National Park. She reports that Mammoth Cave offers “a view into a rich human history that spans back over 4,000 years.”

This provides insight into both historical cultures and contemporary communities. It demonstrates how human curiosity has driven humans to explore to incredible depths, fascinated by what exists beneath their feet. Every time you go down there, you end up learning something new.

Learn more about Mammoth Cave here.


There are more caves than these, of course. We recommend you make your way through this list of caves, but you might also consider some of the more casual attractions Kentucky offers.

Consider Crystal Onyx Cave, which features a very laid-back tour for the whole family. It’s conveniently located close to Mammoth Cave National Park.

But perhaps the biggest attraction of the state is the Louisville Mega Caverns, with a plethora of fun activities for the whole family. Featuring the world’s only underground zip line, guided tours, and several incredible displays, it’s a great site for just about anyone. Read more about the Louisville Mega Caverns here.

Some other great sites are found all around Kentucky. Check out these states next:

Illinois Caves

Indiana Caves

Missouri Caves

Ohio Caves

Tennessee Caves

West Virginia Caves

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