The kids and I were looking for a local getaway over Christmas break, so we booked a trip to Bowling Green, Kentucky. We’ve never been there before, but it was only an hour away from Nashville and is loaded with family-friendly activities. The best things to do in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with kids include exploring caves, feeding kangaroos, touring a Corvette museum, learning about dinosaurs, and so much more.
I reached out to my friend Beth at Visit Bowling Green, the local visitor’s bureau, and she helped coordinate our visit. Big thanks to their generosity for providing admission to many of the awesome attractions that we visited.
Best things to do in Bowling Green, Kentucky with kids
There are many fun activities in Bowling Green that would be perfect for a weekend getaway with my wife, Anna, such as local wineries, craft breweries, and romantic restaurants. However, that will have to be another trip because she had to stay behind and work while the kids and I had all the fun.
These were our favorite kids’ activities in Bowling Green. The kids had a blast and, as a parent, I was excited that there was an educational component as well.
Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo & Mammoth Onyx Cave
When you visit Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo, you get two attractions for the price of one. Not only can you see numerous Australian animals up close and personal, but the Mammoth Onyx Cave is also on the property. My kids had an amazing time as we hand-fed kangaroos, emus, and wallabies and got to try our hands at milking a cow. According to Scarlett, feeding the kangaroos is one of the best things to do near Bowling Green with kids.
We also had fun in the Lorikeet cage. The birds would fly down and land on your shoulder, head, arms, or anywhere else to say hello. For a couple of dollars, you could get a nectar cup and feed them right from your hand.
As part of our admission, we also got to tour the Mammoth Onyx Cave. This was our first cave experience and it was incredible. From a small entrance near the gift shop, we descended 128 feet into an amazing underground world. If not for the sign at the entrance, you wouldn’t know that this fascinating cave existed. In fact, the cave was discovered by children in 1799 and didn’t open to the public for tours until 1922.
Tickets to Kentucky Down Under are $26 for adults (ages 15+) or $16 for children (ages 4 to 14). Children 3 and under are free. There is a 10% discount for AAA members and $20 tickets for seniors, military, first responders, and college students.
Lost River Cave
The Lost River Cave was a different caving (or “spelunking”) experience than the Mammoth Onyx Cave because you have to ride a boat to visit the hidden cave. The entrance is so low that you literally have to duck so you don’t get bonked in the head. But, once you’re inside, you can see how the water has formed this natural beauty. My kids were amazed that places like this exist in nature.
Cave boat tours are by appointment only. Book ahead to secure the best time that works for you. Tickets are $20 for adults (13 and up) and $17 for youth (ages 4 to 12). Children 3 and under are free.
The mouth of the cave was the location of a dance club in the 1930s. Walking around the dancefloor felt like going back in time.
There is a trail nearby Lost River Cave called the Blue Hole Trail, which takes you to three different “blue holes.” Blue holes resemble small ponds and are where underground rivers come to the surface. We used the All Trails app (Apple, Android) to track our progress on the trail and ensure that we didn’t go too far.
In the summertime, guests can also ride a zipline for a thrilling adventure. You can also mine for gems and visit the butterfly habitat. There’s also a playground for kids to burn off some energy. We had a busy day planned, but I let the kids play for 15 minutes and they were so happy to run around and climb over the obstacles.
Parents may think that Dinosaur World is just a place for kids to have fun among replica dinosaurs. However, I loved that each dinosaur exhibit had a plaque sharing facts about each type of dinosaur. Because of the mix of fun and education, places like Dinosaur World deserve to be called one of the best things to do near Bowling Green with kids. Although Scarlett wanted to run around, Timothy stopped at every plaque to learn about the dinosaurs. I even learned a few new facts!
Dinosaur World has three locations, one each in Florida, Texas, and Kentucky. At Dinosaur World Kentucky, you’ll find hundreds of life-sized dinosaurs in a natural setting. The walking path goes in a circular pattern to allow for social distancing from other guests.
The kids cannot pass up an opportunity to hit a playground. Since we were visiting on a weekday in the winter, the playground was all ours. I let them play for a while and they enjoyed climbing the “dinosaur bones” and going down the slide.
Tickets to Dinosaur World are $12 for adults (ages 13 to 59), $9 for children (ages 3 to 12), and seniors are $10 (ages 60 and up). Children under 3 are free. There is an upcharge for the “Excavation Pass,” which includes access to the Dino Gem Excavation. Pets on a leash are welcome at no extra charge.
Twinkle at the Track
During the holiday season, one of the best things to do in Bowling Green with kids is seeing the Christmas lights at Twinkle at the Track. We love Christmas lights, and we timed our trip perfectly so that we could see the lights. I learned about this annual holiday attraction when researching the best Christmas lights in Tennessee. There are over 2 million lights spread over a 2-mile portion of the race track.
Many of the displays were Corvette or racing-inspired since the National Corvette Museum is just around the corner. For people who love racing and the sleek lines of a Corvette, this is one of the best things to do in Bowling Green with kids.
Twinkle at the Track runs from mid-November to New Year’s Day each year. Tickets are $20 per carload during the week and $25 on the weekends. The Christmas lights start at 5 pm every night and end at 9 pm during the weekend and 10 pm on Friday and Saturday.
When it’s not Christmastime, the NCM Motorsports Park offers high-adrenaline racing experiences. You can rent a Corvette or drive your own car around the 3.2-mile track that features 23-turns and is built for speed.
- The Corvette experience is $799 to get behind the wheel of a C8 Corvette Stingray Z51. It includes classroom instruction, 3 on-track racing sessions, lunch, and a tour of the National Corvette Museum. I know what I’m asking Santa for next year!
- Corvette touring laps are a more economical option. For $299 you’ll drive a Corvette on the track for 4 laps in a lead/follow format. You can bring a passenger with you to share the experience with a friend.
- Drive your own car is the most affordable option. For only $75, you can drive your own car on the 3.2-mile track in a lead/follow formation.
The Historic Railpark & Train Museum takes visitors back in time as you learn the history of travel by rail. The L&N Depot was built in 1925 and served over 20 trains per day when Bowling Green was the hub between two major cities – Louisville and Nashville.
Visitors walk through five railcars sitting on a 450-foot section of actual railroad track. Each railcar is restored to early 20th-century condition. There are six railcars on the tour – E8 Engine, a Railroad Post Office Car, the Duncan Hines Diner (a 1949 Pullman diner), the Towering Pine (a 1953 Pullman Sleeper), the 353 Presidential Office Car (the personal car of the president of the L&N that was built in 1911), and a Chessie Class C-27 caboose.
If you let your imagination go, you can visualize people from this era moving about the railcars and traveling by train.
The two-floor museum offers numerous exhibits to learn about rail travel and the evolution of passenger trains. Entrance to the museum is included with your tour admission.
All entrance fees, donations, and sales at the gift shop help fund the restoration of railcars and keep this non-profit museum running. A historic hospital car from 1945 is in the process of restoration. Donations to help restore this railcar will help a new generation learn about the sacrifices our veterans made during World War II.
Admission to the Historic Railpark is $14 for adults (ages 13 to 59), $8 for children (ages 5 to 12), and $12 for seniors (ages 60 and up). Children 4 and under are free.
Mammoth Cave National Park
The Mammoth Cave lives up to its name in a massive way. It is known as the world’s largest known cave system at more than 412 miles of cave passage. Explorers are still discovering new passages and they often say that “there is no end in sight,” so nobody knows for sure just how big the cave is. The cave received designations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.
Mammoth Cave National Park is about 30 minutes outside of Bowling Green. There are no fees to enter the park, but there are fees to go on one of its many tours. It is a popular destination and, even in the winter, tours sell out. During our visit, we saw signs that open spots for tours weren’t available for the next 7 to 10 days.
During our visit, only the Broadway and Mammoth Passage Tours were available. As summertime approaches, more and more of its 20+ tours begin to operate. We can’t wait to return and take more of the tours in the future. Tour prices range from $8 to $66 for adults and $5 to $28 for children. Access Pass and Senior Pass Holders receive discounts.
Our tour guide was amazing as she explained the history of the Mammoth Cave and pointed out so many interesting things along the way. A couple of stories that stuck out to me were about the slaves that were the original tour guides and how the cave was used to treat Tuberculosis patients in the 1840s. A couple of the original Tuberculosis stone buildings are still standing inside the cave today.
Chaney’s Dairy Farm
We visited Chaney’s Dairy Farm to take a tour and learn about cows. After spending so much time at Mammoth Cave National Park, we arrived just as it was getting dark. So, we did the responsible thing… ordered some ice cream. HAHA
Then played on the huge playground behind the Chaney’s Dairy Farm building.
After staying until dark, we visited the Dairy Farm the next building over. We didn’t get close to the cows, but we did watch a video of how the automated milking process works. Then, we went upstairs to watch the milking process in action. The cows walk roam around a big covered area, enjoy all the food they want, then walk into a little stall whenever they are ready to be milked.
A robotic milking machine uses brushes to clean off the udder, then has a laser-guided system to attach the pumps to each teat. It was remarkable to watch it in action. Each cow’s milk production is individually monitored. If their milk production drops or other behaviors happen, the staff can address it right away. I thought that was a pretty amazing use of technology.
National Corvette Museum
On our last day in Bowling Green, we visited the National Corvette Museum. For families that love fast cars, this museum is one of the best things to do in Bowling Green with kids. You’ll enjoy interactive exhibits, displays featuring Corvettes in historical surroundings, and Corvettes from throughout its history.
There were a number of historic race cars that highlighted the Corvette’s racing heritage.
What I found most interesting was the exhibit explaining the sinkhole that happened in February 2014 at the National Corvette Museum. Due to so many underground caves in the Kentucky area, sinkholes are a major concern throughout the state.
In this disastrous event, eight Corvettes were damaged in the middle of the night. All were removed from the sinkhole before it was filled in, but only three have been repaired. The other five remain on display in the condition they were pulled out of the sinkhole as a reminder of that fateful night. As you explore the museum, you can see the painted outline of the sinkhole on the floor to help you understand just how large it was.
Best hotels in Bowling Green, Kentucky
When you visit Bowling Green, Kentucky, you have plenty of choices of where to stay. You can pick a hotel from any of the major national brands, choose a local boutique option, or select an Airbnb. We decided to stay at the Hyatt Place Bowling Green because of its location and so I could earn Hyatt Globalist status from our stay.
Hyatt Place Bowling Green
I originally found the Hyatt Place Bowling Green when looking for hotels to qualify for Hyatt Globalist status. It is ideally situated close to Western Kentucky University and in the heart of the city. Everywhere we wanted to go, Hyatt Place served as the perfect jumping-off point.
Due to COVID and the winter season when we visited, many of the normal features were not available. Hyatt Place hotels usually offer a complimentary, self-service breakfast. In the age of COVID, however, guests were offered a scaled-down, pre-packaged breakfast option. Normally, we’re all about the free breakfast, but we chose to dine at in-town restaurants during our stay to sample the local flavors.
The hotel also features an outdoor pool and fire pit. The pool was closed for winter and had a cover placed over the water. I can imagine the fire pit would be popular during the spring, summer, and fall. There’s also an indoor gym that has plenty of space to spread out and get sweaty.
Our room was a typical Hyatt Place room, with a king bed, L-shaped pull-out couch, and a desk to get some work done. The shower was spacious and was glass-enclosed, which is a nice departure from plastic shower curtains found at comparable hotels.
Rooms can be booked for around $90 to $100 a night. I booked our stay for only $66 a night, although my rate was lower since I booked 15 nights to qualify for Globalist. As a Category 1 hotel, rooms are available for only 5,000 points per night or 2,500 points + $52 per night. To me, the points + cash rate is not a good redemption value.
Other miles and points hotels
- Tru by Hilton Bowling Green. – Rooms starting at 17,000 points or $69.
- Staybridge Suites Bowling Green. – Rooms starting at $82, 12,500 points, or 7,500 points + $33.
- TownePlace Suites Bowling Green. – Rooms starting at $84, 10,000 points, or 4,000 points + $65.
- Best Western Plus Bowling Green. – Rooms starting at $65 or 12,000 points.
- Wingate by Wyndham Bowling Green. – Rooms starting at $55, 15,000 points, or 3,000 points + $48.
Local boutique hotels & Airbnb properties
When you’re looking for the best things to do in Bowling Green with kids, make sure you try out a local hotel. If you’re tired of the standard hotels that you can find anywhere and want some local flavor, check out these boutique properties that you can only find in Bowling Green.
- Kentucky Grand Hotel & Spa. – Located in the heart of Bowling Green. This boutique hotel features beautiful suites ranging from 900 to 1,200 square feet, including the two largest Penthouses in the state of Kentucky. During normal times, The Derby piano bar and The Bluegrass restaurant entertain guests and visitors.
- The Lodge at Mammoth Cave. – The lodge is set in the shade of big oak woods at the entrance to Mammoth Cave. These historic bungalows feature a rustic experience with a touch of modern amenities. A day-boarding kennel is also available for people traveling with cats or dogs.
- Grand Victorian Inn. – Offers lodging near Mammoth Caves National Park. It features 11 Victorian-style guest rooms, complimentary breakfast, and the Mammoth Railway Cafe. The inn is also the head to the Bike & Hike Trail to Mammoth Cave National Park.
And, of course, there are numerous Airbnb properties available in the city, near Mammoth Cave National Park, and in the nearby countryside. Use my referral link to save up to $65 on your first trip with Airbnb.
The Bald Thoughts
Now that we live in Nashville, we’re starting to explore many of the fun cities in the Southeast. We hadn’t heard much about the city, but once I started doing some research, I came up with so many best things to do in Bowling Green with kids. It was a great mix of fun and education for both the kids and me. Because of COVID and the winter weather, we weren’t able to experience everything, so we look forward to visiting during the summertime.