The history of Lost River Cave is interesting and diverse as it served as a place for Paleo-Indian groups to find shelter, water, and food; as a grist mill; as a camping area for both confederate and union troops during the civil war; as a bank robber hideout; and as a night club and dance hall. The purchase of the small amount of land by Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund was to protect the area from future urban development on this busy, major highway in Bowling Green and to protect the important karst topography, this system drains 85 square miles, that is a component of the bio-reserve for Mammoth Cave and the Green River. Ripley’s Believe it or Not states that Lost River is the shortest and deepest underground river known and is supposedly 437 feet deep. The 68 acre valley protects four blue holes, which are underground sinkholes or caves with water and are often called vertical caves, and a valley (sinkhole) which was formed by the collapse of the cave entrance. The wooded ravine is very mesic and dominated by large trees that are at least 75 years of age including chinkapin, white, black, southern red, and swamp chestnut oak, tuliptree, black cherry, sycamore, hackberry, black walnut, eastern red cedar and osage orange. This habitat provides ample habitat for more than 130 species of birds that have been documented in this urban nature sanctuary. The cave system supports a variety of cave organisms including bats during the winter, blind crayfish, and cave crickets. Humans have long used Lost River cave and it was inhabited by Native Americans as early as 7,500 B.C. for a place of shelter, food, and water. In the late 1700’s a mill was constructed and used for grinding grain, wood carding and sawing of lumber and it remained operational until it was destroyed by fire or flood shortly before civil war. In 1874 John Row built a new grist mill and distillery above the cave until fire destroyed it in 1915. During the civil war, Lost River Cave was used as a campsite for both Confederate and Union forces and in 1869 the famed Jesse James gang hid out in the cave after robbing the Russellville’s Southern Deposit Bank. In 1933 the first night club opened at the cave entrance and remained operational until the early 1960’s. The cave then fell into disrepair for more than 3 decades and in 1990 the Friends of Lost River Cave removed more than 80 tons of debris and began the task or restoring this important landmark that is listed on National Register of Historic Places. A master plan has been developed to restore and manage the site as a nature sanctuary by removing invasive species and restoring native barrens vegetation, developing interpretative trails that radiate from a new visitors center with various interpretative themes including a theater production, living in karst country, a discovery cave walk, the civil war oasis, tourists and the night and dance club, a mill hub and old Kentucky homestead hub.
Open year round from 9 am to 4 pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas eve and day, and New Year’s eve and day. A fee is charged for the boat and walking tours. Located in southern Bowling Green at the intersection of Nashville Road and Cave Mill road.