Horse Cave Kentucky was built around a three-story-deep sinkhole into what is now known as Hidden River Cave, so-called for the fresh water stream that flows through it.
No one's sure why the cavern was called Horse Cave. Hidden River Cave makes good sense but "horse?" Theories abound of course: Native Americans hid their mounts in it; a horse fell in, once; the cave never clears its throat - that's my pet theory - on and on. The story with the most traction is the least exciting: during the 18th and 19th centuries, "horse" was a popular euphemism for "big" - and big it is!
Hidden River Cave is the largest, privately operated cave in Kentucky and the biggest entry into it is located right off Horse Cave Kentucky's downtown Main Street! At one time, the city got its power from a hydroelectric generator setup on this subterranean river's flow, and they used it as a water source, too - which makes their other, old habit of using the cave as a garbage disposal and sewer rather odd.
All that stopped in the late 80's when a new sewage treatment solution was implemented and the American Cave Conservation Association relocated their national headquarters to Horse Cave with the goal of restoring Hidden River Cave to a more pristine state, which they did. Hidden River Cave is clean enough to tour. And tour you can!
The American Cave Museum offers three different tours of Hidden River Cave:
Public Guided Cave Tour
Public-guided tours last 45 to 60 minutes and are scheduled upon arrival. You'll learn about the history of Hidden River Cave, the story of Horse Cave, and see the cave's wildlife, historic equipment, and stunning natural features. No reservations necessary.
Cave Adventure Tour - 3 hour
An introduction to wild caving! Go deep into the cave and be prepared to get on your hands and knees muddy as you truly explore Hidden River Cave!
Cave Adventure Tour - 5 hour
See more of Hidden River Cave than most ever do on this, the longest tour offered! Both Wild Cave Tours require at least 48-hour advance reservation, sturdy boots, and well-fitting, warm clothing that you do not mind getting wet and muddy. Knee pads are recommended, helmets and headlamps are provided free of charge.
Ziplining and Rappelling
Feel like some REAL adventure? How about ziplining over the mouth of Hidden River Cave, 70-feet above ground at 30 miles per hour? Perhaps you'd also like rappelling 75-feet down the limestone walls of the cave's mouth? Now that's some adventure!
The American Cave Conservation Association also established the American Cave Museum on site. Referred to as “a little bit of Smithsonian in rural Kentucky,” you’ll be treated to state-of–the-art exhibits of cave animals, prehistoric and modern cave explorers, the interesting history of cave country, and the always engrossing history of the "cave wars."
Horse Cave Kentucky is more than just a place holder for Hidden River Cave, the quaint town's shops, restaurants, and galleries will entertain and entrance you as much as the cave it is built on top of - so what are you waiting for?