Adventure Awaits in Hart County!
Hart County is located in south central Kentucky and in 2020 had a population of 19,288. While it is small in population, it's big on outdoor adventure. With a landscape consisting of rolling hills, winding rivers, and underground caves, it's a playground for anyone wanting to enjoy the great outdoors. It was also the destination for our latest Ky Taste Buds adventure.
Leigh and I are of the age that while we don't want to be sitting on the front porch in rocking chairs, watching traffic go by, we aren't exactly adrenaline junkies looking for the thrill of a lifetime. We enjoy getting out and exploring this great state of Kentucky, but we like our excitement kept at manageable levels. Fortunately for us, Hart County provided just enough spice to make you feel alive, but not terrified that you were going to die at any moment.
We started our trip by doing what we like to do most...eating! It was recommended that we stop and have breakfast at Farmwald's Restaurant, an Amish-owned business. I knew there were some Amish communities in Kentucky, but I had no idea that the one in Munfordville is the largest in Kentucky and one of the fastest growing in the nation. There are several Amish-owned businesses and Farmwald's is one of them. The building is large, having the restaurant on one side and a retail store on the other. They sell a variety of locally produced items, such as honey and baked goods, as well as furniture. Everything is neat, tidy and super clean. You can order food at the register and then have a seat; someone will bring it to you when it's ready. Since it was early in the morning, we opted for the Amish breakfast: eggs, bacon (extra crispy), and biscuits and gravy, along with a doughnut or two. Now, I have high standards for my B&G since my mom makes the best in all the land, so when I tell you that their biscuits and gravy were good, they were GOOD! On the way out, we picked out some chocolate chip cookies, brownies, banana nut bread and doughnuts to take with us. The place was hustling and bustling with people, so the word must be out about Farmwald's.
Located just behind Farmwald's is KY Down Under, Kentucky's most unique and interactive animal park. It's the only place I know of, except Australia, where you can get up close and personal with a kangaroo, and it's been on my list of places to visit for a long time. Leigh and I are both huge animal lovers, so we turned into little kids almost giddy over the prospect of seeing all the wildlife at KY Down Under. The first thing that stands out about KY Down Under is the fact that while you can walk through it like a normal zoo, this one has golf carts you can drive throughout the property, which is awesome because the terrain is hilly. Kids, in general, love golf carts, so this feature is something that sets this park apart from the rest. Whether you walk or ride, you will easily find your way as you meander through the property. Our first stop was the bird house. (During cold months, the birds are housed inside.) We visited with the birds of prey and the tropical birds, but my favorites were the two long-tailed lemurs they had in there, too. Their big eyes and inquisitive nature just make them fun to watch.
Moving on from the bird house, we went on around the bend to where the sheep herding demonstrations were taking place, right next to the "Outback". A group of sheep were being skillfully controlled by two border collies. It's truly mesmerizing to watch the handler and the dogs interact. I'm not sure the sheep thought it was that great, but it made for some entertaining viewing. Next up, we were on to the large area known as the Outback where dozens of kangaroos lounged and hopped about. In addition to the kangaroos, they have emus and giant tortoises. The coolest aspect of this area is that you get to go inside the pen with all the animals and feed them! They give you a brief talk about how to properly interact with the kangaroos. It's good to know that you should never pet them on the head as this is how their mothers teach them to fight! Once inside, we couldn't wait to pet our first kangaroo. Wanna know what they feel like? They're super soft, just like a bunny rabbit. They ranged in age and size and some of the females even had joeys in their pouches. Truly extraordinary! I'm not sure who was more excited by all of this, us or the many children who ran around the area urging mom and dad to, "Come quick and look at this one!". It was hard to pull ourselves away from this spectacle. From there, we visited the animal show where handlers gave the audience members the chance to get up close and personal with a parrot, a lizard and a snake! The handlers seemed to really enjoy their job and were very knowledgeable. We rounded out our visit by stopping in their gift shop where all sorts of souvenirs could be purchased. They also had two baby Dingo pups in a large cage with which the guests could interact.
KY Down Under is not only a place to see exotic animals, but there's also have a cave you can explore called Mammoth Onyx Cave. This cave was discovered in 1799 and opened to the public in 1921. Directly across from the cave entrance there is a really neat gem mining setup where kids can channel their inner miner and sift for gemstones in the mining sluice. Educational and enjoyable, my two favorite types of activities! Oh, and be sure to stop and see Calvin, the camel, when you leave for the day. Ky Down Under should be on everyone's must-see list when visiting Hart County; it's an experience like none other!
Following our time at Ky Down Under, we headed into the small town of Horse Cave to visit Hidden River Cave which boasts the world's longest underground suspension bridge. As you drive down Main Street in Horse Cave, you will notice the typical small businesses, antique shops, et cetera, and then juxtaposed in the middle is the entrance to Hidden River Cave. Such a strange thing to find in the middle of a quaint downtown. Parking is easily found in one of the adjacent lots or along Main Street itself. Heading on inside, we were greeted by the friendly staff inside the gift shop and museum. With the price of a cave tour, you also gain entrance into the museum with its nicely done educational exhibits on the history of Horse Cave, the cave itself and other cave features. Once we had our tickets secured, we were sent down to the cave entrance with our tour guide, Chris. Taking us outside to the back of the building, we traveled along a path, slowly descending into the cave's entrance which loomed before us like something out of Jurassic Park. Chris gave us some of the history of the cave and told us what we could expect, the first thing being we would be descending over 200 steps into the mouth of the cave. This meant that we would also have to climb back up those 200 steps when our tour was over. So, if you have limited mobility, you may want to sit this tour out and just visit the museum and beautiful gift shop.
Once we descended into the cave, we crossed over an underground river and made our way along the path as Chris pointed out various objects of interest. The good thing about this cave is that it's not too long of a tour (about an hour and fifteen minutes), so it's perfect for someone who has never been inside of a cave and is unsure how they will feel about being underneath all of that rock while the city of Horse Cave sits atop. One thing Leigh had been dreading about this part of our time in Hart County was the crossing over the world's largest underground suspension bridge because she is afraid of heights and swinging bridges. When we came to this part, she was a little hesitant, but in true Taste Bud fashion, she mustered all of her willpower and was able to cross over. Maybe she had her eyes closed the whole time, and she did move very quickly, but the fact remains she faced her fear head-on and made the crossing. We hated to have to tell her that she would have to do it all over again on the way back.
Continuing on our exploration of the cave, we came to two large cave rooms and ended our tour at Sunset Dome, one of the largest cave rooms in the nation. This area was extremely difficult to get to for over 75 years, but in the past few years the people at Hidden River Cave made the pathway easier to navigate and added more lighting, and it is so worth the work! Standing in the cavernous expanse, looking up at the ceiling as it soars 75 feet above you, and taking in the red, gold and orange hues of the rock, it is truly impressive. You'll want to sit on one of the benches and just take it all in for a while before you head back down the path and make your way out of the cave. For the truly adventurous, they also offer an off-trail cave adventure tour that will take you through tight passageways and get good and dirty, but you can bet Leigh and I were not signing up for that one.
Reemerging back into the daylight, we carefully and slowly climbed back up the stairs and out of the cave entrance so I could try my hand at one of the other activities they offer at Hidden River...rappelling. Having rappelled once before, I was able to quickly put my trust in Chris and one of the other guides there, sweating just slightly as I stepped into the safety harness and donned my helmet. It helped a ton that they told me children as young as eight have rappelled here as well. Leigh, however, was not having it and she offered to stand at the bottom and record my adventure from the ground. The rappelling platform is above the cave entrance, and you rappel 75 feet down into the mouth of Hidden River Cave. With careful instruction from my guides, I soon found myself leaning back into the harness and making like Spider Man down the side of the cave entrance. It was thrilling! For even more fun, they offer zip lining, too. Maybe next time I'll get Leigh to try at least one of these activities.
We couldn't leave Hidden River Cave without a visit to their gift shop. We were fortunate enough to be gifted with a book about terrifying cave adventures (perfect for me), and a beautiful piece of amethyst for Leigh. We can't say enough nice things about the staff at Hidden River. They are truly eager to share their love of this unique cave with everyone who visits and will ensure you have a memorable and safe experience.
While downtown, you should set aside time for exploring its charming businesses or taking its award-winning Horse Cave Stories cell phone tour. Placards placed along the road will give you interesting historical facts that you can access with your cell phone. If you are really into antiques, right across the street from Hidden River Cave is Caveland Antiques. It is chock-full of treasures from around the state. I fell in love with all of the vintage Christmas items, and you could definitely spend an entire afternoon just perusing the thousands of items they have there. There are also cute boutiques, namely GeeGa's Home Decor, The Hanger Boutique and All Things by Mel, that carry an assortment of ladies' fashions, gifts, and home decor. The shop keepers are exceedingly friendly and will make you feel like you are one of their own. For a full list of shopping opportunities, click here.
Hungry from all of this fear-facing and shopping, we eagerly made our way to The Feeder Restaurant, formerly known as Turtlelini's Pizza and Pasta. I had been craving pizza for a while, so I jumped at the opportunity to try theirs. I think Leigh was most excited about the fact that this is the only restaurant in Hart County that serves alcohol. It's hard to believe there are still dry counties in Kentucky. We opted for the pizza and did not have to be persuaded to try their Cast Iron Cookie, a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie served in a giant skillet and topped with ice cream for dessert. Their tag line is "Where hungry herds gather", which is probably why they also have a buffet. It should be on your list of places to eat while visiting the Outdoor Adventure Capital of Kentucky. After all, you have to have fuel for all of your adventures.
Our next stop on our adventure-seeking tour of Hart County had us arriving at the Horse Cave KOA Holiday campground where we would spend the night in a luxury treehouse. That's not an oxymoron, by the way. With its three queen beds, full bathroom with shower, full kitchen with appliances, and living room complete with couch and loveseat, it's the only way I think we would be willing to spend the night elevated 20 feet off the ground. I think our favorite part was the full deck off the back of the house that was furnished with a sectional couch and table that seats six, that overlooked a serene pasture. Down below, there is a firepit surrounded by Adirondack chairs so you can do what everyone loves to do when they go camping, and that's roasting s'mores. We rested up a bit, watched the sunset over that picturesque view and then headed off to dinner at another don't-miss-stop in Hart County, Five Broke Girls Restaurant.
The sign above the door at Five Broke Girls says, "Home Cooking with a Texas Kick". Now, I've never been to Texas, but I do know this about it, the people there know their food. After all, they invented Tex Mex, and their barbeque, from all accounts, is to die for. Seeing that sign and seeing the number of people that were dining there made us instantly at ease with our decision to have dinner at Five Broke Girls. The service was quick and friendly, and they had a full list of specials on the chalkboard. They're known for their burgers and desserts, so I opted for a cheeseburger. It did not disappoint! The serving portions were huge, and it left me with no room for dessert, which I'm ashamed to admit. (Remember that giant Cast Iron Cookie we had earlier?) What we enjoyed most of all was chatting with two of the "Five Broke Girls" and they were eager to tell us how this family run business is a labor of love for these ladies. They have hearts as big as Texas and want to share their love of family and food with all who come through their doors. The business is doing so well, in fact, they are hoping to soon open another location! Be sure to stop in and taste some of their delicious home cooking but remember to save room for dessert.
Returning to the treehouse at the Horse Cave KOA Holiday, we were full as ticks and happy to recount our exciting day in Hart County. We can see why they call it the Outdoor Adventure Capital of Kentucky. Between exploring the subterranean cave world, rappelling down cliffs, petting exotic Australian animals, and spending the night nestled among the treetops, it is an outdoor paradise. Fortunately for two middle-aged women, however, it's not so outdoorsy and adventurous that it would deter us from experiencing the fun. Grab your girlfriends, your family, the kids...whomever, and make plans to visit Hart County where you, too, can have the adventure of a lifetime!