Atlas Obscura - Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations

Hidden River Cave

Horse Cave, Kentucky

Once one of the most polluted caves in America, now an environmental success story and a museum dedicated to caves. 

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Hidden River Cave is wonderful and unique because of the tremendous amount of history associated with it. John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, stopped by for a visit in 1867 and detailed his experience in his 1916 book Thousand Mile Walk To The Gulf. The cave was once a source of drinking water and hydroelectricity for the City of Horse Cave and the remnants of the equipment are still visible during the cave tour. 

Electricity generated from the cave stream powered the home above the cave, which included a dentist’s office and two other buildings in town. Horse Cave was actually the first town in Kentucky to have incandescent lights. The cave operated for commercial tours from 1916-1943, until household waste from businesses and the community above polluted the cave streams.

The cave remained closed until 1992, when the combined efforts of local leaders and the nonprofit American Cave Conservation Association (ACCA) joined forces to clean up and restore the subterranean site. A regional sewage treatment system went online in 1989, which stopped pollution from entering the cave. This allowed nature to take its course and Hidden River Cave is now considered to be an environmental success story. The ACCA also opened the American Cave Museum in the entrance to the cave in 1992.

Today, tour guides explain Hidden River Cave’s history and general information about caves, the animals that inhabit them, and some of the uses of caves. This tour is not only entertaining, it is educational.

Know Before You Go

The museum is actually free to peruse at your own pace. They offer guided cave tours which include the bridge and end in Sunset Dome. They also offer an off-trail cave tour.


Pets are allowed and the location is about halfway between Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky.

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July 21, 2023

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