The seat of Barren County, Glasgow is on the edge of South Central Kentucky’s cave country, and the closest town of scale to Mammoth Cave National Park.
Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world and has enchanted tourists since the earliest days of Euro-American settlement in Kentucky.
And while Mammoth Cave should be a priority, the sedimentary bedrock northwest of Glasgow is punctured with thousands of other caves and sinkholes, many of which are also open to the public.
Cave country is packed with visitor attractions and operators, offering outdoor adventures like horseback riding, canoeing and zip lining.
If you’re wondering about the name, Glasgow is in a region settled by Scottish soldiers who were given land grants after the Revolutionary War. This heritage is celebrated on Memorial Day weekend with the Glasgow Highland Games.
1. Mammoth Cave National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mammoth Cave National Park is made up of rivers and lush hills above a big portion of that immense cave network.
To date, more than 420 miles of Mammoth Cave have been charted, which is more than twice the next longest in the list. It’s no mystery why this is one of Kentucky’s biggest attractions, and a cave tour is essential to any visit.
These depart from the Visitor Center, and the only tough part is choosing from a wide choice of experiences, including short and long walking tours, a fully wheelchair accessible tour, lantern tours and, for those with a taste for rugged adventure, special crawling tours.
Above ground there’s much to do, be it hiking, bicycling or horseback riding on 80+ miles of trails, paddling the Green and Nolin Rivers, stargazing or camping.
2. Diamond Caverns
If Mammoth Cave has whetted your appetite for underground exploration then there’s a big choice of other cave attractions close by.
One not to be missed is Diamond Caverns, which was discovered in 1859 by an enslaved man close to the road leading to Mammoth Cave.
The cave got its name when the first explorer compared the gleaming calcite formations here to precious stones.
Diamond Caverns has been on the itinerary ever since, with thousands of majestic and colorful stalagmites, stalactites and flowstone deposits adoring the lofty chambers.
Your guide will answer any geological questions you might have, and will point out the alien-like cave crickets inhabiting this strange world.
3. Crystal Onyx Cave
Continue the subterranean theme at yet another awe-inspiring showcave, a bit closer to Glasgow on the south side of Cave City.
Crystal Onyx is on picturesque, family-owned land encompassing Prewitt’s Knob, and a visit begins with a walk to one of many sinkholes and caves perforating this terrain.
A descent down steel and concrete stairway marks the beginning of an hour-long underground tour, taking you as close as possible to an astounding variety of illuminated speleothems, with lots of opportunities for photos and breaks.
Your tour guide will be amusing and full of interesting facts and anecdotes.
4. Barren River Lake State Park
On Glasgow’s southwest side is a reservoir more than 10,000 acres in size and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1964.
In every nook of Barren River Lake’s indented shoreline are campgrounds, recreation areas, marinas and boat launches. Above all, this is a boating and fishing hotspot, with big stocks of bass, catfish, bluegill and crappie.
Most convenient to Glasgow is Barren River Lake State Park, which has a marina with 100 slips, a highly-rated 18-hole golf course, picnic areas, playgrounds, hike and bike trails and a host of lodging and camping options.
5. Dinosaur World
The home of cave systems dating back millions of years is an appropriate location for a park inhabited by hundreds of life-sized models of dinosaurs.
Cave City’s Dinosaur World is a treat for kids, as you come face to face with velociraptors, colossal sauropods, a family of triceratops and other prehistoric megafauna, all in a natural wooded setting.
These models conform to recent research and measure up to 80 feet in length. All of the exhibits are labeled with interesting facts, and many are also interactive to spark children’s imaginations.
You’re encouraged to bring your own food and family dogs are welcome, added to which there’s a dinosaur-themed playground with slides and swings.
6. Brigadoon State Nature Preserve
Close to Barren River Lake is a marvelous expanse of old growth forest that has never been commercially logged, and has a history that can be traced back to the 1700s.
The preserve was dedicated by the Nature Preservancy in 1985, and has grown since then from 92 acres to 184 acres.
The main habitats are mature maple, beech and tulip poplar forest, producing a sublime display of wildflowers in spring, with several endangered and rarely observed species.
A diversity of migratory and resident bird species has also been recorded here. The preserve has a well-marked trail, about a mile long, with some interesting elevation changes and a picturesque stream crossing.
7. Ralphie’s Fun Center
A convenient destination for a family outing, Ralphie’s Fun Center has a choice of attractions and activities in one place. First up there’s an 18-lane bowling alley, offering cosmic bowling on weekend evenings.
Added to that there’s a nine-hole blacklight mini golf course, a laser tag arena, roller skating rink, virtual reality games, a bounce house and numerous arcade and redemption games.
It’s fair to say that there’s something for all ages at Ralphie’s Fun Center, and a wristband will give you unlimited access to a variety of attractions for a low price.
8. Plaza Theatre
Another local entertainment spot is this lovely old movie palace on Main Street downtown. In the Spanish Revival style, this was an Atmospheric theatre, with an auditorium designed to evoke a Moorish patio under the night sky.
The Plaza Theatre opened with Harold Lloyd’s “The Cat’s Paw” in 1934, and closed down in the 1990s, only to be purchased by the city in 2001 renovated.
These days this is a performing arts venue with a busy schedule, staging local, regional and national music artists and comedians, as well as shows by Glasgow’s Far Off Broadway Players professional theatre.
9. South Central Kentucky Cultural Center
In Glasgow you can browse a local history museum for five different counties in South Central Kentucky.
The venue is pretty special, at the old Kentucky Pants factory, built in the 1920s and loaded with three floors of exhibits over 30,000 square feet.
The museum charts the entirety of human history in the region, going back 14,000 years but with a special focus on the 19th and 20th centuries.
On the first floor you can peruse historic appliances and agricultural tools, as well as a smokehouse, log cabin, quilts, old-time lye soap and a lot more.
The second floor casts an eye over military history, with artifacts dating from the Civil War through the Gulf War.
You can also get a feel for a local townscape in the early 20th century, complete with a bank, post office, one-room school, dry goods store, undertaker and doctor’s office.
10. Bell’s Tavern
Something to check out in Park City on your way to Mammoth Cave is this spectral ruin of an unfinished tavern, labeled with an historical marker.
The original Bell’s Tavern was built in the late 1820s by men enslaved by William Bell, a Virginian who purchased 3,500 acres here in the early 19th century.
Bell was the brother-in-law of Fleming Gatewood, who owned Mammoth Cave at the time, and the tavern was a rest stop for visitors.
Among the important guests were Henry Clay and prominent Kentucky families like the Humphreys and the Marshalls. The tavern burned in 1858, and work began to reconstruct the building in stone but was halted by the Civil War and never resumed.
11. Green River Canoeing
The Green and Nolin Rivers bend through Mammoth Cave National Park, and navigating these watercourses is like going back to the frontier days when this land was still uncharted.
Both rivers are gentle and easy for paddlers of all abilities, while the views, with miles of dramatic bluffs, lush vegetation and rich wildlife, will live long in the memory.
Based in Cave City, Green River Canoeing has a menu of canoe and kayak trips, from 8 miles to 12 miles.
Paddles and lifejackets are included in the rental fee, and if you see something you want to explore you can always make a stop during your adventure.
12. Fort Williams
On the west side of Glasgow Cemetery you can visit the site of a short-lived Civil War fort. Fort Williams was built by the Union Army in 1863 to maintain control of Southern Kentucky at a time of raids by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan (1825-1864).
On October 6, 1863, Fort Williams was raided by Col. Hughes of the 25th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, and numerous men (142), horses (200) and supplies were captured and taken to Tennessee.
The fort’s earthworks are still clearly visible, and there’s an historical marker for a little context.
13. Fox Hollow Golf Course
Posted in the hilly country on Glasgow’s southern outskirts is an 18-hole public course for a round of golf at an affordable price.
Fox Hollow is a short course, and the challenges come from the elevation changes, small greens and profusion of hazards including streams, ponds and natural wooded areas.
The second and fifth holes are especially difficult and have been known to punish seasoned golfers.
Some aspects of the course have recently been upgraded, including new concrete paths for the electric carts, while you’ve also got a practice green and driving range.
14. Kentucky Action Park
Part of that collection of visitor attractions on the edge of Mammoth Cave National Park is this outdoor family activity center, with a choice of experiences.
One of these is the classic Kentucky pastime, horseback riding, and you can ride a rambling wooded trail for an hour.
Kentucky Action Park also has an impressive flowstone cave of its own, romantically dubbed The Outlaw Cave, for its historical associations with fugitives.
For a rugged adventure you can explore rarely seen passages on the Beyond Outlaw Wild Cave Tour. Other outdoor activities include a zip line and a Western-themed mini golf course, the largest in the Cave Area.
15. Glasgow Highland Games
Glasgow’s Scottish heritage comes to the fore at this annual festival, normally held at Barren River Lake State Park on Memorial Day weekend.
The Glasgow Highland Games goes back to 1986, and attracts as many as 20,000 people to the city.
The festival centers on traditional highland games events, like caber toss, weight throw, hammer throw and tug of war.
There’s tons more happening across these three days, including marching bagpipe bands, highland dancing contests, craft vendors, livestock displays, sheepdog demonstrations and all kinds of fun contests like a ladies’ haggis toss.