Hidden River Cave

Useful Information

Location: Horse Cave, I-65, exit 58, 3.2 km. (37°10'34" N, 85°54'22" W) (37.176230, -85.906143)
Open: All year daily 9-17, Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends 9-19.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave Speleologyriver cave.
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: Leave from the Museum every 60 minutes.
Address: The American Cave Conservation Association, P.O. Box 409, Horse Cave, KY 42749, Tel. +1-502-786-1466
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1927 opened as a show cave.
1943 closed as a tourist attraction due to industrial and domestic waste making it the most polluted cave in North America.
1993 reopened as a show cave after a new waste water treatment facility was erected.


Horse Cave is a small town well known for the large natural cave opening located on the South side of Main Street. This is the entrance to Hidden River Cave, named after the large, fast-flowing cave river. Obviously the name of the town is derived from the cave too, but there are several stories about that. One story tells that American Indians often hid their horses in the cave. Then there is the story of an early carriage, which lost its horse in an accident, as it fell into the cave opening. The most likely tale is, that the word horse was simply a 19th Century adjective implying huge, describing the huge entrance portal.

The cave was an important reason to found the village right here. At the time of the Civil War the L&N Railroad had a stop at this location to gather water. This led to the development of commerce. The town was named Caverna at this time, the local high school district is still known as Caverna.

The cave was used by the villagers for many purposes. Most important, the town's drinking water was taken from the cave. The cave river provided the energy to drive a dynamo. For a while during the late 19th century, Horse Cave was the only town in Kentucky outside of Louisville, which had electric lights. During the first decades the cool air was used to air condition several buildings alongside Main Street. In the entrance the world's only air-conditioned tennis courts were located during the 1920s.

A hundred years ago the people knew nothing about the underground water flow in this karst area. Sewage seeped into the cave and polluted the drinking water. The cave became severely polluted and was closed for tours for over 50 years. Efforts made to prevent ground water pollution in the region have largely restored the cave to a acceptable condition.

Hidden River Cave Ecology Tour

The visitors explore upsteam passages along unimproved trails. The tour explores the factors that lead to the contamination of the cave and its remarkable recovery. It stresses the importance of cave safety and focuses on protection of cave resources and groundwater. Features of the tour:

This tour is strenuous, minimum age 12, cave helmets provided.