Overnight Trippin': Mammoth Cave

Anietra Hamper
National Corvette Museum

For most families, summer break means either a staycation or an all-out trip that entails more logistical planning and money. If you're looking for something in between, a short overnight getaway to Mammoth Cave and Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an ideal compromise.

A road trip to the south central part of the Bluegrass State can include some outdoor adventure at Mammoth Cave National Park, underground exploration of the Lost River Cave and fun on wheels at the National Corvette Museum. Most places have seasonal hours that transition in spring, so be sure to verify operating hours before departing. Both cities are in the Central time zone, so you'll gain an hour when you arrive.

The journey starts with a four-and-a-half- to five-hour drive from Columbus to Mammoth Cave National Park. Spend the night in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and explore the city the next day before heading home.

This sample itinerary can be adapted to suit individual interests and budgets.

Day 1

Mammoth Cave National Park

1 Mammoth Cave Parkway, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky; 270-758-2180;nps.gov/maca

Hours : 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until May 26, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily May 27 to Aug. 19

Cost: Admission is free, but cave tours are $6.50 to $55.

Mammoth Cave National Park is the world's longest cave system, with 400 miles of passages. The national park, established in 1941, was named a World Heritage site in 1981. Plan to spend three to four hours exploring.

Public information officer Vickie Carson recommends families spend the afternoon on a cave tour, stop for a snack at the Mammoth Cave Hotel and round out their visit by walking one of the park trails. She also suggests viewing the exhibits in the visitor center and taking the kids to the on-site post office, where they can mail a hand-stamped Mammoth Cave postcard.

Tours and Trails

Cave tours range from 75 minutes to six hours, with varying degrees of difficulty. Excursions are offered throughout the day on topics such as “Domes and Dripstones” and “Wild Cave” that explore the fascinating of world of stalactites and stalagmites. “Frozen Niagara,” the shortest tour, is ideal for toddlers and preschoolers because of its easy accessibility and quarter-mile length. No strollers or backpack carriers are allowed in the caves. Reservations are recommended because tours often sell out. Find descriptions atnps.gov/maca/planyourvisit/spring-schedule.htm.

After a tour, walk or hike some of the 84 miles of trails in the park. In warmer months, visitors can paddle down the Green River and Nolin River. Several liveries rent canoes and kayaks for in-park use.

Lodging and Dining

Stay overnight in Bowling Green, which is a 30-minute drive from Mammoth Cave. There are plenty of hotels and more than 300 restaurants. Local favorites include Double Dogs and Boyce General Store, which have kid-friendly options such as hot dogs, chicken tenders and grilled cheese.

Day 2

Bowling Green

This suggested schedule hits several of the city's most popular stops. Other family-friendly ideas include Beech Bend, an amusement and water park; the Bowling Green Hot Rods minor-league baseball team (an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays); and Chaney's Dairy Barn, which was singled out inUSA Today for the state's best ice cream.

For more information and resources about Bowling Green, go tovisitbgky.com.

Breakfast at Wild Eggs restaurant

804 Campbell Lane, Bowling Green; 270-599-1649;wildeggs.com

Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

Expect to find the standard breakfast favorites as well as sandwiches, soups and salads at this regional chain. There is a children's menu.

National Corvette Museum

350 Corvette Drive, Bowling Green; 800-538-3883;corvettemuseum.org

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Cost: Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-16, free for ages 5 and younger

Celebrate the past, present and future of America's favorite sports car at the National Corvette Museum. More than 80 Corvette models and concept cars are on display, with interactive and nostalgic exhibits including a Kids' Zone. Expect to spend about 90 minutes here, more if your party includes a Vette aficionado.

Bowling Green is the only place in the world where the car is made, and an inside look at the GM Corvette Assembly Plant is available for ages 10 and older. As of mid-April, tours were being scheduled weekdays through June 16. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for ages 10-16. Advance reservations are required.

The nearby NCM Motorsports Park hosts events and offers the chance to ride in a Vette or take your own for a lap around the track.

Historic Railpark & Train Museum

401 Kentucky St., Bowling Green; 270-745-7317;historicrailpark.com

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays, closed Mondays; Starting in May, it will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, with Sundays TBD.

Cost: Admission, which includes the museum and a train tour, is $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 5-12, free for ages 4 and younger.

Take a step back into the golden age of railroading at the Historic Railpark & Train Museum. The restored 1920s L&N Depot has been transformed into a two-story museum dedicated to the history of the local railroad. Visitors can tour an E-8 locomotive, post office car, Duncan Hines dining car, Pullman sleeper car, presidential car and caboose. There is limited stroller accessibility on the railcar tour, but the museum is fully accessible. Expect to spend 60 to 90 minutes.

Lunch at Lost River Pizza

2440 Nashville Road,Bowling Green; 270-746-0255;lostriver.pizza

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, but be aware that closing times vary depending on crowds

This independent eatery offers several styles of pizza as well as sandwiches, appetizers, salads and a children's menu.

Lost River Cave

2818 Nashville Road, Bowling Green 42101; 270-393-0077;lostrivercave.org

Hours: The visitor center is open 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily during spring and summer. Boat tours depart hourly from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Cave tours are $16.95 for adults, $11.95 for children ages 4-11, $4.95 for ages 3 and younger; the outdoor classroom and hiking trails are free.

Take a ride on Kentucky's only underground boat tour in the heart of cave country at Lost River Cave. The Lost River Valley is a 70-acre nature preserve in the middle of Bowling Green that features the Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom, hiking and walking trails and mining for gemstones. A zip line is scheduled to open sometime this year. Strollers are permitted during the walking portion of the tour, but not on the boat. Expect to spend 90 minutes to two hours.