The Craziest Exit Highway in the Country
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this pit stop is a must-see — even if it’s a bad-dad-joke incarnate.
By Nick Fouriezos
It had been a long day and, driving down Interstate 65 from Louisville, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee, it was time to find a place of refuge. As dusk set in, Exit 53 hardly looked like one of the nuttiest highway stops in the country: The exit ramp signs read every bit like those of a county called Barren, which had only just legalized alcohol sales in certain townships in 2005. Yet suddenly an image appeared from the foggy roads — well, actually, 15 of them. The Wigwam Village No. 2 of Cave City, Kentucky.
Thus begins the bizarro trip for travelers who stumble upon this wonderful world of kitsch in the folksy auspices of the American South. Sleeping in a concrete tepee for a night — don’t worry, there’s heating and air conditioning — is just one of the terrifically terrible vices to lessen the boredom of your next long road trip. Ostensibly the main attraction of this tourist-heavy region are its eight Appalachian caverns that make up the world’s longest known cave system, spanning more than 400 miles (it’s telling that the city’s only “notable person” listed on Wikipedia is Floyd Collins, an explorer who died in 1925 after being trapped in a cave). In addition to caving, there’s zip-lining, horseback riding, flea-market shopping and dinosaurs — nope, that’s not a typo.
For only $7 (less for kids), a grown-up can visit Mammoth Cave, both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.…
Much has been reported of the dad bod, dad jeans and bad dad jokes — and this may be the ultimate dad-cation: thrifty, corny and kid-friendly. For only $7 (less for kids), a grown-up can visit Mammoth Cave, both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve (which has the distinction of being “the second-oldest tourist attraction in the United States,” one of those random facts that roadside attractions seem to pick up like fleas). Speaking of fleas, the 50,000 square feet of antique and flea-market shopping is another pleaser for Pops. Kentucky Action Park offers a chairlift, mini-golf, bumper cars and an alpine slide, each of which costs $5 or less per person. Then there’s the Kentucky Down Under zoo, which is home to lorikeets, emus and kangaroos ($26 per adult, $15 per child).
Which just shows that while each attraction in Cave City is affordable on its own, do them all and your wallet might be smarting. Though the caves are open year-round, the other activities are best reserved for summertime, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, says Mary Lou Carey, owner of Kentucky Action Park — that’s when college kids are available to work the attractions.
Now, about those not-so-subtly hinted at dinos: Spend the afternoon at Dinosaur World and feel an awe similar to what the scientists in Jurassic Park must have felt. There are hundreds of life-size — really! — dinosaurs to walk among, a themed playground and, perfect for those traveling with Fido and a leash, dog-friendly walkways. Pair that with the cave tours “and you’re walking back millions of years in time,” says Sharon Tabor, Cave City’s tourism director. As for you embarrassing dads, this is the perfect time to toss out the following topical knee-slapper: “Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl use the bathroom? Because the ‘p’ is silent.”