Glasgow, Kentucky. How to reach this hidden oasis? I recommend this route for your driving pleasure, riding down Highway 31 East in Central Kentucky. So get off Interstate Highway 65 at Elizabethtown and take the Lincoln Parkway [Highway 61] down to Hodgenville. Then turn south, at that famous city square with the statue of Lincoln, onto Highway 31 East, itself.
This may actually be difficult for you to do. To pass through Hodgenville and not stop at the Lincoln Museum there. And it is even more difficult not turning into the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site. But it must be done to see the wonders beyond! [And you can visit both of these places on your return!]
You are now headed to Magnolia on Kentucky’s great Mississippian Plateau [also called the Pennyrile]. On ancient, flat, blocky limestone bedrock, 350 million years old! This route was once called the “Jackson Highway,” and came out of Tennessee and through Glasgow. It was an automobile route between Chicago and New Orleans, developed in the early 1900s.
What are those hills and ridges to the right? They are part of the Dripping Springs Escarpment creeping outward, and you are driving around them! But there is more, so get ready. You are dipping into the famous Green River Valley of Kentucky. And there is a great canoe put in off Glen Lily Road to the right [at Rio Park, with steps into the water]. Mark it on the map to come back and float. Check out the famous mussel fauna. But now, rise up on the road into the Cave Country beyond. Canmer and Hardyville. Bunnell Crossing, Uno, and Bear Wallow.
Wait for it. You are about to enter the beautiful and fertile lands of Kentucky’s “Barrens” region. Some of the prettiest land in Kentucky. Open prairies “discovered” by the European colonists for which they named their county. But it is probable that the Barrens were maintained by Native Americans using fire to support prairie grass growth that attracted buffalo and other wild game animal species. Soothing, bucolic. Undeveloped, tremendously productive farmland. No wonder the pioneers came to this country!
Griderville, Goodnight. Small crossroad communities you drive through, having just enough time to wave to the friendly people in passing.
What is that knob off to the right? Prewitts Knob, an outlier of the Dripping Springs Escarpment. And contained within it is one of the nicest caves in Kentucky. Crystal Onyx Cave. The name says it all. A certain stop on your return trip, and you can reach it on Happy Valley Road running right out of Glasgow. Now that’s a great name for a road on this great route!
Glasgow, Kentucky. You are greeted by a lively, inviting mural welcoming you to a city of youthful thinking. The town lies southeast of Interstate 65, and is thus protected from those who drive through our Commonwealth and care not for its resources. But if you go to Glasgow, and you should want to be there, your interests will be rewarded in every direction they lead you!
Let’s start with the spring that drew Native Americans here. And in a land where everything runs underground, Glasgow’s spring announces its existence. It is found off the Main Square, just down there on Water Street. It has been corralled for efficient crossing by automobile traffic, but it still demonstrates an obvious and powerful presence. And what is it with those two stone-lined tunnels on the road running beside the spring?
I must here mention the “Museum of the Barrens.” It is housed in the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center in Glasgow. It is one of the most informative little museums you will ever see. Stop at it now. Engage its exhibits. Then you will see why I consider this area worthy of your traveling visit. But only now are you beginning to see it!
On the way out of the city, go to the old cemetery. There, find an earthen fort once held by both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War. Confederate Generals John Hunt Morgan and Braxton Bragg invaded Kentucky right through this city. And that old cemetery fort [Fort Williams] was built by Union forces to resist their attacks. Much of the city’s Civil War history is told in monuments and markers surrounding the courthouse. And there is much more history to be found in downtown Glasgow!
Now further south, to one of Kentucky’s favorite state parks. The Barren River Lake State Resort Park. It has a lodge, restaurant, pub, campground, and a great sandy beach. You can boat, bird, fish, golf, hike, or join your children at the playground.
And during your stay at the lake, take some day trips out of the park. Close by, and open for lunch, is the Paradise Point Marketplace. And I mean Paradise! Best hot dogs in the land, and enough character to rival San Francisco in its heyday! An “Ultra Hip Oasis” overlooking the Barren River. Definitely groovy and worthy of your visit!
Now enter the hidden wilds and eastern slopes of Peter and Skaggs Creeks. They drain the more rugged Fort Payne Limestone landscape from the east into the Barren River Reservoir.
There, along Peter Creek, buried back along its side streams, you will find Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese. Worth searching for, and resulting in a tasty seating! They have a store at their dairy, and you can buy delicious cheese samples cured in their cave system [I do so every time I’m in Southern Kentucky!]. Truly special Kentucky eatin’s!
Keep going, deeply into Skaggs Creek’s upper reaches. Head toward Temple Hill, its caves and scout campgrounds. Then on toward Nobob. Did you know that there is a wild, deep gorge there? Not far from the Post Office at Eighty-Eight [8.8 miles from Glasgow? 88 cents postage?].
Keep driving and you will find the Sulphur Well community. Now that is a historical and cultural destination with a wonderful park for sitting and picnicking. Go visit and see what I am meaning! [But the water there is quite a bit salty and a little smelly!]
Alright, time to return home along the Dripping Springs Escarpment, with its famous row of mammoth caves and the paralleling, fast-moving freeway.
First let’s stop in Park City, once the railroad entrance to Mammoth Cave for the rich and famous. Find the ruins of stunning Bell’s Tavern [never completed], and the Grand Victorian Inn [originally the historic Mentz Hotel]. The Grand Victorian Inn is a great place to stay while exploring this area [and read some of my books while relaxing!]. Try lunch at Miss Betty’s Diner. Now you’re home!
Two miles away is Diamond Caverns, opened up just before the Civil War, and a terrific introduction to Cave Country. And if you are lucky, you can visit the private, nonprofit National Cave Museum and Library. It is a center of caving history and memorabilia!
Now jump on the Highway 31 West [yup, there is another one west of east!] and motor on up to Cave City. This would be a good time to visit Crystal Onyx Cave, but it is Cave City that I am interested in at the moment.
Cave City was once one of the premier automobile tourist destinations in the country. Gateway to Mammoth Cave, they still say. But that freeway now speeds people by.
Bathrooms and some candy are only what interest those in a hurry. Too bad. They miss the magic of what this place was and still is!
Check out the Wildlife Museum [old style dioramas, built in the 1960s], Dinosaur World [were they in Kentucky too? Absolutely!]. Stay at the concrete Wigwam Village [for that story, check out my book, “Surrounding Mammoth Cave.”], lunch in the small park [fully kept up!] near the railroad tracks. And read about the Wax Museum and Guntown Mountain [that is where the chairlift once rose] that left before you got there.
And now, when you are finally ready to head back home, don’t get back on that speeding freeway. Stay on Highway 31 West instead. Horse Cave and Munfordville are next in line, and they are both full of additional attractions for you!
Robert F BurtonAugust 24, 2021 at 10:28 pm
I lived in Glasgow for a number of years and have driven that route many times when returning to visit Glasgow. One of the most scenic routes in Kentucky.