Louisville Mega Caverns offer several types of tours with great family fun appeal and informational value for varying levels of physical ability - including the only underground zip line in the world.
Louisville Mega Caverns has a variety of ways to spend quality time with your family or get a good dose of education and fun. The man-made caverns lie under the Louisville zoo and all ten lanes of the Watterson Expressway (I-264); they have blossomed as an integral part of family entertainment in Louisville. The caverns are classified as a building and labeled as the largest building in Kentucky with its own building code despite being underground. It is also considered the largest "green" building due to its methods for heating, cooling and recycling. Year-round entertainment includes tram tours, zip-line tours, drive-thru Christmas light shows and more. They also have Segway tours on the way.
One might wonder if the caverns are full of critters, but it seems that bats do not like the lighting used in the caverns, making them a rare appearance. A red tail hawk took care of the pigeons that were there, and raccoons have never been spotted despite the appearance of their tracks. A regular visitor is the storm dog - a stray dog that comes into the cave to hide before a storm. Despite the lack of critters in the caverns, there are plenty of geese and squirrels living outside and acting as parking attendants. The geese were paired up and sitting in some of the free parking spots as if to say "taken" when we arrived.
The Tram Tours
The tram tours offer an informative and historical trip through the caverns for people interested in remaining seated through the tour. It covers a lot of (under) ground while guests learn about the types of businesses that rent space in the caverns for storage and some of the history behind the creation of the caverns.
The tram loading area at the beginning of the tour is well lit and flat surfaced.
Our guide, Kevin, was friendly and did a great job telling us about some of the history. Although a pre-recorded tour guide offered information while the tram was in motion, Kevin got out of the jeep to point out key elements and information like showing us the bolts in the ceiling that are 6 to 8 feet in length and hold 35 tons each. He also told us about the limestone that forms the caverns and how it is integral to Kentucky economy. Horseracing and bourbon are two of Kentucky's top businesses and they are both here for the limestone. The calcium permeates the earth (grass/plants) and water, which are used in bourbon distilling and create stronger bones in race horses.
The caverns were originally created as a mine by Ralph Rogers of Louisville Crushed Stone in the 1930's. He mined for rock to create bridges and highways, which was especially lucrative for him during the Depression when the government put people to work constructing these roadways.His team blasted out the 100 acre limestone cavern and hauled limestone out of it until about 20 years ago. The mine was originally 90 feet deep; The Mega Caverns brought in 650,000 truck loads of recycled materials ranging from Corvette bumpers and roofing shingles to concrete and plastic keyboards to fill in the pits and raise the floor, so that the cavern ceilings would only be about 25 feet from the floor; this makes the space better suited for rental to businesses.
The cavern ceilings are supported by 223 Pillars, which is five times the amount required by mining regulations for safety. The caverns were prepared for use as a fall out shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960's. Food and provisions were stored for 50,000 people in case of attack. The tour takes visitors through an exhibit of a post-attack campground if the shelter had been utilized, showing cots, mannequins, lanterns and other provisions. There is also an actual film from the era that is projected onto a huge rock wall in the cavern. After viewing the film, the tram travels through what appears to be a tunnel, but is actually an illusion created by the strobe light and fog (warning to epileptics).
A mannequin mining crew is one of several recreated historical scenes that light up when the tram approaches, only using lighting when necessary.
The caverns are now used by businesses to store materials in a safe place, since the cavern offers a place that is safe from tornados, earthquakes or terrorist attacks. The buildings underground are also extremely safe from fire. Their walls are made of fiber-rock and each have a 2 hour fire rating. There is also an emergency escape corridor that is 2,500 feet long and is the only one of its kind in the United States. It has pumped fresh air and pushes any smoke away from you as you move through it. The City of Louisville actually considers a person outside as soon as they step into the corridor.
"This is the safest place in Kentucky," says co-owner Tom Lowry. He further claims that the underground facility is more secure than Ft. Knox. Businesses that utilize the caverns include MGM Studios, Underground Vaults and Storage, food companies, and the city of Louisville stores the rock salt there that they use for our roads. People store boats, RVs, and vehicles underground as well.
Another benefit to the underground storage is the climate control. The caverns maintain a temperature of 56 degrees. They use supplemental fans to keep down the fog that can get created while Ultra-violet lights in the HVAC units kill air-born mold, mildew, and bacteria. There are also heaters used to dehumidify parts of the caverns while radiation from ash, human bodies and machineries also contribute heat. These factors contribute to utility costs that are 75-85% cheaper than a building above ground and making the caverns a "green" building.
The worm and organic materials recycling center is another green aspect of the caverns. Worms are put into bins of organic materials to help break them down. Our guide was kind (or gross) enough to chew and eat one of the worms as part of his tour. Although there were no questions from the visitors at any other part of the tour, hands shot up after this stunt when he asked "any questions?".
Nothing elicits questions from a crowd like eating something gross.
The Historical tram tours occur several times per day, although the hours vary by season. Check the web site for scheduling.
Make sure to arrive 15-20 minutes early. Adults are $13.50; Children 3-11 are $8.00; children 2 and under are free; Seniors and military (must present ID) are $12.00 (all prices before tax). Some hotels have a "room key discount" (ask your concierge).
The Zipline tours at Megacaverns boast 5 ziplines and 3 challenge Bridges. To be fair: The first of the five zips is a "bunny zip" in the training area that makes sure you understand your training. From there, you are driven by tram to "Zipline from Hell". That's really what it is called. I thought it was just a funny coincidence that the song Highway to Hell started playing as we got off of the tram to walk to the first zip.
Before you zip through the huge cavern dotted with fake flame lamps, you are posed for a photo that will be available for purchase after the tour. The zips are exhilarating. I turned my head every which way, trying to take all of the scenery in. It really is a one of a kind experience. Our guides were fun, and Lindsay made lots of jokes, keeping the audience entertained. They also told us about paranormal activity in the caverns, and the occasional sighting of a native american girl.
This photo with a strange ghost-like apparition (marked by red arrow) is on display during the tram tour.
The third zip line allows you to get a running head start off a ramp, where you can jump if you wish to bounce on your way across the cavern. It made things a little more interesting.The longest of the zip lines is over 800 feet and our guide told us that sometimes lighter people get stuck. One of the guides have to zip over to them, and then pull them to the other side "hand over hand" when this happens.
The bridges are a physical challenge; they sway when you walk on them, and one of them is on a steep incline. My legs were sore by the end of the day.The guides encouraged visitors to let loose on the final zip line, allowing them to zip backwards, hands free or both. I did both. My son chickened out and did neither despite his bragging ahead of time.
The zip line tours were also informative, although far less so than the historical tour. We learned that the limestone in the caverns can hold about 60,000 lb per square inch, and that the limestone is part of the "Cincinnati Arch". The guides said that you could stack every building in Louisville above the caverns without causing the ceiling to crack. We were also shown the beginning formation of stalagtites and stalagmites that is occurring at a faster than normal pace.
Ticket prices for adult or child are $59-$79 depending on the day of the week. It seems high, but the price is fair considering that this is the only underground zip line in the world. I would not recommend this tour for people with physical disabilities. Arrive 30 minutes early for training. See schedules on the web site.
The guides pointed out a huge fossil in the cavern ceiling while on our way
back to the gift shop from the last zip line. Layers of the limestone used to be ocean floor.
Christmas Light Tours:
Louisville Mega Caverns also offers a "drive -thru" Christmas light display called "Lights Under Louisville", where families can take a 30 - 40 minute ride through the caverns in their own cars to peruse the elaborate holiday decorations. This year's holiday event will run from November 16 to December 30. Cars are $25, trucks, SUVs and mini-vans are $25. Vans are $35; Limos and Church Buses (excluding School bus size) are $50; School buses are $150. Motorcoaches are $4 per person but reservations are required. More information is available on their web page.
The tram tour points out the other tours and services available through Mega Caverns.