While we stayed at the Horse Cave KOA, we stayed our second night in a Treehouse! (It was really more like a cabin on pillars made to look like a tree trunk/branches.)
We really enjoyed our stay here. It had a nice firepit and seating underneath the cabin. Inside hosted a queen bedroom, a full kitchen (with plates, cups, utensils, and cooking pans/pots), couches, TV, fireplace, and a loft with two queen beds. The back porch had a nice table, views, and grill. The best part was the full bathroom!
It was definitely a nice space to relax in and we really enjoyed the back deck. The kitchen table was more like a folding table and chairs, so we ate on the porch most of the time. It was a good space to spread out and have our own areas.
We stopped at Big Mike’s after exploring Mammoth Cave.
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The property hosts a really neat rock shop, gift shop, and a large statue of a mosasaur. They had a fossil of Big Mo, a mosasaur skull. It was located on the second floor of the gift shop. There was an information sign, as well as a pamphlet near the checkout counter.
If you are in the area, I would stop by! They had lots of unique things, both in the rock shop and the gift shop areas.
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There is also a Mystery House owned by Big Mike’s, but we did not stop in there.
Ben and I had been to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky when we were both kids. It is the world’s longest cave system (currently 420 miles mapped) and we thought the kids would enjoy seeing it.
The Mammoth Cave National Park has a nice Visitor Center with bathrooms, ticket booths, a gift shop, and a book shop (basically another version of a gift shop). There is another smaller gift shop in a trailer outside. There are spots to eat lunch outside as well.
MAMMOTH CAVE TOUR
We booked tickets for the extended historic tour ($92 for 4 tickets). Book your tickets early and online! When we went, there was only 1 tour that wasn’t completely sold out (over the course of two days).
Will is our history buff, so we thought he would enjoy the history tour. We got to see the old mining equipment that had been left there for saltpeter and a house that was part of an experimental tuberculosis hospital.
The tour is listed as moderate, but we found the 2-hour tour to be pretty easy. There was some stooping and bending with a tight squeeze in Fat Man’s Misery, but it was a relatively slow walk (Ben’s watch said it was a 42-minute/mile pace). There was some uneven ground, which could be tricky in the low light if you have bad ankles/knees or balance issues. There were also some stairs. Ben’s note: At 5’10” and 260 Fat Man’s Misery (narrowest part) was more fun than scary. I found this and Tall Man’s Misery the best part of the tour as you felt like you were actually caving.
The black writing on the ceilings is old-school graffiti, made from candle smoke. There was a bathroom down in the cave, but it is a while to get to it, so I would definitely recommend going before your tour (some tours do not go by the bathroom!).
It was pretty, but I found Carlsbad Cavern a much better experience overall. I felt rushed during Mammoth; the tour guide pretty much said this wasn’t a picture-taking tour and he would not be stopping for long. Without being able to use the flash (to preserve the cave and its creatures), taking pictures can take a little bit of time. I didn’t want to hold up the group, so I did not get very many. Carlsbad had an audio self-guided tour, so we could go more at our own pace and were able to take more pictures. The monochromatic interior of Mammoth Cave and the lack of copious Stalagmites and Stalagtites left me wanting more. The main plus is that Carlsbad is very desolate and tough to get to, whereas Mammoth Cave is fairly close for many visitors and has a more built-up infrastructure around it. We did see a cave cricket and a bat in Mammoth though, whereas we didn’t see any at Carlsbad (we were a month too late for the bats). Now, to be clear, we saw pictures of different cave features that are supposed to be in Mammoth Cave on postcards and posters, so it may have just been the tour we were on that lacked a lot of cave features.
SAND CAVE HIKE
Mammoth Cave Rating: 3 stars out of 5 (Will liked it the most.)
After the Red River Gorge, we traveled over to the Mammoth Cave area. We stayed at the Horse Cave KOA. When Ben and I saw that they had a certain type of cabin, we knew we needed to stay at least one night in it. Growing up, we were part of the Oregon Trail generation so, of course, we decided to stay in the Covered Wagon cabin!
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It was definitely an experience. The wagon was temperature controlled and had an air conditioner unit. The space slept 4 people: one queen-sized bed and a set of bunk beds. As you climb the stairs and open the door, you have the bunkbeds to the left and a small table, and two chairs to the right. There were a couple of stairs to get to the queen bed area. There was a small nightstand area on either side of the bed with outlets to charge your phone.
In front of the bunk beds, there was a mini fridge and a microwave. The space also had an outdoor fire pit with chairs and a propane grill.
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There was a grocery store within a 20-30 minute drive, so we were able to go to the store and make dinner on the grill. It was nice to have the mini-fridge so we could have groceries to make our own food. For dessert, we of course had s’mores!
It was nice sitting out and enjoying the night. There was a farm in front of us, so we watched the cows for a while, and saw some bats flying around once it was night.
The downside to the covered wagon cabin was the lack of a bathroom. We weren’t too far away, but it is a downside when you get up during the night and have to leave the cabin to use the bathrooms.
For our vacation this year, we wanted to stay in some unique homes. Something that would really stand out in our memories. Our first stop was in a container home. Ben had played with this idea for a tiny home for a while now. I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived; it actually had a nice layout and use of space. (YouTube video link)
The house was pretty private. You could hear some road noise and neighbor’s music, but couldn’t see them through the leaves. It was a pretty short drive to the park, a little under 20 minutes. The house was a comfortable space, seemed just like a cabin. It had a great fire pit area with wood holder and hatchet, bag chairs for fire pit, deck with chairs and a small table, a wooded lot with a few trees that worked for hammocking, propane grill, plates/cups/grill tools, AC, washer/dryer, a couple of games and a fun puzzle. The cabin also had WiFi and cable. There was a Kroger grocery store and a liquor store within about a 20-minute drive. There were several places nearby that sold firewood.
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The drive was pretty easy, but at the end, it is a narrow road that has a few hills. The driveway itself was off of a sharp right turn. The owners did a nice job explaining how to get there though and even had a fun alligator sign to mark the correct turn. The very last bit up to the parking area was a pretty short steep climb. The cabin only had one thin blanket per bed. We could have used more blankets, but luckily we still had our soccer game day blanket in the car. The owner did say to bring additional if you get cold easily, but we didn’t think there would only be two. There were only a couple of blinds in the bedrooms. The bedroom Ben and I stayed in only had blinds on one window, the one closest to the street (at the head of the bed) did not have any covering. If the trees were not as full of leaves, there may be a chance someone could see down into the room. Although the grill and firepit allowed for cooking, the kitchen itself only had a hotplate and a microwave for cooking. Bring bug spray! This is more for the entire area, but we all got bitten (even the one that is normally not bit). You may want to bring a flashlight, as it gets very dark at night around the cabin. This one is more specific to us, but there was poison ivy everywhere (cabin and general area). There was some right next to the cabin stairs, etc. The Red River Gorge area also has a plethora of poison ivy, so I would recommend long socks and/or pants if you are allergic.
It seems crazy the number of things in a three-hour radius from our home that we have not gone to yet. One of these was the Red River Gorge. We know people who had gone, people who had loved it, but we had never been there. As part of our quick summer vacation, we decided to stay a couple of days and see the Gorge.
One of the nice things about Red River Gorge is that is free to enter. There are of course things to spend your money on: local stores, souvenirs, the Sky Bridge, and adventures like rock climbing or kayaking.
Our first day there we drove through the park. Our pathway from our cabin took us through Nada Tunnel. It was a really neat tunnel, rough-hewed, single lane, without any lights. You could see water dripping. We stopped at the Gladie Visitor Center to check out the souvenirs and to get a park map. The Visitor Center had a nice selection of souvenirs, clean restrooms, friendly staff, and fun interactive exhibits. They had different animal pelts that you could touch, as well as a video of the park.
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We ended up at the Sky Bridge. It was a nice little hike. It had a couple of different sets of stairs, but a clearly defined path. It was a very hot and muggy day, but there was plenty of shade along the trails. We walked across Sky Bridge and then took the path that led us underneath the bridge. It was very neat to see it from a different perspective, as when you are up top, you don’t really notice the arch shape. There were several spots that had dripping water, which made a very cool and unique sound.
Day two of our Gorge adventure led us to the Sky Lift. It was $17 per adult for a round-trip ticket. Tickets could be bought in the gift shop. They had an interesting video and a pressed penny machine (Nick was very happy) in the outside booth. The ride up was enjoyable and we had a nice breeze. The steep uphill (or downhill for the return) can give you a jolt when you first see it). There is a nice trail nearby as well that gives you a nice overlook of the area. TIP: Secure your items! If they fall you will not get them back. Nick’s new pocket knife was lost to the wilderness as it fell out of his pocket halfway up to the top. (YouTube: link to video.)
From the top of the Sky Lift, we went to see the Natural Bridge. This was also a neat bridge that you couldn’t really see well unless you were underneath it. Nick and I decided to adventure through Fat Man’s Misery, a narrow gorge in the rock that leads you to the bottom of the Natural Bridge. Ben and Will stayed behind.
We stopped for some pizza at Miguel’s before driving up to Chimney Top for a picnic. The pizza was really good and they had so many different topping options! (Thank you for the recommendation, Mindy!) I froze when presented with so many options and went with a really boring pizza, but it all looked delicious as it came out. After lunch, we took another short hike and really enjoyed the views. There were several caution signs about not getting close to the edges. We watched the river and a hawk floating on the breeze.
The main attractions at Red River Gorge seem to be rock climbing, kayaking, and primitive camping. Due to Will’s restrictions from surgery this summer, we kept to the easier trails. It was pretty empty, as we were late in the summer vacation season. Compared to some other places we have been to, it was tough to tell it was a gorge due to the abundance of trees and other plants. It must be gorgeous in the fall. I’m glad we went, but as we are not rock climbers or really even kayakers, I don’t know that we would go back.
Red River Gorge Rating: 2/5 hitches (For us. If you love rock climbing and kayaking, I’m sure it would be amazing!)
We ended up going on one of the hottest days so far this summer, complete with a heat warning. We paid for our admission and decided to do the outdoor area first before it got even warmer. Our first stop was the oldest house in Dayton. There were information signs throughout the downstairs (upstairs closed off), as well as a docent. The docent had some great information to tell us and was enthusiastic about the history.
There are a few other houses on the park grounds (the houses have been moved from their original locations). The one had a neat summer kitchen and we saw how they would make lots of candles at once (Would use a dipper with multiple strings. The dipper would hang on a rack for the was to set and then they would dip again. Rack held multiple dippers.)
If you follow the trail from the museum to the right, it is like a journey through Dayton’s history. After exploring the historical houses, we made it to the electrical era and manufacturing. I had no idea that Dayton, Ohio made cars!
The NCR, National Cash Register Company, was huge in Dayton. It was amazing to see the different things this company did, as well as the different types of cash registers. There were some beautiful ones on display in the museum building.
Because the area has several rivers nearby, flooding happens every few years. There are also the floods that are called 100-year floods as well, where there is a huge amount of water deposited and the flooding is extreme. Dayton’s major flood was in 1913, when the water got to 20 feet deep in some areas!
I was beat by the time we got up and down the tower due to the heat, but the views were pretty nice. The modern buildings (not historical buildings) did have air conditioning, so that did help keep us cool as we walked around the park.
We learned a lot of new things and enjoyed the park. We found a few things in the gift shop, got a pressed penny, and enjoyed the air conditioning while exploring the interior museum. There is a carousel inside the museum building/visitor center; it costs $1 to ride.
HOURS: Monday to Saturday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, Sunday 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm
COSTS: $12/adult, $8 child (3-17), $10/seniors
TIME RECOMMENDED: 1.5 hours+
COVID RESTRICTIONS: N/A
Details correct at time of posting, please double-check before you go.
Will is a huge history fan, so we decided to take a trip out to see Fort Ancient.
The price is pretty reasonable at $7/adults, and $6/students. Admission is paid at the museum/visitor center (not the unmanned booth in front) and covers the grounds and the museum.
The museum had some interesting information (a lot of reading), a few mannequin types of displays, and a gift shop. (Restrooms are also located in the Museum building.) There are a set of round mounds right near the visitor center/museum.
There are a few hiking trails available on the grounds. We went along three short trails. Our first trail, Mound Trail, was not maintained that well and was not very well marked. We did not get lost, but there were a few spots along the trails that seemed like another path joined in or it wasn’t well defined. I would recommend bug spray and long socks or pants, as we came across a lot of poison ivy.
The mounds were hard to see in the woods, as nothing is cleared around them and nature has taken over (trees, grass, weeds, etc. growing out of them). The Mound Trail supposedly had 5 mounds; we did some numbered posts, but it wasn’t clear if those were the mounds. If it was, we did not see them for the forest.
We did see a fawn in the woods and they had a decent sized picnic area available. It was a decent short excursion, but if you are looking for well-defined/visible mounds, you may be disappointed. There are several long ones along the park road, but again, the forest is reclaiming them. I want to take him out to Serpent Mound, which is much more visible as a mound (trees/grass/weeds trimmed around mound).
When I was searching for things nearby that we had not done before, Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop popped up in a Facebook group. They have a $5 candy buffet.
We went to the Middleton location, although there are many locations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and one in Florida.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the store was cute. It had an ice cream counter, a gift area (crazy socks, games, Pop Funko, special candies, etc.). There was also a good variety of candy, some of which I remember from my childhood and some from other countries.
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The candy buffet was in the back right corner. You picked your box (2 different designs, same size) and filled it with any candy from the buffet area. The lid had to close, but the $5 was based on the box, not the weight.
There were a lot of chewy options, but we managed to find some braces-safe options. The boys had a fun time filling their boxes. (I think these would be fun for a party favor or a treat for going to the movies.)
I gave Nick three options for today: Art Institute, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Museum of Science and Industry. He chose the Museum of Science and Industry which featured The Art of the Brick ($71 total for admission).
I had eaten an omelet while Nick slept in. On our way to explore the museum, we stopped at Stan’s donuts to get Nick some breakfast and to check it off my list. The donuts were crazy, very thick and full of decadence; it was like biting into a doughy candy bar. Too much sugar for me, but Nick seemed to like it. With an iced coffee for me, the total came to $15. Nothing seems cheap these days.
A quick Uber ride later and we made it to the Museum. The museum was amazing. I had such a great time teaching and learning. There is a reason I am an engineer. The Art of the Brick was a great exhibit. I took a bunch of pictures because what this artist does is so remarkable. That being said, the $14/person adder cost was steep. One of the best parts of this exhibit was the interactive Lego build I did with Nick. It’s fun to just play with him.
The museum also had a farming exhibit. I loved getting into the tractor and combine. It is clear why these pieces of equipment are very, very expensive. From sailing, to bicycles, to U-boats, to genetics, to Lego art, to Outer Space, to Chemistry, to farming, and even the circus, this museum covered a lot of ground. We went from 10:30 AM to 3:00 PM and were exhausted.
Lunch was disappointing as they are working on a new cafeteria space and only have vending.
We hit some peak Uber time on the way out of the museum, so I opted to try the Chicago bus. The native Chicagoans were very helpful in figuring out the route home. Although crowded and slow, the bus was a good experience for Nick and cut our travel cost from a $40 Uber ride to a $5 bus trip.
I had read about the Ventra card in preparation to take the L to Wrigley Field later in the night and opted to load $10 onto the new $5 card that I purchased ($15 total). This covered both trips. Based on the crowds, we wore masks on both the bus and the L.
Sarah helped us figure out that we couldn’t bring backpacks/bookbags into Wrigley Field, so we had a quick stop at the hotel to reorganize. We had bought Nick a Cubs jersey for the game that he needed to change into as well.
It was getting close to rush hour, so we decided to go early and make sure we got to the game in time. The L red line was close to the hotel and we got on with no problems. It was a fun experience to take the subway/elevated train.
We got to the stadium around 4:30 PM. The gates didn’t open until 5:00, so we grabbed some drinks from a close by 7-11, took the mandatory picture for 1st timers to Wrigley, and got in line.
It was free cowboy hat night for the first 10,000 attendees; since we were 2 hours early and likely the 20th attendee, we got a hat. It was sponsored by Jim Beam, so only ages 21+ received hats. Nick ended up wearing mine and looked great in it.
Our first stop in the stadium was for the Chicago dogs. This was not for the newbie as they gave you the basics and then had a fixings bar. If we hadn’t had one the day before and did our Chicago dog research, this would have been a disaster. As it was, it was just kind of a mess as both Nick and I went a little heavy on every possible topping, making these some sloppy dogs. Still delicious, but it required two fistfuls of napkins to manage and we still ended up having to hit the restroom to clean the mustard off Nick’s shorts. ($16 for two dogs). Side note: The bright green relish looked a little scary, but didn’t have much of a taste at all.
We found our way to our seats (2nd to the top row, along the 3rd base line). It didn’t seem like there was a bad seat in this ballpark. Our seats were under the cover/overhang, providing some nice shade and since we were up high, it also allowed for a nice cooling breeze.
After taking in the views, we decided it was too hot and not much action was happening yet. So, another trip to the food stand got Nick a baseball helmet ice cream and me a souvenir cup with Diet Pepsi.
We watched batting practice for a while and took in the sites. With my phone battery low, we tried out a phone charging station and walked the stadium. Along the way, we grabbed a soft pretzel and Nick found a pressed penny machine.
Unfortunately, the game was delayed due to inclement weather. We watched the grounds crew roll out the tarps, and collected my phone just in time to shelter in place for a Tornado warning. It was a little crazy with huge amounts of rain and 90 minutes of hanging out on the steps with our fellow Cubs fans.
The weather passed and the game restarted at 8:30 PM. Nick got Pizza and a Gatorade before returning to our seats. With the long delay, the stadium was only half full when the game restarted. We made it through about an inning before Nick was ready to go. To his credit, the first inning ended around 9 PM. We took an Uber back to the hotel, and while it seems like we shouldn’t be hungry at this point, we both were, so we stopped at Elephant & Castle to get Fish and Chips for me and a Burger for Nick before grabbing showers and crashing for the night.