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.)
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.
(NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.)
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!)
The Cincinnati Zoo has added a few things since we last had a membership. Ben and I went a few weeks ago for a date day and made sure to check out the new Roo Valley. It was lots of fun and the kangaroos are adorable! (Make sure you go earlier in the day to see them active. They are diurnal, active at dawn and dusk.)
One of the things we saw was a new ropes course called Kanga Klimb. It is next to Roo Valley; in fact, if you are on the upper level, you can see into the kangaroo exhibit. Both boys took a break to stand or sit on the platform and watch the kangaroos.
I really wanted to give the boys a chance to do the course, especially since Will will be under activity restrictions in July and August.
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The lower level is easier. The platforms are mostly stationary. The upper level is harder; the ropes and platforms move. If you are an observer, the upper level has a walking deck where you can observe your climbers. I could see most of the upper-level course from the walkway. There is part of the walkway that is a clear glass/plastic, so you can see down to the lower level as well.
The average length of climbing on the course is an hour, but it is up to you how long you want to climb. It looked like there was a nice variety of obstacles: a climbing wall, a rope wall, a platform to pull yourself across, a few different kinds of walkways.
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The zoo employees have to check the course every morning! They walked the boys through using the safety gear. They were all really nice.
The boys had lots of fun and were even a little worn out at the end. They were a little sore the next day, so it must have been a good workout.
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Tips: Closed-toed shoes are required, no sandals/crocs. Wear sunscreen. Drink water. If observing, a hat would be good. Climbers must be 48″ and taller (48″ to go with a partner, 60″ to go alone), ages 4+.
WHERE: 3400 Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45220 (Parking lot address is 3427 Vine St.)
HOURS: Daily 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Members can get in at 9:00 am (except during Festival of Lights).
COSTS: Kanga Klimb ($18/zoo members, $21/non-members). Purchase Kanga Klimb tickets at the attraction entrance booth. Zoo admission prices vary on the day. Prices start at $15.50/adult (ages 13+), $9.50/child. Please check website for pricing. Parking is $10 (or included with membership).
PARKING: Yes, on-street or paid zoo lot.
TIME RECOMMENDED: 1 hour+ for climbing, 2+ for the zoo
COVID RESTRICTIONS: N/A
Details correct at time of posting, please double-check before you go.
It has been years since we have been to the zoo. Ben and I decided to have a date day at the zoo. It was a nice sunny day, so although it was a little crowded, we enjoyed walking around. If you have never been to the Cincinnati Zoo before, you should know that it is hilly, so I always feel I get a nice walk/workout in while there.
Cincinnati Zoo Date Day, Zoo Map (click to enlarge)
The main thing we wanted to see was Roo Valley, which was a new exhibit since we had last been there. There was a little bit of a line, but it moved relatively quickly. When you get up to the exhibit, you are placed into a holding pen (we jokingly called it the Human Exhibit for the kangaroos). The zookeeper gives a few safety items and then you can walk into the kangaroo exhibit! There is no touching allowed, but you are walking through their exhibit. There are nine kangaroos at the zoo, although we only saw about five.
Roo Valley (click to enlarge)
There is a blue penguin exhibit also attached to Roo Valley, although it was closed while we were there.
The zoo also has wallabies, but they were not easily seen while we were there. You can book a private experience with the wallabies where you may be able to touch them and give them a snack. How cool would that be?!
We saw the tortoises (also a new to us exhibit), giraffes and the rest of the Africa exhibit, and of course Fiona and the other hippos.
Zoo Animals (click to enlarge)
I want to go back with the kids over the summer. It’s been just as long for them seeing the zoo and I think they will get a kick out of seeing the new exhibits. Nick will love the tortoises and Roo Valley has a climbing course, the Kanga Klimb, opening up that I think both of them will love.
This was the last National Park on our current route. The name of the park seems sweet, but it is a horribly sad tale. I read two different versions. A mother and her cubs are forced to flee from wildfire into the Lake and have to swim to the other side. The cubs do not make it. The mother bear lays down waiting for her cubs. The other version is that there was a food shortage, and to keep from starving they had to cross the lake. The cubs do not make it. The two small islands pop up as monuments for the cubs.
The main visitor center, Phillip A Hart Visitor Center, was located in Empire, Michigan. It was not in the park. The park boundaries are actually made of 3 sections of land with towns in between and 2 islands. We drove around the park in a few locations, but only saw a ticket/pass booth at the Dune Climb parking lot.
On our first visit, we drove the Pierce Stocking Scenic Dr. I’m sure it had wonderful views, but all we could see was fog! (It hadn’t been foggy at our campground, about 30 minutes away). There was a small covered bridge that was fun to see.
There were several hiking and bike trails in the park, along with beach areas.
We found this trail on AllTrails app. The Deep Lock Quarry Metro Park was next to the National Park, so we only had to drive a couple of minutes to get to this trail.
The trail was about 1.4 miles, although we added a little bit on with a side trail. It had a few informational signs about things along the trail. There were remains of Quaker Oat millstones, the remains of sandstone blocks from a loading dock, bases of old derricks used to load boats/trains.
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There was the old quarry as well. You could see the layers of cut out rocks.
We took a side trail to see Lock 28, which was the deepest lock of the Ohio Erie Canal and was nicknamed Deep Lock. The lock was a little overgrown, but still easily seen. It was really neat to see the remains of the canal system.
The campground had a camp store, laundry room, paddle boat and banana bike rentals, two pools (1 cool, 1 heated), basketball hoop, pickleball, horseshoes, and fishing ponds. Garbage was placed at the end of your site and was collected.
The campground was located on Grand Island New York. There was a grocery store (Tom’s) close by, a dollar store, post office, and several restaurants on the island. It was about a 15 minute drive to Niagara Falls State Park and a 18-20 minute drive to Buffalo. The one thing to know is that every time you leave the island you will be charged a toll. There was a Tim Horton’s and Adrian’s down the street (just about walking distance). There was also a go-kart/arcade/batting cage/putt-putt within walking distance.
There was a change machine in the laundry room/arcade area, which were located on the bottom side of the office building. It was a nice laundry room with plenty of machines. There was also a book exchange shelf in the laundry room.
The smaller pool by the office was the “cool” (aka unheated) pool. There was a dog park, bike and boat/kayak rental, and playground located here as well. The larger pool towards the back of the campground was the heated pool. There was also the basketball hoop, pickleball court, jump pads, and rec building/planned activities were back here. The one thing I did not like was that there was no parking for the larger pool. All parking spots were parked “Cabin Parking”. It wasn’t a horrible walk from our campground, but would have been nice to have pool parking spots for guests who have mobility problems.
You could fish in the pond as well, but you were not allowed to swim in it.
Sites were pretty nice. Each had a fire ring and picnic table. There was not a lot of shade though. This campground had two sewer connections per site! Both were on the same side, but were spread out. It made it nice for being able to choose how to place the RV in the site. The campground also backed up to an Amusement Park (Fantasy Island), but it had been closed. It looked like at one point the train ride stopped directly at the campground. There were tent camping spots, as well as several different types of cabins. There were a few geese and lots of killdeer birds around the campground.
The campground also teamed up with a local tour group to allow campers to see Niagara Falls, ride Maid of the Mist, and tour Cave of the Winds. The tour bus picked up at the campground. We found it to be more expensive than just paying for the Maid of the Mist tickets, Cave of the Winds, and parking at the State Park. However, it is a good option if you do not have a separate vehicle and want to tour the area.