Unique Regional Places to Visit

Bowling Green + Western Kentucky

Recommended by Shahin Samiei

“There are so many caves out there (including the popular Mammoth Cave National Park). There is a lot of kitsch and sure, some tourist traps, but I think there’s a bit of magic all about that region. If you visit Mammoth Cave, make sure to do some major research ahead of time. They take reservations for the tours, which are the way you get into the caves—the national park itself and visitor center are free to explore, but to actually go underground you need a tour. Reservations book up long in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.

[In Bowling Green] there is an underground boat cave tour run by a non-profit in collaboration with Western Kentucky University. The funds from tours go to education, conservation, and water cleanup efforts. It seemed a really wholesome endeavor and pretty rad to be boating in a cave under the streets and businesses of Bowling Green.

We also went to Kentucky Down Under (lots of unique animals and animal experiences) and to the Abraham Lincoln birthplace National Park—lots of history there, some beautiful architecture, and a lovely natural spring were there.”

Family Vacation: Union City, St. Louis, & Branson

Recommended by Nancy Bontly

“So my in-laws are awesome and pay for our hotels when we take the kids on a summer vacation. It helps a lot! So this year in early August we set out in our car with three teenage girls across the back seat. My daughter, my husband’s daughter and our bonus daughter. So we left Memphis and drove two hours to the Discovery Park of America in Union City. They have so much there – a lot of history, and a lot of agriculture history. Though I can’t say that finding a Blackberry in a history exhibit made us Gen X parents feel any younger. It didn’t help that both me and dad were very much into computers early on, so we had touched 5.25” floppy disks before.

After our tour at the Discovery Center we had already checked out of our hotel and headed straight for St. Louis where we had already bought tickets for the City Museum – it was a ton of fun. There is so much to do there. Climbing through all kinds of exhibits – and it is even fun for those who can’t (or won’t) climb! There was something for everyone and we had a blast! For the second day we had bought a ticket package for Union Station that included the Aquarium, Ferris Wheel, Mini Golf and a few other attractions. We had a great time there as well! We highly recommend it for family fun during the day!

The next morning we checked out of St. Louis and headed to Branson, MO. The trip was around 4 hours, but we gave it an entire day so we could stop if we wanted to – and we totally ended up on Route 66, and were able to make a detour for the Uranus Fudge Company. It was great! They had a display of the world’s largest belt buckle, a bona-fide Zoltar machine and a candy store that was just awesome.

We eventually pulled into Branson, and we had a room at the Grand Country Resort. It was awesome because it was an all-inclusive package that gave us a room with a clubhouse for the kids to sleep in, tickets to the Dolly Parton’s Stampede show, and tickets to Silver Dollar City… along with unlimited food at their 3 restaurants and even unlimited ice cream cones. Oh, I can’t forget the unlimited mini-golf on their 90 different holes over three different themed courses. We had a blast! We even had unlimited live shows at the Grand Country, but we were so busy with everything else, we didn’t have time. They also have an actual water park in the resort, as well as both an indoor and outdoor pool! It was a great place to be as a family!”

Southern Illinois + Missouri

Recommended by Chellie Bowman

“Recently, my partner and I were invited to a wedding in a charming village in Southern Illinois called Alto Pass, just three hours north from Memphis. We had never been to this part of the region and spent our entire weekend exploring the area. I was in awe with the sheer number of wildflowers that were everywhere in June, and the number of birds that we could watch around the cabin we rented. The town sits at the foothills of the Shawnee National Forest and in fact, there is even a trail to a large rock formation directly accessible from the town square. The area is also surrounded by multiple vineyards that make up the Shawnee Hill Wine Trail, something I very much lament we were unable to check out. Later in the weekend we were able to drive further into the forest and hike a trail to see what’s called “The Little Grand Canyon”, a wide and impressive canyon that you can actually hike down into itself, although we opted for the shorter, less treacherous path to the overlook. On the drive home, we stopped by Cape Girardeau in Missouri, got a delicious coffee at Ground-A-Bout, walked to the large promenade along the Mississippi River, and meandered around their historic downtown streets. The whole trip was very short, but a refreshing change of pace from Memphis–we can’t wait to go back and explore more!”