Special thanks to Andrew for being our first guest contributor and sharing some of his adventures at the zip line to Hell (Louisville Mega Cavern) in Kentucky (USA).
Follow Taylor Avenue past a strip mall, fast food restaurants, ordinary homes and keep driving. Soon you’ll be winding through a business park and wondering if you’re in the right place. It seems unlikely but nestled behind rows of warehouses is a massive man made cavern with a zip line course.
Louisville Mega Cavern is an attraction offering something for all ages. If you aren’t the adventurous type, you can take a leisurely tram tour and learn the history of the caverns. Biking is also available both in the form of bmx bikes or electric ‘fat’ bikes. For the most adventurous there is a challenge course and a zip line course.
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The World’s only fully underground zip course
We discovered Mega Caverns online and planned to do the zip lines. Tickets are available for purchase in advance and if you have firm travel plans I’d recommend that you buy them one to two weeks out just to make sure you get the day and time frame you want. Their website states be there a half hour early. Fifteen minutes would probably be sufficient. They also ask that you wear closed toed shoes for obvious reasons but I would go a step further and recommend wearing old clothing and tennis shoes. The caves are a little wet and muddy in a many places. If you manage to avoid getting dirty you will still find yourself smelling like your grandparents basement afterward. Pro tip: remember to pack a trash bag or plastic grocery bag to banish your clothing to after your adventure.
When you have finally wound your way to the end of Taylor Road (beware of the suspension destroying speed bumps) you’ll see multiple entrances to the cave. Follow the signs for parking and once parked head towards the picnic shelter. Don’t expect to see staff members, they are actually in the cave. Instead the only directions you’ll find are yellow footprints on the ground. You’ll wind through a hall way that looks like a cold war bunker eventually exiting into the cave. Ahead is the check in area, gift shop, and where you’ll wait for your guide. Save yourself some time and hit the waiver station to the left as you enter because they can’t complete your check in until you have. It’s easy to miss, we did. After you’ve signed your life away consider hitting the restrooms because you won’t be able to for the next two hours.
A few minutes north of our reserved time our guide appeared. His name was Mack and you could tell he was the sort of guy who liked outdoor adventure. That’s something that is reassuring even if this isn’t your first rodeo. He went down his reservation list and led us back down the bomb shelter, through a set of double doors and in to another section of the cave. They seat you on benches and size you up for your harnesses and helmets. Everything is fairly straightforward and they do a good job explaining the process and double checking everything. The one negative thing I’ll say, is all of the harnesses smell like the men’s locker room after a football game. The mustiness can’t really be helped but you feel like you’re probably wearing gear soaked in the sweat of hundreds of people. I did watch them disinfect helmets though.
“There’s nothing to fear down here but fear itself, and giant cave spiders.”
Once geared up it’s off to a short zip line called the Bunny Zip, much like the bunny hill on a ski slope. It serves to familiarize you with the process. The hardest part is that first step off the ledge into oblivion. It’s a very unnatural action, even though you’re in more danger standing on a step ladder changing a light bulb. Your mind is convinced you will certainly plummet to your death. But then again, that’s why it’s thrilling. You’re sailing, cave wind in your hair, laughing in the face of mortality. All you have to do is enjoy the experience! At some places you are entirely in charge of making sure you brake before you crash into the wall at the end of the line. You don’t have to worry about that at Mega Zips, the staff does the braking for you.
From The Bunny Zip Line it’s a few minutes march into the heart of the cave system and on to bigger better zips. Each one offers something a little bit different. The titular Zip Line to Hell is, as you’d imagine hell themed. Red lighting in otherwise complete darkness serves to set the other worldly mood. Small piles of lights cover the floor mimicking hot lava.
Other zips offer more speed, great height, and stunning views of the cave. There are six zip lines in all and two suspension bridges to cross as part of the course. The last zip line might be the most fun, a dual line that allows you to race another member of your group. You can expect the experience to last around two to two and half hours. Unfortunately, a good chunk of that time is waiting around. The process of hooking up to the line and unhooking is easily twice the ride time of most lines. Multiple that times the 12 people in your party and there’s a lot of standing around.
Is the zip line to Hell right for kids?
Now the million dollar question, would I recommend it for a family? This is after all a blog devoted to family travel and what makes this challenging is I don’t have children. I can however offer you my observations. First and foremost Mega Zips does have age and weight limits. They suggest that zipping is appropriate for ages seven and up and that kids should weigh over 55 pounds. It might seem arbitrary but there’s actually a good reason for it and with out going into a complicated science lesson, the answer is mass. If you don’t have enough mass you don’t make it to the end of the line as one smaller child in our group found out.
This also happened to be the same child who kept asking questions like, “what happens if we fall?” and “are we all going to die?” On the second to last zip he simply didn’t have enough momentum to reach the platform and ended getting stuck on the line. Panic and hysterical screaming ensued while the tour guide clipped on the line and headed out to retrieve him. This could have certainly been a scary situation even for some adults.
The lesson to take away is this; make sure your children have the right mind set. If they are convinced they are going to fall and die this might not be the thing for them. It’s also very dark for most of the tour and “Hell” could certainly be frightening. There’s a lot of standing around and while the staff tries to keep things lively their main focus is zipping you safely, not entertaining. If your little ones don’t have a lot of patience it might be frustrating.
It’s also worth noting that there isn’t really any backing out. Once you’re on the course most of the platforms are elevated which means either you zip line to the other side or you have to be lowered down. If you’ve had a change of heart there simply isn’t any walking away without great intervention from the staff.
Obviously every child is different but I would say for the reasons outlined above that this is really more of an activity for kids a little older than seven. Maybe more like nine or ten years of age but your mileage may vary.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE MUSTY
All and all it was definitely a fun experience. There are a lot of kitschy touches that make you smile along the way and show the thought that was put into the attraction. The staff are friendly, enjoy their work, and want to make sure you have a safe experience. It is a little pricey especially for a family but it’s like no experience you’ll have anywhere else. After all it’s the only underground zip line in the world. I do wish that they limited group sizes to maybe eight or ten people instead of twelve to streamline things. To spite that and a few other small short comings I can honestly say that I would recommend it if you find yourself in the Louisville area.
Would you try an indoor zip line? Where is the coolest place you’ve been zip lining?
Natalie here: Thank you, Andrew for this awesome review of the Louisville Mega Cavern’s zipline to Hell! He raised an excellent point about kids on zip lines. A child may meet the minimum weight and age and not be ready for the experience. As always, be aware of your child’s comfort and maturity levels. Also don’t be afraid to stop even once money is spent. Your child will thank you!
Andrew is an avid photographer, with an emphasis on historic places and architecture. He is the Blissmersion IT guru, loves coffee, and running. He and his wife have 3 cats, Demi, Scully, and Vincent Price.