Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park

My first visit to Mammoth Cave National Park was in 2021 on a road trip with Teddy from Pennsylvania to Georgia. This particular stop was not initially part of our plan. On our way back from Georgia, we had planned to spend two days in the Smoky Mountains but since we’d both been there before and because of how busy it was, we did the hike we wanted in the morning and then left early and detoured over to Kentucky.

About the Park & Getting There

Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system that’s about 10 million years old with more than 420 miles of surveyed passageways. In comparison, Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico has 138 miles of passageways, Wind Cave of South Dakota has 143 miles and Jewel Cave also in South Dakota has about 180 miles. Mammoth Cave National Park is located about 1 hour northeast of Bowling Green and 2.5 hours southwest of Lexington. The closest airports to fly into would be either Nashville, TN or Lexington, KY.

Admission

Entrance to the park is free but to explore the cave, you must pay for a ticket and go on a ranger led cave tour. The cave not able to be explored on your own. Reservations are highly recommended since space on the tours is limited. The tours range in price from $6- $60 per person. We did the extended historic tour while we were there which was 2.5 hours and about 2 miles long. They offer about 12 different tours so you have quite a few options to choose from.

What To Do

  • Cave Tour – This is the most popular thing to go while visiting this national park.
  • Hike – There’s about 20 miles of trails by the Visitor Center and the South Side and then an additional 60 back country trails.
  • Bike – There are two different unpaved 9 or so mile trails that can be biked. They are Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike Trail and the Big Hollow Trail.
  • Horseback Riding – You can use the 60 miles of back country trails for riding or book a ride through Double J Riding Stables and Campground.
  • Canoe / Kayak – The Nolin and Green Rivers which are inside the park are now a National Watertrail that covers 36 miles with 7 public access sites.
  • Stargazing – This became an International Dark Sky park in the fall of 2021 which means the there are great and clear night skies which make a better experience for viewing the night sky.

Tips

  • Inside the cave, the temperature is in the mid 50s so pack a jacket or sweatshirt.
  • Wear comfortable shoes to explore the cave since there’s a good amount of walking involved (.75 – 2.5 miles depending on your tour)
  • The cave is located in the Central Time Zone
  • There’s no flash photography allowed in the cave but you can do photography without the flash
  • Strollers and tripods are not able to be taken into the cave

Where to Stay

  • Lodge On Site – There are cottages and a lodge which look adorable. There’s also dog and cat boarding right on site as well for when you’re on your cave tour.
  • Camp on Site – Stay at one of the back country campsites.
  • Cave City – We stayed in Cave City at a chain hotel. Most of the hotel options are in this areas.

Nearby Attractions

  • Visit Farmwalds Dutch Bakery & Deli for a delicious breakfast (or lunch) in Horse Cave. They have amish pies, breakfast sandwiches, ice cream, and a restaurant.
  • Some of the best Mexican Food we’ve ever had was in Cave City at El Acapulco. We didn’t expect to eat Mexican for dinner in what felt like the middle of nowhere Kentucky that would be so good but we were pleasantly surprised.
  • Back Home Restaurant & Boutique in Elizabethtown, Kentucky had one of our favorite home cooked comfort food on the trip.
  • Do some hiking at the Natural Bridge in Kentucky
  • Drive toward Bowling Green, Nashville, or Lexington and explore what each city has to offer! If you get to Lexington, I highly recommend visiting Old School Coffee!

When we initially arrived at Mammoth Cave during our visit, it was just prior to dinner time. We drove by the Visitor Center which was already closed, and then down by the ferry. We knew it was a National Park and a cave but didn’t really see what the fuss was about above the surface. It wasn’t until the next day, being able to go into this truly massive cave that we looked at each other and were like “Oh, I get it now”. This is why I’d highly recommend doing a tour of at least an hour if you visit. Knowing the cave is over 400 miles, and the tours explore only a few miles of it is mind blowing. I hope that this blog was helpful and that if you do visit, you have a great time. Happy travels!

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