There’s what I was looking for: a brown sign to the right of the road emblazoned with “Mammoth Cave National Park.” Luscious green trees towered over my head and bright-colored butterflies fluttered by welcoming guests to the park. The street ahead wound past biking and hiking trails until a convenient store appeared on the left followed by the visitor center.
Inside the visitor center is a museum, a great start to a visit at Mammoth Cave National Park. The displays in the museum tell how how the cave system formed, what makes it so unique, what types of critters call Mammoth Cave home, and who some of the first people were to explore the caves. It’s the perfect way to get an introduction before exploring the caves.
A short walk on a wide path through the woods just outside the visitor center leads to the Historic Entrance. Before I rounded the corner to the cave opening, a cold, brisk breeze hit me square in the face. Water rhythmically fell into the opening of the cave. Walking down the steps toward the abyss, I put my hoodie on, a refreshing change from the upper 80-degree heat paired with sticky humidity just outside of the cave.
As the cave engulfed me into more and more darkness, an eerie feeling washed over me. I suddenly realized that I was alone. There was not a sound, not even a peep. It felt like this was a haunted attraction at Halloween and not just a simple walk in a national park. With a deep breath, the endless quiet and stillness was like a wave of fresh air.
I continued walking only hearing the sound of my own footsteps for a few more minutes until suddenly the silence was broken. I came upon a big opening in the cave and stumbled across a tour of at least 30 people going on. They whispered as they took in the wonder of this expansive and peculiar place.
A little after midday, I joined the tour I had planned my visit around, the Domes and Dripstones Tour, one of the recommended attractions for first-timers at Mammoth Cave National Park. We all crammed into three green buses and headed four miles away to the New Entrance to start our adventure into the depths of Mammoth Cave.
The first descent was about 250 feet down a narrow set of stairs. We squeezed in single-file playing limbo as rocks jutted into the pathway. We passed through dramatic domes and pits and then the walkway opened up to large passages. The finale of the 0.75-mile tour was the incredible dripstones at the Drapery Room with jaw-dropping formations. The Domes and Dripstones Tour shows off a variety of Mammoth Cave’s uniquely stunning features.
About Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world with an astounding 400+ miles having been explored, and there’s probably more that hasn’t been discovered yet. The national park is located in Kentucky about 30 miles from Bowling Green and 90 miles from Nashville. Entrance to the park is free of charge.
Mammoth Cave National Park offers a variety of tours throughout the year that range in length and difficulty. Guided cave tours range from $13 (for adults) to $55 for the six-hour Wild Cave Tour. Additionally, there are free walks and talks you can also take advantage of. Mammoth Cave National Park has hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, in addition to boating, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and swimming options.
If you are looking to do an overnight trip, there is accommodation inside the park. Mammoth Cave Hotel has a variety of rooms and cottages available year round, and there are campgrounds if you’re looking for a more rustic experience. There is also lodging in nearby towns, like Cave City and Park City.
Five tips for visiting Mammoth Cave National Park
Book tours in advance because they frequently sell out. Reservations ensure you have a spot on the tour.
Don’t rely on Google Maps or the GPS on your phone for getting to the park. Often it takes people on a much longer route to the visitor center and service is spotty. Write down the directions on Mammoth Cave National Park’s website. Once you arrive in the park, there will be signs to guide you.
Wear comfy shoes with traction, like running or hiking shoes. It makes walking in the caves much easier.
Turn your flash off on your phone and/or camera when going on a cave tour. Flash photography is not allowed on tours unless otherwise noted.
Explore more than just the cave system. See the beauty above the cave as well.
Have you been to Mammoth Cave National Park or would you like to visit?