Mammoth Cave, located 35 miles northeast of Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the world’s longest known cave system containing over 400 miles of “grand and gloomy chambers.”
Scientific evidence shows that Native Americans first ventured into Mammoth Cave over 2000 years ago. More recently, the “discovery” of Mammoth Cave is credited to John Houchins who, somewhere between 1798 and 1802, wounded a bear that either led him to the entrance of the cave, or chased him inside it!
Mammoth Cave is one of the oldest tourist attractions in North America with tours of the cave system having been offered since 1816. Today, the National Park Service offers a wide variety of Ranger-led Cave Tours. Although reservations for the tours are not required, they are highly recommended!
Popular tours include the Frozen Niagara – a short stroll and easy introductory visit to Mammoth Cave. Four miles in length, the Grand Avenue Tour is rated “strenuous” and guides you to the classic landmarks of the Cave. “Strenuous” in cave language means you will need to climb and descend stairs without getting severely winded. As long as you have no heart or respiratory issues, “strenuous” cave tours should pose no problem.
The 3-mile Violet City Lantern Tour is done by candlelight. This tour allows you to experience the Cave just as the early explorers did. If you desire to get down and dirty, the Wild Cave Tour will have you crawling on hands and knees as you squeeze through tight quarters, exploring this fascinating underground world.
Since we failed to make advanced reservations, the popular Grand Avenue Tour was sold out. Instead, we opted for the Domes and Dripstones Tour, which includes a small section of Grand Avenue and all of the Frozen Niagara Tour.
When to go: The park is open year round and cave tours are given every day except December 25th. Summer months are the busiest and cave tour reservations are highly recommended.
What to do: Most who come to explore Mammoth Cave seek to hike the underground world of the cave system; however, above grade, there are 84 miles of trails woven into the tapestry of the rolling Kentucky landscape. Mountain biking and horseback riding are other popular activities at Mammoth Cave.
Where to stay: Mammoth Cave features three developed campgrounds with over 100 available campsites and a dozen primitive sites in the backcountry. Mammoth Cave Hotel is located adjacent to the Natural Entrance offering a variety of lodging options.
Trivia: Stalactites in Mammoth Cave grow downward – they hang “tight” to the ceiling. Stalagmites grow upward - some day they “might” reach the ceiling.