Things to Do at Mammoth Cave – Mammoth Cave National park has the world’s most extensive cave system with 400 miles of known caves. It’s in Central Kentucky—east of Brownsville near Bowling Green city.
The park has a wide range of cave tours covering various cave sections. It also features underground rivers and distinct rock formations.
The cave tours the national park service offers accommodate everyone, even those who use wheelchairs. If you prefer to stay on the surface, you can take a canoe down the Nolin or Green Rivers, hike the backcountry’s trails or take a birding tour.
Things to Explore When You Visit Mammoth Cave
1. Kayak on Nolin River and Green River
The park sits on over 52,000 acres of land. The Nolin and Green Rivers stretch across almost 30 miles of Mammoth Cave National Park.
Local outfitters rent boats outside the park, and they can gear you up for a couple of hours or even for overnight trips.
An excursion along the water will offer a spectacular view of the national park. The land has stunning forests, sinkholes, and dramatic bluffs.
2. Take the Wild Cave Tour
The Wild Cave Tour is the most in-depth and the most extended tour at Mammoth—sometimes guests crawl on their knees and hands at some points during the tour. During the trip, you’ll be given knee pads, helmets with lamps, gloves, bandanas, and overalls to protect you.
They offer this tour during the spring and fall. The tour lasts approximately six hours, and you can have lunch in the caves. Along the course of the tour, your guide will highlight stalactite and stalagmite formations in some of the largest underground rooms in the park.
You should take note that there are some that shouldn’t go on the Wild Cave Tour. For example, those in poor health, those afraid of heights, people under 16 years, or those who are claustrophobic in tight spaces should refrain.
You don’t have to book reservations, though they’re recommended you do make a reservation during the fall and spring seasons because these are the park’s busiest times.
3. Tour the Sand Cave Trail
The Sand Cave Trail is on Kentucky Highway 255, next to Mammoth National Park. There is accessible parking at the sign.
Floyd Collins went looking for a new cave in 1925. During the Cave Wars, his household’s Crystal Cave was lost, and he hoped to get another attraction at Sand Cave. Unfortunately, when he was in a narrow walkway, his leg was pinned by a falling rock.
Rescuers strived to bring Collins out from the cave as his predicament caught the nation’s attention.
After several attempts, their effort was futile, and Collins passed on after 18 days. After a long, unusual posthumous odyssey, they buried his body at the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church park.
4. Explore the Mammoth City Wildlife Museum
The Mammoth Cave Wildlife Museum, a 14,000 square foot gallery, hosts a magnificent collection of marine life, preserved insects, and taxidermy animals.
Visitors will view real, preserved animals like bears, leopards, lions, tigers, sheep, and deer. The museum has many stuffed birds as well as an impressive insect collection.
The Mammoth Cave Wildlife Museum has extended hours during the summer and is open daily.
5. Bike Ride on the Trails
Bikers are also catered for at Mammoth Cave National Park. Four off-road trails in the backcountry have been designated particularly for mountain biking. Approximately nine miles lengthwise, you can tour the Bill Hollow Trails and Mammoth Cave Railroad.
The White Oak Trail has approximately 2.5 miles, while the Maple Springs Trail is just one mile. Mountain bikes are permitted on the administrative roads, and street bikes are allowed on every paved road.
6. Mammoth Cave Camping at the Park
There are three developed campgrounds at Mammoth Cave National Park that are accessible and excellent for a natural night out.
Maple Springs, Houchin Ferry, and Mammoth Cave campgrounds provide varying levels of amenities, ease, and access to the other areas in the park without straying far from the road to the campsite.
A quarter-mile from the Mammoth Cave visitor center is the Mammoth Cave campgrounds. The campgrounds are within walking distance of the rivers and the cave entrance.
Maple Springs Group campgrounds are closer to the backcountry trails and are six miles north of the Visitor’s Center—they can shelter bigger camper groups, including those camps with horses.
As for the Houchin Ferry campgrounds, it provides thirteen primitive-style campsites along the Green River.The Maple Springs and Mammoth Cave campgrounds are open daily from March to November, whereas the Houchin Ferry campground stays open all year round.
7. Stroll Around the Great Onyx Cave
Mammoth and Great Onyx Cave are not linked, but a one-mile tour with 40 stairs in the park. Onyx is filled with stunning formations and has an exciting cave history.
Cave owners like Mammoth, Onyx, and others took part in a cutthroat competition for tourist funds during the Kentucky Cave Wars. Onyx is between two landowners’ property—the one with no cave access triumphantly sued the other.
The cave provides a River Styx tour, although flooding makes it unnavigable. Alternatively, you can tour the river of the Underworld outside in Mammoth. Walk toward the Green River from the historic entrance of the cave.
Explore the River Styx, where it connects the Green, then trace it downhill to the cave. You can proceed to one of the recommended Kentucky hikes along the Echo River Trail, which is 3.4-miles long.
8. Mammoth Cave Stargazing
For thousands of years, people have used stars to tell time, direction, or simply to contemplate the wonders of the world. If stargazing is something you enjoy, Mammoth Cave is the place to be. Locate an open space like a grassy field to get the best view.
Another popular spot you can stargaze is the parking lot at the Mammoth Cave visitor center. Keep off areas with artificial light. Bring along a flashlight with red lights to help you locate your spot without interrupting your night vision.
A telescope is unnecessary when you visit Mammoth Cave, though a good pair of binoculars might come in handy. There are park ranger-led stargazing programs offered throughout the year. The programs provide a unique chance to appreciate the dark sky environment of the park.
9. Visit the Bottomless Pit of History
Do you enjoy walking? You can take the 2.25-hour extended historical tour that is two miles long and includes 540 stairs. It is an excellent way to kick-start your day. The rangers will share many interesting stories, but the most fascinating one is Stephen Bishop’s story.
Before the Civil War, enslaved guides led the tours. The first Mammoth guide was Stephen Bishop, and he trained the other guides. Among Bishop’s most famous adventures was the ladder. He put a ladder across a Bottomless Pit that is 105 feet deep.
He then used his teeth to hold a lantern and crawled to the other side. Bishop’s trademark in candle smoke embellishes many areas of the cave that terrify even modern-day cavers.
10. Try Green River Canoeing
Do you like canoeing or kayaking? Kentucky has natural rivers and rolling hills ideal for canoeing and kayaking. You can rent canoes and kayaks at Green River. There is also a shuttle service that can take you to and from Green River.
It can take days or a few hours to tour Mammoth Cave National Park. Native Kentucky wildlife, woodland scenery, and beautiful river bluffs can all be viewed from the water if you are on a boat.
The best place to set up your camping tent is along the river. While inside the park, you can fish even if you do not have a state license. If you are planning to have an overnight trip, make a reservation.
11. Hiking Mammoth Cave National Park Backcountry
If you want peace and enjoy scenic views, consider one of the12 campsites in the park’s backside.
To access these sites, take a minute-long ride on the mini ferry, which can only accommodate one car at a time. Once you get there, park and select the trailer of your choice.
There are trails like the first and second Creek, which will take you close to the water and are significant sites to camp.Homestead campsite is ideal if you want a home base campsite for short day hikes nearby. Collie Ridge is the best campsite if you want to feel like you are in the wilderness.
Get a free backcountry pass from the visitor center so that you can access these campsites. It is important to note that the mini ferries cannot accommodate RVs.
12. Wander to the Frozen Niagara
They offer the Frozen Niagara tour all year round, and it’s less strenuous compared to the Wild Cave Tour. This trip is ideal for visitors who want to experience the fascinating sites at Mammoth Cave without going too deep into the expansive cave system.
During the Frozen Niagara tour, visitors are first taken to the top of the cave at the entrance and are then taken down roughly 50 feet into the Drapery Room to see the rock formations.
It will take approximately one hour to finish the tour. They usually do the tour at a slow pace, and it is ideal for individuals who want an introduction to the cave or those visitors with kids.
13. Go Violet City Lantern Tour With Your Family.
Consider booking a spot on the Violet City Lantern tour if you visit the park from the spring through fall. The tour explores several of the most extensive passages in the cave.
During the tour, you’ll have a guide who will give you a history of how the caves were used for Native American dwellings, saltpeter production, and prehistoric mining. The only source of light during the tour is a lantern.
You will also visit an underground hospital used in the 1840s to care for tuberculosis patients. The tour is slow-paced, and it covers about three miles and takes approximately three hours. During the tour, you will have time to sit and discuss stories and appreciate the magnificence of rooms such as Broadway Avenue, Elizabeth’s Dome, and Star Chamber.
The tour is not that strenuous, even though there are a few stairs and hills you will have to climb. Children below the age of six aren’t allowed on this tour, and those below eighteen must be in the company of an adult.
14. Experience the Horseback Tour of the Park
There are plenty of campgrounds and trails that can accommodate horseback riding, whether you have your own horse or want to pay for horseback riding. You can get guided horseback riding tours that traverse over 60 miles of backcountry trails to the north of Green River at Double J Stables.
Make sure you get a free trail map and do not stray from the marked trails during your excursion. Maple Springs Group Campground has seven campsites for riders and their horses if you plan to stay overnight.
Visit Mammoth Cave National Park
One thing about the Mammoth Cave National Park is that they have a variety of touring experiences available. You can customize your trip to suit your needs, whether looking for a down-and-dirty adventure or a relaxing escape.
Mammoth Cave National Park is among the diverse, surprising, and unusual tourist destinations because of its wild rivers, deep-green forests, and dark deep caverns. You are sure to have a great time on any Mammoth Cave adventure.
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