Mammoth Cave, located near Bowling Green in Kentucky, is the longest cave system in the world. It has been part of the National Park System since 1942, and since then it has been named a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. We’ve been to Kentucky several times in the past, but up until this year we had never had the chance to visit Mammoth Cave. When the opportunity arose to take a few days to visit the 52,830 acre park, we took it. First, we stopped in Bowling Green to pick up a family friend, then drove the short 30-minute route from Bowling Green to Mammoth Cave National Park.
We went in July, so it was hot and humid at Mammoth Cave. Crowds could be seen taking refuge in the various air conditioned buildings at the park, including a hotel, restaurant, and the welcome center. Tours were almost sold out on the day we arrived, so I highly recommend buying your tickets in advance, like we did. What I don’t recommend is taking a 3 month old on the Historic Tour. Although my dad had read the description of the tour online, noting the number of stairs and that the tour lasts two hours, there were a few small details that weren’t mentioned on the website. For example, the fact that the ceiling is only 3 feet high at one point? Yeah, not baby friendly. Or that you have to climb down a ladder at one point and can’t bring baby carriers. I bravely offered to hang out at the cafe for the 2 hours that the tour ran, but in the end we decided to exchange our tickets for the self-guided tour.
The cave itself is a comfortable 54 degrees year round. There’s a big difference between the 100+ degree humidity outside the cave and the cool interior of the cave. In fact, my glasses fogged up when going between the two, which was less than ideal when going down and coming up the steps to the cave mouth. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief once we got inside the cave, though, including the baby. She had been cranky while we explored the grounds of Mammoth Cave as we waited for our tour to begin, but once we actually stepped inside the cave, she fell right asleep.
The self-guided tour is short. It’s only 3/4 mile, and lasts about 30 minutes (or more, if you’re like my dad, and want to take your time soaking up the scenery.) Although the Discovery Tour is self-guided, there are helpful Park Rangers located at various points along the trail. These Park Rangers will tell you about the history of the cave, which ranges from Native American usage in preparing bodies for burial, to saltpeter mining in the War of 1812, to its use in the 1800s as a tuberculosis hospital. (For more info on the tuberculosis hospital, be sure to check out the lantern tour. This guided tour has only 30 participants at a time and tours the area once used as a tuberculosis hospital. It’s on my bucket list!)
Looking for more than just a cave tour? Mammoth Cave National Park offers surface activities and nature walks, along with plenty of hiking trails. One of the hiking trails is pretty famous: it leads to the site of unsuccessful cave rescue attempts of the famous caver Floyd Collins in 1925. Don’t worry, there are less depressing hiking trails, too.
Want to stay at Mammoth Cave? There are hotel rooms and cabins available on the grounds, as well as 3 campgrounds! While staying at the park, try your hand at fishing or boating the nearby rivers, or bike the 9 mile bike trail. There’s something for everyone in the family at Mammoth Cave— even for babies. Tip: If you have to change your tickets, like we did, there is a $3 service fee per person.
Have you ever been to Mammoth Cave National Park?
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