Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave is an Underground Adventure


Kentucky is home to the world’s longest known cave system—Mammoth Cave, which, at press time, clocks in at 426 miles. The cave is hardly a new attraction; Native Americans came here around 5,000 years ago and explored some 19 miles under what is now Mammoth Cave National Park.  In addition to being a longstanding tourist attraction, the cave has housed a commercial bat guano mine, a hospital for tuberculosis patients, and a Methodist church.

Today, Mammoth Cave National Park includes 52,830 acres of south central Kentucky and, in addition to the cave, encompasses the surrounding river valleys and rolling wooded hillsides.

Besides exploring the cave, visitors can learn about the history of the area and enjoy camping, hiking, and kayaking.

Ranger-led lantern tours show what cave exploration used to be like. Photo courtesy NPS Photos

Several cave tours are available, including self-guided and organized tours featuring attractions like Frozen Niagara, one of the cave’s most famous sections. A Trog Tour for kids allows participants to crawl and slither their way through an introduction to cave exploration. Lantern tours take place in the evenings and offer a nostalgic look at what cave exploration was like before the invention of flashlights. Back on the surface, ranger-led activities include talks on plants and animals and walks to nearby features like Echo River Springs.

Visitors can enjoy kayaking and canoeing. Photo courtesy NPS Photos

Hikers in the park can explore 18 miles of easy-to-access trails. The experience is enhanced by the Beneath Your Feet feature, 14 locations along trails that provide information and images about the cave passages beneath you. Rivers inside the park are part of the Green and Nolin Rivers Blueway, a National Waters Trail. Private canoe and kayak rental services operate within the park, which provides three access points accessible by car.

Campers can choose from developed or rugged sites.Photo courtesy NPS Photos

Visitors who want to stay in the park may choose from developed campgrounds near the visitors center or rugged campsites in the backcountry or riverside. For those who favor the great indoors, the Lodge at Mammoth Cave features modern hotel rooms as well as historic cabins. One obvious advantage to staying overnight is the possibility of stargazing and participating in one of the scheduled ranger-led Night Sky programs which include viewing the sky through telescopes.

Getting There:  Mammoth Cave, Kentucky is located in southcentral Kentucky near the community of Mammoth Cave, close to I-65. For more information check the website at www.nps.gov/maca.

 

 

Kathie Farnell
Kathie Farnell
Freelance writer Kathie Farnell lives in Foley, Alabama, ten miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, with her husband, photographer Jack Purser, and a flock of cats. She has written travel articles for print and web publications since 1992, and also produces programming for public television and radio through her nonprofit corporation, Artemis Media Project. The couple enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations and spending time on the Gulf beaches.

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