You know you have climbed a mountain. But in a cave, you can never be certain that the cave does not go on.
-Roger Brucker and Richard Watson
￼ even with very poor weather, we thoroughly enjoyed our recent visit to Mammoth Cave National Park. In fact, it made Clay’s top five favorite parks list! Here are a few things to consider when planning your trip.￼
Don’t worry about planning way in advance!
Unless you are dead set on a certain tour or are planning to arrive during a peek weekend, you don’t necessarily need to plan far in advance for this park, especially in comparison to the major parts like Yosemite or Yellowstone. It is a great place to stop even if you only have a few hours.￼ We have been in caves all over the world, and this one was simply spectacular. If you have any interest in caves, this is an absolute must see spot as it is the worlds longest cave by quite a margin more than doubling the size of second place.￼
Do check out the Visitor Center
Not only is it the only place to book a tour, but it is one of the best visitor centers we have seen! The gift shops are filled with both the typical tourist items as well as many local artists and very unique gifts and souvenirs.
As you enter, there will be a park ranger to greet you and answer any questions. Then, you can head to the desk and book a tour. Below are the options available.￼
While the park used to do a river tour, it is not available anymore. Unfortunately, overly demanding guests don’t realize the impact of unpredictable weather, and the park was using all of its resources to manage this one tour. While we are sad they don’t run the tour anymore, we understand that the park must run efficiently to optimize its availability to everyone.￼
Do visit the hotel restaurant and ice cream parlor
While it was nowhere near our best meal in a national park, there are not a lot of options in the area. The food was decent but they did serve beer and wine, which is always a plus.
All of the dressings were homemade, and the kids meals were tasty and substantial. We were very sad to miss the ice cream parlor, but it is not open during the winter. However, everyone kept telling us how fantastic it was. Maybe next time!￼￼
Don’t touch the bats and don’t leave the trails
Although we did not see any bats, it is a vital to their ecosystem that you leave them alone. Upon exiting the cave, you also need to wash your shoes on the solution provided. There is a virus being transmitted in caves throughout the world which is killing the bats. All American cave systems now required this process. We were happy to oblige.
It may seem like an adventure to leave the main trails, but the guides are there for a reason. If you want a more backcountry experience, then take the rustic trail systems for a richer experience. The trails near the visitor center would be destroyed if everyone ventured off the path.￼￼
Don’t miss the tours
Not only is it the only way to enter the cave, but it is the best way to get a deeper experience. The park rangers are experts, and can add so much history and detail to your trip. Experienced cavers can also apply with their caving club, which we learned was called a grotto, to become a part of the cave mapping and exploration going on in the national Park. Our guide shared that there are constantly students and professors studying the cave from all over the world. As of 2017, the cave is listed at 412 miles long, but the park rangers know there are many more miles to still be uncovered and explored.
Don’t miss the museum and film￼
The park museum maybe small, but it is easily the best one we’ve seen. Most national parks have a few exhibits with information and some level of interactivity; however, none we have seen so far are on par with this small museum. It is packed with information, but it remains accessible, interactive, and fun for kids and adults alike.
The space is made to feel like a cave, small but full of life and packed with diversity.
The film room was the perfect way to get excited about heading to the cave. It really gave you a sense of what was ahead. It also shared the fascinating history of the discovery and exploration of the cave which continues still today.
Don’t miss the trails and waterfalls
While it is true that this national Park is mostly about the cave, don’t miss out on the trails and waterfalls all over the park. Around every corner is something new to see from a babbling brook to a large sinkhole and countless waterfalls. It was magical even in the freezing rain weather. We certainly wish we had more time to stay and explore.￼