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Mammoth Cave is, well, mammoth. It is the longest cave in the world. That’s just one reason to make Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky a stop on your next family vacation. Here are even more reasons to explore Mammoth Cave National Park treasure the next time you’re passing through Kentucky.
Mammoth Cave Kentucky
It’s tough to get two teens and one husband to agree on a family vacation destination. Our best trips have been accidental ones. And the best of those was the stop at Mammoth Cave in western Kentucky.
Read More: 41 Fun FREE Things to Do in Kentucky
We were meandering our way home from a spring break trip to Disney World in Orlando. (We’ve been several times and I definitely recommend NOT going to Disney World on spring break. It was so crowded that at times we couldn’t even move — literally, we got “stuck” in the passage near the “it’s a small world” ride, a pedestrian traffic jam that required a Disney cast member to disperse — much less get on the rides.)
I just happened to look at the map as we wound our way through Kentucky and realized we were just a short jog away from Mammoth Cave.
Underground at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Perhaps it says something about my family, but we love going underground. We’ve been to three types of caves:
- Young ones, such as the Squire Boone Cavern (he was Daniel Boone’s brother) in southern Indiana that still have rivers raging through them
- Middle-aged caves such as nearby Marengo Cave where water still seeps.
- Ancient caves such as Mammoth in Kentucky that are completely dry, having long outlived the water that forged them.
Here are my top reasons to detour your road trip or extend a Kentucky vacation, to visit Mammoth Cave Kentucky, a wonder of nature and a fascinating place to take kids.
1. Caves Are Cool
Literally. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like above ground. Underground at Mammoth Cave, it’s always a steady 54 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. That makes for a really cool stop on a sweltering summer day.
TravelingMom Tip: Bring a jacket and wear closed-toe shoes, like sneakers. You’re welcome.
2. Mammoth Cave Is, Well, Mammoth
It’s the longest known cave system in the U.S. and even the world’s longest cave system, with more than 400 miles explored. Located in central Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, meaning this cave is of world importance.
We regular folk (not those nutty cave spelunkers who go where no tourist has gone before) only get to see a small fraction of this ancient cave system.
The areas of the cave open to tourists are filled with stairs that would make OSHA proud, easy-to-walk boardwalks and electric lights to illuminate the way.
TravelingMom Tip: Despite those modern safety features, babies and toddlers must be carried. No strollers or backpacks are allowed. The strollers simply won’t work inside the caves, with their uneven surfaces and many stairs, and backpacks don’t work because of the many places where walkers have to bend over to duck low hanging rocks, only to have the baby take the hit.
3. It’s a National Park. So, Park Rangers
I love me some park rangers! These people are helpful and well-versed in the history, lore and details of the parks they serve. They’re also great with kids (at least every National Park Ranger I’ve met has been good with kids).
At Mammoth Cave, that means Ranger-led tours of the caves, complete with engaging storytelling, historical facts and entertaining tidbits.
4. Tours of Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave National Park offers many different tours and a few cave entrances, like the historic entrance (walking path) and an elevator entrance. The caves features miles of trails.
The most popular tours are the self-guided tours though find special interest tours covering geology, historic tours and off-trail tours. Due to Covid-19, some tours are suspended and, at all times, reservations are highly recommended. Get all the latest details from NPS.gov.
A taste of the cave at your own pace. Enter through the Historic Entrance.
Takes about 30 minutes, depending on your pace. Travels .75 miles (1.2 km) Adult admission is $8 and youth are $6.
Enter through the Historic Entrance and walk through the Rotunda, Broadway Avenue, Methodist Church, Booth’s Amphitheater, Giants Coffin and the Tuberculosis Huts. Tour lasts two hours and travels 1.7 miles (2.8 km) and includes 160 steps. Adult admission is $18 and youth are $13.
Cleaveland Avenue Tour
This tour focuses on the cave’s geology and history. Learn about karsts on this tour as well. Tour last 2.5 hours and travels 2 miles (3.3 km) and includes 400 steps. Adult admission is $22 and youth are $16.
Mammoth Cave Access Tour
Using the elevator, this tour visits the Snowball Room and Cleaveland Avenue. No steps or stairs on this tour so ideal for those with mobility issues. Tours lasts 2 hours and travel .5 miles (.8 km). Adult admission is $22 and youth are $16.
Introduction to Caving Tour
Crawl on your belly, wild cave tour. Learn how to explore underground from an experienced ranger. Size and shoe requirements. This tours is 3+ hours and considered strenuous. Adult admission is $35 and youth are $28.
The Domes and Dripstones Tour is my favorite, despite the 500 stairs you have to climb up and down and up again. (When your park ranger guide warns that a tour includes 233 stairs and may not be appropriate for some people, pay attention. They’re not kidding.)
Some tours require children to be a certain age before they can visit. Some are strenuous, although most are not. There are handicap accessible tours, but strollers are not allowed anywhere in the caves.
5. Mammoth Cave Bats
OK–bats aren’t really a reason I would want to visit Mammoth Cave. But my son was really into them. So he liked seeing them there. Turns out the bats are having a bit of struggle right now. According to the National Park Service, “White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease in bats that is killing these vital animals by the millions, is a potential threat to Mammoth Cave and the bats that live here.
The Park’s efforts to prevent WNS here may affect what you can wear or bring with you into the cave. Clothing, footwear and handheld items that have previously been worn in caves or mines in certain areas may not be brought into Mammoth Cave.
More Things to Do at Mammoth Cave National Park
Head to the Mammoth Cave Visitor Center
Close to the historic entrance, the Mammoth Cave Visitor Center houses the Mammoth Cave Tour ticket counter and is the departure point for all cave tours. Also find an interpretive area and gift shop along with restrooms.
Located at 1 Mammoth Cave Parkway. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with sight seasonal variations.
Hiking in Mammoth Cave National Park
Find 7.2 miles of hiking trails around the visitor center. Most trails are short though find backcountry trails as well.
Canoeing and Kayaking in Mammoth Cave National Park
Consider spending some time on the rivers of Mammoth Cave National Park. The Green River and the Nolin River flow through the park. Find rental kayaks and canoes near the park.
Horseback Riding in Mammoth Caves National Park
Guided horseback riding is available inside the park. Mammoth Caves National Park offers over 85 miles horseback riding trails.
Where to Stay Near Mammoth Cave
The Lodge at Mammoth Cave
With modern rooms along with historic cottages, find a selection of lodging inside the park.
Mammoth Cave National Park is open 24-hours a day and every day of the year. This is a fee-free park, though cave tours are by admission. Mammoth Cave National Park is about 100 miles south from Louisville, Kentucky, and 10 miles from Cave City.
TravelingMom Tip: Don’t rely solely on your GPS to get you to the Mammoth Cave Visitors Center. Download directions or bring a paper map. This part of Kentucky seems to be confusing to electronic navigation systems. You don’t want to risk missing a scheduled tour because the GPS sent you in the wrong direction.
TravelingMom Tip 2: Mammoth Cave Kentucky is on Central time. Plan accordingly so you don’t miss a scheduled tour.