Mammoth Cave is, well, mammoth. That’s just one reason to make Mammoth Cave Kentucky a stop on your next family vacation. Here are even more reasons to stop at this 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.
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, much less get on the rides.)
I just happened to look at the map as we wound your way through Kentucky and realized we were just a short jog away from Mammoth Cave.
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’s brother) in southern Indiana that still have rivers raging through them
- Middle-aged caves such as nearby Morengo 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 visit Mammoth Cave Kentucky, a wonder of nature and a fascinating place to take kids.
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. That makes for a really cool stop on a sweltering summer day. Bring a jacket and wear closed-toe shoes, like sneakers. You’re welcome.
Mammoth Cave Is, Well, Mammoth
It’s the world’s longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles explored. 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. Despite those modern safety features, note that babies 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.
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.
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. Most tours charge a fee.
You can read a list of tours, age and fitness requirements, fees and times on the National Park Service website.
TravelingMom Tip: Book the tours you want in advance, if possible. Tours can accommodate only a certain number of people and once they sell-out, they’re done.
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. To learn if these limitations might include items you wear or carry, click here to visit the White-Nose Syndrome page.”
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.