Our Research TravelingMom’s family is nothing if not spontaneous. This was especially evident when they headed out for a Saturday breakfast with no particular destination in mind. It was after all, free admission day at the National Parks, so why not take advantage of this wallet saving occasion?
Visiting Mammoth Cave with Kids
Mammoth Cave is just about an hour and a half from Louisville, Kentucky, and 30 minutes from Bowling Green, Kentucky. It is nestled in a little town whose biggest claim has always been the park. And what a claim it is! The size of the park most definitely lives up to its name of ‘mammoth.’ The park covers more than 52,830 acres, most of it underground.
Since our trip to Mammoth Cave was a spontaneous one, our family stuck with the cave tour offered for free. When you are looking at the schedule of fees, it is called the Mammoth Cave Discovery tour.
Read More: Free Admission Days at the National Parks
The Hot and Cold of Mammoth Cave
The day that we visited Mammoth Cave with kids, the heat was oppressive. The humidity in Kentucky is unlike humidity anywhere else; the air is so thick that it feels like one is drinking the air. I tell you all of this because it is very important to be prepared for this type of heat.
When we arrived at the entrance of the cave, it was like the heavens opened up and the angels were singing. The cool air wafting out of the opening to the cave and out into the heat was very welcomed.
The cave stays a constant 54 degrees. Some folks wore a light wrap while they were walking through the cave. I didn’t think it was needed, and I was wearing a tank top! My 7 year old, however, complained about ‘freezing’ the entire time. So, my best piece of advice is to use your best judgement when it comes to needing a wrap.
Although a self-guided tour, visitors aren’t totally on their own. At the entrance, we got a run down of the cave rules:
- No flash photos
- Don’t touch any wildlife
- Don’t touch the cave walls
Inside, the cave path is lit by very low lights. Without the lighting, the cave would be pitch black. (On some tours, the guides turn all the lights out to show you just how dark it can get.)
When we arrived in the area called the rotunda, I was enthralled with the older gentleman who sat in the middle of the room educating people about the saltpeter. A 5th generation tour guide, he walked the same passages as his ancestors who were slaves. They were leased to the county for $100 per year. The pride this man had was palpable. And for good reason: He was extremely knowledgeable. I could have soaked in his knowledge for hours. My 5-year-old, however, wanted to keep moving.
At ‘turn around’ point of the cave (for lack of a better term), another guide waited, ready and willing to answer questions. He had pictures of the different species of aquatic life that had been found in the park.
The total tour was 1/4 mile, so it was perfect for the little legs in my group.
The Mistake We Made
We then made our way out of the cave, and this is when I realized our terrible mistake. The cave had been our reprieve from the soul-crushing heat. Then my sweet husband wanted to walk the trail down to the banks of the green river, another .5 mile.
My glasses fogged up immediately the minute we exited the cave. Remember the detail of the trip being spontaneous? We neglected to bring things like proper hiking clothes, water bottles, and a willingness to hike in the heat.
The trip down to the river wasn’t so bad because it was all.down.hill. The trip back up? It made me feel irrationally angry. It was all uphill. I had a whiny 5 year old next to me (speaking all of the things that I was feeling). To top it off, he wanted to hold my hand in the 8 million degree heat.
Our Next Visit to Mammoth Cave with Kids
Here is what I would have changed: I would have walked the entire trail and stopped in the cave on the way back up the hill. The extreme temperature changes really did a number on me.
All in all, we had a fantastic spontaneous day that was easy on the pocket book. As my 5 year old said of the trip “I’ll have something to share with my friends at school on Monday when we talk about our weekend adventures!”