Immense underground rooms, moisture leaching from the slick stone walls and dripping silently from the tips of centuries-old stalactites. Subterranean rivers running through the darkness, pooling in lakes before flowing deeper into spaces never seen by human eyes. Mummified Indians, perfectly preserved by the mineral-rich soil and cool temperatures, and strange fish species, eyeless and unpigmented from generations spent in the blackness of the cave interior. “A grand, gloomy and peculiar place” is how Stephen Bishop, an early slave guide, described the vast chambers and complex labyrinth of Mammoth Cave.
Mammoth Cave National Park encompasses almost 53,000 acres in south central Kentucky with over 70 miles of backcountry trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding and two rivers for canoeing and fishing. The cave system itself is the world’s largest known network of natural caves and interconnected passageways. In fact, it is over 100 miles longer than the second and third largest caves combined. Over 390 miles of passage have been explored and mapped, but no one knows the true extent of the system. Mammoth Cave has been designated a World Heritage Site because of its enormous size, unique flora and fauna and because it clearly exhibits 100 million years of cave-forming geological processes.
There is evidence of human use of Mammoth Cave dating back 4,000 years. The prehistoric Native Americans gathered the minerals from the walls for 2,000 years (no one knows why), then for reasons unknown, the cave was abandoned until rediscovered in the early 1800’s. Then Kentuckians mined saltpeter to make gun powder, used the cave as a tuberculosis hospital, and even a church.
Today there are more than a dozen different guided tours of the dramatic spaces in the cave network. You can peer into bottomless pits, ogle impressive domes with names like Rainbow and Moonlight, and walk through a fairyland of stalactite and stalagmite formations. A massive flowstone formation called Frozen Niagara strikes awe with its motionless beauty. Continue your exploration through amazing caverns called Thanksgiving Hall, Drapery Room and Grand Central Station and wriggle through Fat Man’s Misery. It goes on and on…
Electric lighting is installed along most of the tour routes, but on some tours you carry lanterns and on one, adventurers don helmets, headlamps and kneepads to explore undeveloped passageways. Many of the tours cut the lights for a moment to experience the utter blackness of the inside of the earth. Tours are rated for physical difficulty, from easy ¼ mile flat walking tours to very strenuous belly crawling through tiny passages and free-climbing cave walls. Cave tour prices range from $5 – $48 with discounts for students and seniors. None of Mammoth Cave is handicapped accessible because of difficulty navigating stairs into and out of the cave.
400,000 people a year visit Mammoth Cave so it is essential that you make reservations in advance for your preferred tour. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult 18 or over and shirts shoes are required. Surfaces are uneven and slippery so treaded shoes are a good idea. The temperature in the cave stays between the mid-50s to the low 60s Fahrenheit, so a light jacket may be welcomed. Camera tripods, strollers and infant backpack carriers are not allowed and those wishing to bring a walking stick or cane must demonstrate need to be permitted.
To visit this incredible natural wonder, contact Covington Travel for travel arrangements and nearby accommodations. Our expert vacation advisors can help you plan an itinerary to include other great Kentucky sites and activities that you won’t want to miss.