Mammoth Cave National Park is a United States National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kentucky's Caves and Lakes region. It preserves the world's longest known cave system, with over 392 miles of caves. The park was established in 1941 and currently draws nearly two million visitors annually.
The cave itself is approximately fifteen million years old. Humans have been visiting the cave for approximately four thousand years, although it was only discovered by Europeans in 1797. Through 1816 the cave was mined for nitrates, used in gunpowder, but after the war of 1812 ended it was sold and cave tours became popular. With nearly two hundred years as a tourist attraction Mammoth Cave is one of North America's oldest tourist destinations.
Flora and Fauna
Mammoth Cave National Park is home to over 70 threatened, endangered or state listed species. More than 130 species are regular inhabitants of the caves. These species are divided almost equally among three classes of cave life: obligate cave dwellers known as troglobites, facultative species which can complete their life cycle in or out of caves (troglophiles), and those that use caves for refuge (trogloxenes). The Park has cave species and biotic cave communities that are among the most diverse in the world. Because of its diverse array of landscapes and habitats, the Park contains an extraordinary 1300 species of plants.
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Data from NOAA (1981-2010)
Kentucky has a moderate climate, characterized by warm, yet moist conditions. Summers are usually warm, and winters cool. An average 46 in (116 cm) of precipitation falls during the year, with spring being the rainiest season.
Most visitors access the park from two roadways which have interchanges with Interstate 65, one near Park City, Kentucky (KY 255) and the other near Cave City (KY 70). KY 70 also enters the park from the west side of the park, near Brownsville. No entrance fee is charged.
There are no fees to enter the park. Guided cave tours, however, range in price from $5 to $48.
Cave tours depart from the park visitor center in buses.
No public transportation is available in the area, including taxi service.
During the summer it is possible to explore a tiny part of the cave without a ranger, but all other areas of the cave require a ranger guide. Besides the year round tours, there are many others that are offered seasonally. It is best to check the park website, or contact the park directly for exact tours offered during your planned visit. In the summer, reservations are strongly recommended as tours sell out quickly, but at other times of year it is usually possible to sign up for a tour when you arrive at the park.
- Domes and Dripstones Tour. Offered daily, year-round. A tour that includes a dramatic series of domes and pits. This tour includes the entirety of the cave covered in the Frozen Niagara Tour. The tour lasts 2 hours and covers 3/4 of a mile. Approximately 500 steps must be traversed. $12.
- Frozen Niagara Tour. Offered daily, year-round. This short tour visits the most highly-decorated area of the cave, offering a chance to see cave formations including the massive "Frozen Niagara". The tour lasts for 1.25 hours and covers approximately a quarter of a mile, with a few stairs and some ducking. $10.
- Historic Tour. Offered daily, year-round. This tour enters through the natural entrance and covers two miles of cave passages, including Fat Man's Misery, several old mining areas, Mammoth Dome, and a variety of lengthy caverns. There is a fair amount of ducking, twisting, and stair climbing during the two hour tour. Note that due to the geology of the site, most of the portion of the cave that you'll see on this tour, while often large and impressive, lacks the stalactites and stalagmites that many people expect to see in limestone caves. If you've only got time for one tour and want to see more "decorated" caves, you should opt for the Domes and Dripstones tour. $12.
The park offers a tremendous number of hiking trails, as well as options for boating, wildlife viewing, and general recreation.
- Cedar Sink (Located on Cedar Sink Rd.). A one mile trail leads to and down into a massive sinkhole. A sinking river flows at the bottom. While the trail to the sinkhole is rated as easy, there are many stairs to descend and climb if one wants to explore the bottom.
- Dennison Ferry Recreation Area (Located on South Dennison Ferry Rd.). A popular boat launch and picnic area located on the Green River. The recreation area used to be a primitive campground, but no overnight camping is allowed.
- Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike & Hike Trail. A 9 mile trail that follows the right of way of the Mammoth Cave Railroad which operated from 1886 to 1931. The trail connects the Mammoth Cave Hotel with Park City, KY.
- Sand Cave (Located on KY-255). A short trail leads to Sand Cave. In January 1925, Floyd Collins became trapped while exploring the cave. The attempts to rescue him drew national attention and while ultimately unsuccessful, were credited with generating the interest to create a national park centered around Mammoth Cave.
- Turnhole Bend (Located on KY-70). A half mile loop trail that leads to a scenic overlook of the Green River.
- First Creek Trailhead (Located on Houchins Ferry Rd.). The First Creek Trail crosses Houchins Ferry Rd. near the northern boundary of the park and can be accessed via this trailhead.
- Lincoln Trailhead (Located on Ollie Ridge Rd.). The Lincoln Trailhead is located on the northern park boundary and provides access to the Collie Ridge Trail.
- Maple Springs Trailhead (Located on Maple Springs Loop). This trailhead is located near the Maple Springs Group Campground and provides access to the Buffalo and Sal Hollow Trails
- Temple Hill Trailhead (Located on Houchins Ferry Rd.). This trailhead provides access to the First Creek and McCoy Hollow Trails. The Temple Hill Cemetery is located nearby. The very scenic First Creek Lake is located about 1 mile north along the First Creek Trail.
- White Oak Trailhead (Located on North Dennison Ferry Rd.). This trailhead located on the northern park boundary provides access to the White Oak Trail. This trail does not connect to any other trails within the park and is 2.5 miles one way. The trail leads to the White Oak Campsite on the banks of the Green River and is directly across the river from the Dennison Ferry Recreation Area.
Within the park there is a gift shop at the visitor center, and a store at the hotel offering gifts as well as snacks and basic supplies.
A restaurant is located at the Mammoth Cave Hotel. This is the only public food service within the park proper.
- Mammoth Cave Hotel Restaurants, PO Box 27 Mammoth Cave, KY 42259, ☎ .
Outside of the park, fast-food restaurants are found in Cave City (McDonald's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Long John Silver's, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen), as well as family-style restaurants. More dining options are available in Glasgow located 25 miles east of the park and in Bowling Green located 40 miles south of the park.
Barren and Edmonson counties are "dry," though residents of Cave City voted in November 2005 to allow liquor by the drink in restaurants only. The nearest full liquor service and sales are in Bowling Green.
Motel and camping facilities are available within the park itself. National chain motels can be found in nearby Cave City and Park City. There are cabins available as well as bed and breakfasts located minutes from the park.
- Mammoth Cave Hotel, P.O. Box 27 Mammoth Cave KY 42259, ☎ , toll-free: . Is located within the park. It features 42 standard motel-style rooms, 20 more rooms in the "Sunset Lodge" near the main hotel facility, and two groups of cottages with limited facilities (open only during summer). Nightly rates range from $38 for cottages to $92 for motel rooms during the summer. A restaurant, snack bar and gift ship are on the premises. The hotel is just across a small ravine from the Visitor Center, from which all cave tours depart. A paved trail adjacent to the hotel leads directly to the Historic Entrance of Mammoth Cave.
Mammoth Cave National Park has several camping options. Mammoth Cave Campground is adjacent to the visitor center, has 109 spaces suitable for all types of RV's. No hookups are provided; a shower/toilet house is available. $16/night ($8 with Golden Age/Golden Access pass), maximum stay 14 days. Houchins Ferry Campground is a primitive 12-site campground, not suitable for RV's or trailers and accessible only by ferry. $12/night ($6 with Golden Age/Golden Access pass). Maple Springs Group Campground is located six miles from the visitor center, and features seven sites for up to 24 campers each; four sites have horse facilities. $25/night.
Backcountry camping is permitted in thirteen designated campsites and within 100 feet of the Green River. A free backcountry permit is required and can be picked up at the park headquarters. The maximum group size is limited to eight people and the length of stay cannot exceed fourteen days.
- Wear a hard hat
- In the warm weather months the ticks can be ferocious in the backcountry. If camping overnight during this period, consider using permethrin treated clothing or bring along some DEET based insect repellent at the very least.
- Nashville, the home of country and gospel music (including the Grand Ole Opry), is located about 75 miles south of the park on I-65.
- Louisville is the home of the Kentucky Derby, the world's most famous horse race. 80 miles north of the park on I-65.
- Bowling Green is home of the factory where the Corvette sports car is manufactured, the nearby National Corvette Museum, and the Lost River Cave. 28 miles south on I-65.
- Barren River Reservoir State Resort Park features extensive boating and fishing on a man-made reservoir. A lodge and large campground are located in the park. From Mammoth Cave, take KY 70 to Cave City, KY 90 to Glasgow, then south on U.S. 31-E to the park, about 20 miles from Mammoth Cave. The park is home to the annual Glasgow Highland Games, one of the largest Scottish athletic evens in the nation.
- Lexington, the "Horse Capital of the World" and home to many Thoroughbred horse farms. 100 miles northeast; take I-65 north to Elizabethtown, then the Martha Layne Collins Blue Grass Parkway east to Lexington.