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 mi (631 km) of caves. The park was established in 1941 and draws nearly two million visitors annually.
The cave is approximately 15 million years old. Humans have been visiting the cave for approximately 4,000 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 200 years as a tourist attraction Mammoth Cave is one of North America's oldest tourist destinations.
Mammoth Cave, by far the world's longest known cave system, is the heart of the South-Central Kentucky karst, an integrated set of subterranean drainage basins covering more than 1,050 square kilometers – 400 square miles. Atop this labyrinth is a biologically diverse set of ecosystems inextricably interlinked with the ecosystems underground. This physiographic province, with Mammoth Cave National Park at its core, was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990.
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.
|Mammoth Cave National Park|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
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.
Fees and permits
There are no fees to enter the park, but all cave tours require a paid ticket.
Cave tours depart from the park visitor center in buses.
No public transportation is available in the area, including taxi service.
- 1 Mammoth Cave National Park Visitor Center. The park visitor center is the central point for visitors to orient themselves to what lies both above and below the surface at Mammoth Cave. Situated just up the hill from the cave's Historic Entrance, the visitor center is the departure point for all cave tours, and offers exhibits to prepare you for discovery. You can also meet a ranger for a talk or a hike. Gifts, restrooms, permits and information are available, and visitor amenities are offered by the nearby Mammoth Cave Hotel across the footbridge.
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 (1.2 km). 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 (400 m), 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, fishing, wildlife viewing, and general recreation.
- 1 Cedar Sink (Located on Cedar Sink Rd.). A one-mile (1.6-km) 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.
- 2 Dennison Ferry Recreation Area (Located on South Dennison Ferry Rd.). A popular boat launch and picnic area on the Green River. The recreation area used to be a primitive campground, but no overnight camping is allowed.
- 3 Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike & Hike Trail. A 9-mile (15-km) 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.
- 4 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 unsuccessful, were credited with generating the interest to create a national park centered on Mammoth Cave.
- 5 Turnhole Bend (Located on KY-70). A half-mile (800-m) loop trail that leads to a scenic overlook of the Green River.
- 6 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.
- 7 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.
- 8 Maple Springs Trailhead (Located on Maple Springs Loop). This trailhead is near the Maple Springs Group Campground and provides access to the Buffalo and Sal Hollow Trails
- 9 Temple Hill Trailhead (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.
- 10 White Oak Trailhead (Located on North Dennison Ferry Rd.). This trailhead 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 (4 km) 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, snacks and basic supplies.
A restaurant is at the Mammoth Cave Hotel. This is the only public food service within the park. 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), and family-style restaurants. More dining options are available in Glasgow 25 miles east of the park and in Bowling Green 40 miles south of the park.
Edmonson county is "dry," although Barren County have voted to allow liquor sales county wide. Cave City, Glasgow, and Bowling Green are the nearest cities to the park where full liquor sales are permitted.
Motel and camping facilities are available in the park. National chain motels can be found in nearby Cave City and Park City. There are cabins available and bed and breakfasts minutes from the park.
- 1 Mammoth Cave Lodge, #5 Park Entrance Road, ☏ . In the park. It features 42 standard motel-style rooms (closed in 2017 due to renovations), 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 shop are on the premises. The hotel is 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.
- 2 Mammoth Cave Campground (0.25 miles from the park Visitor Center). 111 sites, 4 group sites. Mammoth Cave Campground is the park's developed camping area, situating campers most conveniently for excursions underground, around the Visitor Center, on the rivers, or farther afield. Rangers on duty in the campground kiosk are happy to provide information to make your stay a special adventure. The campground's 111 sites are open seasonally and are available by reservation. No hookups are provided; a shower and toilet house is available. Maximum stay 14 days. $20 Single Site, $25 Group Site, $50 VIP Site (RV only) (2020 rates).
- 3 Houchin Ferry Campground. 12 sites. Not suitable for RVs or trailers. This primitive campground is located on the eastern side of the park on the banks of the Green River and is accessible via the Houchins Ferry Road in Brownsville. Open year-round. $15 Primitive Site (2020 rates).
- 4 Maple Springs Group Campground (on the park's north side, six miles from the Visitor Center and three miles north of Green River Ferry). 8 sites, 6 group sites, 2 sites with electrical hookups. This campground is a natural launching-point for forays along the more than 70 miles of backcountry trails in Mammoth Cave National Park. The sites are specially designed to accommodate larger groups of campers, and their horse companions. $25 Regular Group Site, $35 Equestrian Site - Hookups (2020 rates).
Backcountry camping is permitted in thirteen designated campsites and within 100 feet (30 m) 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 8 people and the length of stay cannot exceed 14 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 about 75 miles (120 km) south of the park on I-65.
- Louisville is the home of the Kentucky Derby, the world's most famous horse race. 80 miles (130 km) 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 (45 km) 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 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 (32 km) 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 (160 km) northeast; take I-65 north to Elizabethtown, then the Martha Layne Collins Blue Grass Parkway east to Lexington.
|Routes through Mammoth Cave National Park|
|Morgantown ← Brownsville ←||W E||→ Jct N S → Cave City|