Mammoth Cave National Park is the longest known cave system in the world. Here's a guide to visiting this Kentucky park.
By: Alisha Trenalone
Mammoth Cave: it's Kentucky's only national park! This puts it at the top of the list when it comes to vacations in the Bluegrass state.
Are you planning your first visit? Here's what to know before you go!
The main event is, of course, the cave itself — it's the longest in the world, and not even fully discovered or explored yet.
Whether that sounds daunting or thrilling to you, the good news is that there are all level of cave tours.
If you don't want a guided tour, you can explore the Historic Entrance area of the cave as a self-guided walk during the summer season. But you still need a paid ticket, which you can get at the Visitor Center.
You can reach the Historic Entrance from a short paved downhill path behind the Visitor Center.
If you're looking for a lengthier experience, plan on taking one of the many guided tours.
Screens outside the visitor center list the daily schedule for tours and ranger programs. But because these tours can sell out (especially during summer and early fall), you should try to get your tour ticket in advance.
Not all of the tours begin at the Historic Entrance; some of them are a short bus ride away.
The National Park's website describes all the tours available, including their difficulty level, length, and number of stairs, and which tours duplicate portions of other tours. Some are seasonal.
There is an accessible tour with no stairs offered for people with limited mobility.
For the adventurer, wild caving tours with tight crawl spaces are sometimes offered, but check the website for up-to-date information.
Aboveground Activities at Mammoth Cave National Park
You can also go hiking, bicycling, and boating within the park. There are several easy trails around the Visitor Center, but there's also backcountry hiking (with campsites available if you get a permit).
A 9-mile bike and hike trail follows the old Mammoth Cave Railroad line, featuring several overlooks and historic sites.
For kayakers and canoers, a water trail called the Green and Nolin Rivers Blueway has multiple access sites inside and outside the park. Rentals are available from Caveland Kayak and Adventures of Mammoth Cave.
Lodging + Dining in the Park
Mammoth Cave National Park has three campgrounds and a lodge.
Mammoth Cave Campground is by far the largest, with over 100 (non-electric) sites, a camp store, and bathroom and laundry facilities. It's near the visitor center.
Maple Springs Campground is in a more private area, with group campsites, electric and water hook-ups, and vault toilets.
Houchin Ferry Campground is open year-round, with primitive tent-only campsites and portable toilets.
Mammoth Cave Lodge has rooms and cottages, a café and ice cream parlor, and Green River Grill, the park's only full-service restaurant.
For a quick bite, the Food Shack near the Visitor Center has a walk-up window where you can order sandwiches.
Does your trip involve other stops in Kentucky, like the Bourbon Trail? A good base for exploration might be Elizabethtown, which is about an hour north of Mammoth Cave. Don't forget to stop at Dewster's while you're there for some amazing dessert.
The Visitor Center at Mammoth Cave National Park
The Visitor Center is a great introduction to the park, with a fairly large exhibit on the history and features of Mammoth Cave.
If you've never visited this park before, plan to spend at least a few minutes winding your way through the displays, including an introductory video and multiple kid-friendly interactive sections.
For a well-written look at the history of this park (and others), I highly recommend Conor Knighton's book Leave Only Footprints!
There is, of course, a gift shop inside the visitor center. Keep an eye out for merch with our favorite Mammoth Cave slogan: "Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar."
For suggestions of things to do in nearby towns, see my guide to the Top 10 Things to Do Near Mammoth Cave.
About Alisha Trenalone
I’m Alisha and I live in eastern Kentucky. Discovering good food is one of my joys in life, but you will also find me doing lots of reading and dreaming of travel. Having worked at a local newspaper for several years, I’m avidly interested in the written word and the art of sharing stories. Now I help Sarah out in various ways here at Champagne Tastes!