Best Things to Do in Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park

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Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the largest cave system in the world, but it's also a great destination for a variety of activities and attractions. Located just east of Brownsville in central Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park offers plenty of things to do for visitors of all ages. Visitors can canoe down the Green or Nolin rivers, go hiking into the backcountry to camp overnight in the wilderness, or take a tour of the caves to visit famous landmarks and rock formations.

01 of 09

Crawl Through the Wild Cave Tour

Mammoth cave tour

TripSavvy / Lauren Himiak

The Wild Cave Tour is the longest and most in-depth tour offered at Mammoth Cave, and it even has guests crawling on their hands and knees at some points in the journey. Fortunately, you'll be provided with overalls, helmets with lamps, kneepads, bandannas, and gloves to protect you during your trip.

This guided tour—which is offered spring through fall each year lasts about six to six-and-a-half hours and includes a tasty lunch that you'll eat inside the cave at the Snowball Room. During the tour, your guide will point out stalagmite and stalactite formations in some of the largest underground rooms yet discovered by man and provide help and guidance along the way.

It's important to note that the Wild Cave Tour is not for those who are afraid of heights, are claustrophobic in tight space, are overweight or in poor health, or for those who are under the age of 16. While reservations are not required, they are recommended in the spring and fall seasons when tours and school trips populate the park.

02 of 09

Wander Down to Frozen Niagara

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

blmurch / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Frozen Niagara Entrance, Kentucky 42127, USA

Offered year-round, the Frozen Niagara Tour is much more accessible than the Wild Cave Tour, making it ideal for visitors who want to see the wonders of Mammoth Cave without going too deep into the extensive cave system. The Frozen Niagara Tour takes visitors over the top of the cave to the Frozen Niagara Entrance, which was created in 1924, and then down about 50 feet into the Drapery Room to explore a fairyland of rock formations. The whole tour takes about an hour and goes at a slow pace, perfect for those looking for an introduction to the cave or for those traveling with younger children.

03 of 09

Take Your Family on the Violet City Lantern Tour

Mammoth Cave National Park

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If you're visiting the park from spring through fall with your family, consider reserving a spot on the Violet City Lantern Tour, which explores some of the largest passageways in the cave. With only the light of a lantern and a guide to show you the way, you'll explore the history of the caves and learn how it was used for prehistoric mining, as Native American dwellings, and for saltpeter production. Along the way, you'll also visit an underground hospital that was used for tuberculosis patients during the 1840s.

The entire tour covers about three miles in three hours and goes at a relatively slow pace. You'll also have time during the tour to sit and discuss stories, and you'll stop to appreciate the grandeur of rooms like the Star Chamber, Broadway Avenue, and Elizabeth's Dome. Though there are a few hills and stairs to climb, this isn't a very strenuous tour, but children under the age of 6 are not allowed, and those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

04 of 09

Boat, Canoe, or Kayak on Two Rivers

Green River by Canoe

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Mammoth Cave National Park covers over 52,000 acres of land, but the Green and Nolin rivers also stretch across nearly 30 miles of the park, and both offer canoeing and kayaking adventures in the spring, summer, and fall each year. Watercraft can be rented outside the park at local outfitters who will gear you up for an hour, three-hour, or even overnight excursion. While traveling down the rivers, you will get a very different view of Mammoth Cave National Park. The land is full of dramatic bluffs, sinkholes, and stunning forests. Be sure to bring sunscreen and a waterproof camera for shots of wildlife.

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05 of 09

Go Camping in the Park

Camping in Mammoth Cave National Park

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Mammoth Cave National Park offers three developed campgrounds that are easily accessible and perfect for a night out in nature. Mammoth Cave, Maple Springs, and Houchin Ferry campgrounds offer different levels of ease, amenities, and access to the rest of the park without having to stray too far from the road to camp there.

The Mammoth Cave Campgrounds are located just a quarter of a mile from the Visitor's Center and within walking distance of the cave entrance and the rivers. On the other hand, the Maple Springs Group Campgrounds are located six miles north of the Visitor's Center, closer to the backcountry trails, and accommodate larger groups of campers as well as those camping with horses. Meanwhile, Houchin Ferry offers 13 primitive-style campsites that are located right along the Green River.

The Mammoth Cave and Maple Springs campgrounds are open seven days a week from March through November while the Houchin Ferry Campground is open year-round.

06 of 09

Hike Through the Backcountry

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

TripSavvy / Lauren Himiak

If you'd rather get away from all the visitors, you can enjoy the solitude of the backcountry in Mammoth Cave National Park where there are 12 peaceful and scenic campsites. To get to the backside of the park, you'll have to take a 20-second ride on the mini-ferry, which only has room for one car at a time, and then you'll need to park and choose which trail to hike on for the day.

A few trails will take you near water, such as First Creek and Second Creek, and offer great sites to camp. Homestead is a great campsite if you want a home base for shorter day hikes nearby, and Collie Ridge is a good one if you want to be in the middle of all things wilderness. Keep in mind, you will need to get a free backcountry pass from the Visitor Center, and none of the ferries available can accommodate RVs, so plan accordingly.

07 of 09

Take a Horseback Tour of the Park

Whether you have your own horse or you want to pay for a horseback experience in the park, there are plenty of trails and campgrounds that accommodate the experience. Double J Stables offers guided horseback riding excursions that explore over 60 miles of backcountry trails north of the Green River. Make sure to grab a free trail map in the Backcountry Map and Guide from the park's newspaper and stay in the marked trails while riding. If you want to stay overnight with your horse, Maple Springs Group Campground has seven campsites for horses and their riders.

08 of 09

Bike the Trails

Bicycle enthusiasts can also experience the backcountry of Mammoth Cave National Park on four designated off-road trails. Both the Mammoth Cave Railroad and the Big Hollow trail run about nine miles while the Maple Springs Trail is one mile long, and the White Oak Trail is about two and a half miles long. In addition, street bicycles are permitted on all paved roads while mountain bikes are permitted on all administrative roads in the park.

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09 of 09

Have a Picnic or Fine Dining Experience

When all the adventuring makes you hungry, there are several places for great food in the park. Whether you pack a lunch or pick one up from a nearby restaurant, you can always bring a picnic to one of the many designated areas of the park. Alternatively, the Lodge at Mammoth Cave operates two restaurants—the Spelunkers Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor, which provides food-to-go, and the Green River Grill, which offers fine dining. Outside the park, there are also several dining options in Edmonson County, including in the nearby towns of Cave City and Bowling Green.

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Top 9 Things to Do in Mammoth Cave National Park