Mammoth Cave National Park

Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: November 2021

Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the longest known underground cave system in the world and contains more than 640 km (or 400 miles) of explored passageways. It was designated a national park in 1941 to better preserve and protect the cave system and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mammoth Cave National Park features a variety of tours to learn about the history of the cave and explore the natural beauty underground.

After spending the last two days in Nashville, we continued our drive back north towards Ontario. Along the way we stopped at Mammoth Cave. While the park was on a reduced operating schedule for the late fall, since we were visiting over the American Thanksgiving long weekend, there were more options available than usual.

We signed up in advance for the Grand Avenue Tour, which is the longest walking tour that the park offered at the time we were visiting. The tour is four hours in duration, covers 6.4km (or 4 miles) in distance and contains 1,313 stairs. It also includes the entire Frozen Niagara Tour route and all of the Domes and Dripstones Tour, with the exception of the steps down to an alternative cave entrance.

After checking in at the Visitor Centre in advance of our tour, we waited outside by Shelter B where a bus would bring us to the entrance of the cave. But before climbing aboard, our guide gave us a brief overview of the tour and what to expect in terms of the terrain. We then hopped on the green bus and were shuttled to the entrance, which was rather unassuming.

The cave tour involved walking through tubular passageways deep within the limestone and included passing by and through slot canyons, tall canyons and tunnels. Along the way our guide made multiple stops to provide more history and geology of Mammoth Cave, including how and when some of the passageways were discovered and about the various cave formations.

The cave was initially discovered over 4,000 years ago by Native Americans who explored 10 or more miles of passageways. The cave was then rediscovered in the late 1790s and since then there’s been guided tours of various passageways in the cave. Over the years, there’s been attempts to continue mapping out the cave system and discovering new passageways.

Ownership of the cave has also been subject of debate and prior to it being designated a national park, there were competing cave tours from different tunnels and entryways. It wasn’t until 1972 when a famous connection occurred between two cave systems that established Mammoth Cave as the longest known cave in the world.

The passageways that we walked though were wide and well-defined. There were also a lot of metal steps and railings for support. Along the way there were a few benches at some of the points of interest where our guide stopped to provide more fun facts about the cave. There were also two washrooms and water fountains. For those that overestimate their abilities, there’s even an escape exit around the 1 mile marker of the tour at the first set of washrooms. The elevator was broken when we visited, which meant that once you started the tour, you had to finish or turn around.

The temperature within the cave is around 12°C (or 54°F) year-round, which was quite comfortable with all the walking and stair climbing involved. Masks were required, but became challenging to wear with glasses, especially since they kept fogging up during the uphills.

Near the end of our tour, the path overlaps with the Frozen Niagara section, which is one of most popular tours at Mammoth Cave as it contains a lot of elaborate cave formations, including a formation that looks like a waterfall and huge open domes.

We exited through a different access point and our bus was waiting to shuttle us back to the Visitor Centre. We wrapped up just before 2p.m. While there are other cave tours and hiking trails within the park, we had other plans. We still had to get a COVID test in order to cross the border back into Canada. We’ll get the results back within 24 hours, they said. And so we drove to Ohio where we planned to spend our final night of our road trip.

L

73 thoughts on “Mammoth Cave National Park

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The cave formations underground are pretty awesome. The passageways were quite wide and we didn’t have to squeeze through any tight spaces, so I never felt claustrophobic. Plus the path had lighting throughout. In terms of cave tours, this one was pretty tame, just really long.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Rose says:

    Your Mammoth Cave pictures are really wonderful. We toured Mammoth Caves in 2016. It’s fun to look through our photos, after reading your adventure. 😊

    When we visited, there was a terrible bat disease spreading around the country. We had to go through a special procedure of wiping our shoes on a long ‘disinfecting mat’ before entering and leaving the cave, so as not to spread the disease. Did they still have this procedure in place? I haven’t heard any more about the bat disease, if it’s ended… Did they mention it on your tour?

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I’m glad this brought back fond memories of when you visited Mammoth Cave a few years ago. We had to walk on a disinfecting mat as well before we entered and then left the cave. Our guide mentioned white-nose syndrome, but didn’t go into much detail in terms of its impact on the cave.

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  2. Ab says:

    What an amazing experience, Linda. Those pictures look so stunning!

    Did you feel claustrophobic inside? I can imagine feeling hot and humid.

    I’ve never been to Kentucky before and now here’s a reason why. My in laws always drive by en route to Florida so I’ll flag this to them for next time.

    Did you have any KFC fried chicken? 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Who knew that the underground could be so pretty!? The passageways were quite wide and we didn’t have to slither, squeeze or crawl through any tight spaces, so I never felt claustrophobic. There’s a lot of ups and downs, but most of the path is paved, so the terrain wasn’t too bad. You should definitely check out Mammoth Cave if you’re ever in the area. I’d be curious to hear about T’s experience underground.

      We didn’t have KFC when in Kentucky. I think K needed a break from eating too much fried chicken when we were in Tennessee!

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I am fascinating with caves and exploring underground (when it’s not wet or muddy that is). It’s incredible how long some of the cave formations take to grow. It was a fun tour, which in some ways also felt like a hike with how much distance we covered. Enjoy the rest of your weekend as well. It’s feeling like summer here in Ontario.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. It helped that the passageways underground had pretty decent lighting. Nashville, Tennessee is about an 11 hour drive from where we live in Ontario. We certainly did a lot of driving over our ten day road trip. In retrospect I’m glad we went back in November as the price of gas would have made the trip twice as expensive if we were to go now.

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      • WanderingCanadians says:

        For sure. It was definitely worth the drive. Unfortunately it seems like high fuel prices are here to stay. We have a couple of road trips planned for this summer, but thankfully not as far as the one we went on in the fall to the United States.

        Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’d say wearing the mask was easily the hardest part of the tour! I’m glad I had an extra one as I ended up changing it mid-way through because it got way too damp and disgusting. Temperature wise the cave was pretty comfortable, but we ended up working up quite a sweat with having to climb up all those stairs.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. I’m glad we signed up for the longest cave tour that was offered. It’s pretty incredible to see what it looks and feels like underground. I would never want to be stuck here in the dark though!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. alisendopf says:

    Awesome!!! I love a good cave. That’s a LONG time to be underground. Good for you for going for the longest tour. I love that this place is preserved. After visiting some massive caves in Slovenia, if this one is the biggest, I cannot really fathom its size. Again, what an amazing trip you had.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It was nice to shake things up and spend time underground while still getting our steps in. The cave tour was pretty tame. There were a lot of stairs, but the path was smooth and we didn’t have to crawl or squeeze through any tight spaces. Mammoth Cave also offers a wild caving tour in the summer, which sounds like it would be an awesome way to explore more of the cave and navigate through some rugged terrain.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! The cave had pretty decent lighting, which made it easier to take pictures. The real obstacle was timing and trying not to get random people from the tour in my shots. The Frozen Niagara section was beautiful. They were saving the best for last on the tour. So apparently Mammoth Cave is the longest cave, but the largest cave is in Vietnam.

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment. There was lighting in the cave, which made it much easier to take pictures. It was neat to see all the different cave formations. It was a bit of a lengthy tour, but it helped that we took breaks along the way.

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  4. leightontravels says:

    I would never have known that the longest underground cave system is in Kentucky. Some dramatic views here, which remind me a little of Paradise Cave in Vietnam. Appreciated the history and great photographs, especially of the Frozen Niagara section.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I didn’t know that either. Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the world, but it’s not the largest. It was an interesting tour and a great way to learn more about the geology and formations found underground. The Frozen Niagara section was very impressive. They were saving the best for last on the tour.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Janet says:

    Amazing. I’ve heard of Mammoth Cave NP but had no idea what it really was. Interesting and beautiful. I hate for you to go back home since I’ve been enjoying your trip so much. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s pretty amazing how beautiful it can be underground with all those interesting cave formations. It was a great tour that in some ways felt like a hike given how much distance we covered. It’s always tough to return home when you’re having a great time on vacation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I am fascinated with caves and I like that there’s a wide range of options, with more adventurous elements like spelunking. This cave tour was pretty easy going as the path was smooth, there were just a lot of walking and steps to climb. The foggy glasses was a real pain. I have never been so happy to take off my mask after the tour.

      Liked by 1 person

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        No kidding. We flew out west to Vancouver over Easter and got a glimpse into what life was like without having to wear masks everywhere. It was kind of nice and felt “normal” again. In Ontario we still have to wear masks when riding transit and in certain high risk settings like a long-term care home, but a lot of people are still wearing them in grocery stores or other places.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. BACK ROADS AND OTHER STORIES says:

    It’s an amazing place, and your photographs are amazing! I was there years ago and took the archaeology/First NAtions tour which was very interesting. We videotaped much of it and then my video camera was stolen so I have no proof of ever being there. Time to go back for another visit 🙂 Thanks for taking me back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks! I am fascinated with caves and usually look up whether there are any cave tours nearby whenever we travel. That sounds like a pretty neat tour that you took, but that’s awful that your video camera was stolen. And yes, I guess this means you’ll just need to go back someday!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. wetanddustyroads says:

    I love cave walks – the history is always fascinating! This one reminds me very much of the cave visit we have done last year here in South Africa (Cango Caves) … thanks for showing us around, it was a great walk!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. ourcrossings says:

    I am glad to see you had a chance to visit Mammoth Cave National Park as it is such a fascinating place to explore. Many people tend to think of caves as dark, creepy places full of bats, but they are actually really interesting! Thanks for sharing and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I know. It’s pretty incredible how beautiful it can look underground. While the cave tour we went on was lengthy, the path was smooth, mostly dry and wasn’t very challenging. We didn’t see any bats or bugs, and the passageways were pretty wide. It’s not like we had to crawl around in the mud or squeeze in tight spaces. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Take care. Linda

      Liked by 1 person

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