Mammoth Cave National Park

Location: Kentucky

Park Tally: 16/59

Orientation: Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s largest cave system. With a vast 400+ mile labyrinth of subterranean caverns, the park is a unique and popular place to explore. Often going unnoticed to visitors, Mammoth Cave also offers a variety of above-ground trails, the picturesque Green River and boasts an interesting cultural history.

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Most iconic view: Visitors flock to Mammoth Cave to explore the infamous cave system and guided tours. The park service offers a selection of ranger-led tours with varying levels of exertion and accessibility.

The most well-known section of the cave system is probably the magical Frozen Niagara. Here visitors witness cave rock formations that look like an underground waterfall frozen in time.

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Accessible activity: Mammoth Cave offers an accessible tour for those visitors using a wheelchair and their family members. This tour utilizes the cave elevators and can be booked via the National Park System website or at the Visitor Center.

For ambulant visitors, The Frozen Niagara guided-tour is one of the least strenuous of those offered by the park. The tour covers a short walking distant of 1/4 mile, lasts about 75 minutes and provides amazing scenery.

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For the adventurous:  More extensive cave tours are offered by the park service, including the 4-hour Grand Avenue Tour. This ranger-led experience allows visitors to see 4 miles of the cave system but it is considered strenuous and involves negotiating around 700 stairs.

The park also offers more thrilling caving style tours which include climbing, crawling, squeezing and hiking through lesser visited sections of Mammoth Cave. These tours are considered “extremely strenuous” and adequate clothing/gear is recommended.

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Best photo opportunities: Photographing the cave itself is very challenging given flash photography and tripods are prohibited. We found the best photography opportunities were actually above-ground in the trails surrounding the Green River. The soft afternoon light provided a fairy-tale like scene within lush greenery and by the foggy river. Be sure to check out the River Styx Spring Trail.

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Quick facts

  • Previously known as Flatt’s Cave, the area attracted visitors as far back as 1810. Mammoth cave was officially deemed a National Park in 1941.
  • The Park became a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981, recognizing the maze like cave as a unique type of system incomparable to any other cave in the world.
  • Mammoth Cave was first extensively mapped out by a slave named Steven Bishop and 405 miles of passageways have now been surveyed to this day.
  • Within the cave system visitors can see stalactites, stalagmites, natural springs, and gypsum crystals.
  • Mammoth Cave is home to various unusual species, including the rare Albino Shrimp, Kentucky Eyeless Cave Shrimp, Southern Cave Fish, and Indiana Eyeless Crayfish. The cave system also houses numerous types of bats such as the Indiana Bat and the Eastern Pipistrelle.
  • The park offers a free holiday event inside the cave each year and in the past there have been shows conducted by orchestras, A Capella choirs, barbershop quartets and local bands.
  • The Green River flows through the park, offering 70 miles of above-ground trails and opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, boating, swimming, camping, horseback riding and fishing.
  • Mammoth Cave National Park had 586,514 visitors in 2016. The park once received an annual visitation of almost 2.4 million people in 1993, with numbers dropping dramatically in 2006 (by 1.2 million). The reason for this drop in visitation was unable to be sourced at the time this guide was written.

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Evolve-59-National-Parks-Roadtrip-Mammoth-Cave-National-Park