Mammoth Cave National Park

After our visit to Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, Tom and I headed south to Mammoth Cave National Park.  I had never been there, but Tom said he had been a couple of times.  Nevertheless, I had to get the stamp, so I had to go there.

We signed up for a Historic Cave Tour as soon as we decided when to go.  Although 110 people go on this tour at a time, and it is offered multiple times a day, it usually sells out well ahead of time.  I think I got the last two tickets because we were booking a week ahead.  Reservations for the cave tours are made on, which describes all the tours, how long they last, and how strenuous they are.  Our cave tour was booked for 9:15 on Wednesday morning.

Historic Tour route from NPS website

Because we were done with Abraham Lincoln birthplace so early, we decided to drive to the Mammoth Cave Visitor Center Tuesday afternoon.  We took our time looking around the very interesting museum.  In addition, we watched the movie on mapping and exploring the cave.  Mammoth Cave is – mammoth.  I had never really thought about the name.  I usually only use the word mammoth to describe the wooly elephant-like creatures that lived during the Ice Age.  For some reason I figured the cave had mammoth bones in it and that is why it was called mammoth.

Wrong.  The cave is called Mammoth Cave because it is so big.  Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world and it still hasn’t been fully explored or mapped.  The cave is currently 426 miles of passageways.  That’s a lot of ground to cover if you want to get to the unexplored parts.

Visitors Center

By arriving on Tuesday afternoon, Tom and I were able to take our time in the Visitor Center.  We were amazed at the number of rangers and the number of visitors in the building.  They have a very large parking lot and it was almost full, with some people parking in the overflow parking lot.  The campground and the lodging cabins are in the same area, so it is a very busy place.

We picked up our tickets for the cave tour the next day and then went for a hike.  Mammoth Cave has 80 miles of hiking trails and the area above the ground is as beautiful as the cave below.  We chose a two-mile loop that went to the river overlook.  The hike was short but it was long enough.  It was so hot and humid that we were dripping with sweat by the time we got back to the car.

The next morning we were back at Mammoth Cave National Park bright and early for our tour.  All the tours start in a shelter outside.  There are four shelters around the Visitors Center, and some of the tours start in a different part of the park.  Tours gather in all of the shelters at any given time during the day.

Our ranger guide

We went to our shelter and our ranger soon came out to begin the safety talk.  She detailed how long the tour was, that there would be some stooping and uneven surfaces, and lots of stairs.  Although they warn people who have limitations, they allow anyone to go on this tour.  We had young babies and people in their 80’s.  Our ranger guide told us to stay between her and the sweep and we headed down the hill and into the cave.

Heading into the cave

After spending the summer in our little cave at Cumberland Gap, I was awed by how HUGE (mammoth) Mammoth Cave is.  Each of the different areas on our tour was multiple stories high.  The only place that was closed in at all was a maze-like area that we had to negotiate in single file.  Our guide kept moving along, only stopping to talk in the places where 100 people could gather at once.  We covered a lot of ground but didn’t have a lot of ranger talk along the way.

The waterfall by the Tower

The most impressive part of Mammoth Cave was the waterfall by the Tower.  Unfortunately I could not stop and gawk the way I wanted to because our tour group was so large.  Tom and I were in the middle of the pack and we had to keep walking in order for the group to continue moving forward.  The Tower went up and up and up.  The whole tour had 440 steps, and over half of them were in one climb up the Tower.  Fortunately, after working at Cumberland Gap all summer, I am used to going up.

Fat Man’s Misery

Our tour ended at the same place it had started and we climbed up the stairs to the exit.  There was a small group of kids in front of us who had been on a special caving adventure tour.  They had slithered and crawled through some tight spaces and were very excited about it.  As interesting as it was to hear them talk, I was glad that I had not done any slithering or crawling.

Mammoth Cave National Park offers lots of different tour options.  After our tour concluded, Tom and I agreed that we should have scheduled another tour for the afternoon so we could see a different part of the cave.  Although the part we saw was very interesting, it had been used so much by people that it didn’t feel alive.  There were very few formations in the part of the cave we saw.  Something to do next time.

Have you ever been to Mammoth Cave?  What is your favorite part of touring a cave?  I’d like to hear some of your stories!