This is the world's longest system of caves and one of America's most popular national parks, drawing almost two million visitors a year. They come not just for the miles and miles of underground exploring, but also for the 53,000 acres of pristine hardwood forest aboveground, where you can hike, ride horses, canoe, go boating, go birding, or camp.
The best way to see everything Mammoth Cave has to offer is by taking a cave tour and then hiking the surface afterward. The parks department runs several cave tours for all ability levels, including one that's open to visitors in wheelchairs. All tours sell out quickly, especially in summer, so reserve in advance.
Mammoth Cave is in western Kentucky, about 100 miles south of Louisville. From Louisville, take I-65 south to Cave City; from Lexington, take the Bluegrass Parkway to I-65, then I-65 south to Cave City. From Cave City, take Ky. 70 west to the East Entrance Road. From Nashville, take I-65 north to Park City, then Ky. 255 north to the South Entrance Road.
Entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park (tel. 270/758-2328; www.nps.gov/maca) is free. All entrances converge at the visitor center in the southeastern corner of the park. It's open year-round, usually from 8am to 5pm (from 9am Jan-Feb). Ranger-led tours of the caves leave from the visitor center at different times throughout the day.
Rangers lead a host of different tours through the cave, varying in difficulty from a moderate walk to an all-day affair involving crawling on hands and knees. Call the park or check the website for a complete list. Reservations are strongly recommended for all cave tours. Tours range in price from $5 to $48.
Other Activities in the Park
A variety of hiking trails are available throughout the park. Pick up a hiking map and a schedule of ranger-led walks, and campfire and evening programs at the visitor center. Mammoth Cave has more than 30 miles of canoeing along the Green and Nolin rivers. Pick up a map at the visitor center.
Where to Stay
There are three campgrounds in the park, as well as a dozen backcountry campsites where you might not see another soul. Permits are required for both types of camping. Fees range from $5 to $17 for the campgrounds; backcountry permits are free. All campgrounds have toilets, grills, and drinking water. For more information, contact the campgrounds office (tel. 270/758-2424).
The Mammoth Cave Hotel (tel. 270/758-2225; www.mammothcavehotel.com) is the only lodging within the park boundaries. Accommodations run $55 for basic cabins with shared bathrooms to $94 for rooms with the usual modern conveniences. Cave City is the primary gateway to the park. Here you'll find an assortment of inexpensive chains, such as Comfort Inn (tel. 270/773-2030) and a Super 8 Motel (tel. 270/773-2500).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.