Welcome to Kentucky - so much more than the ubiquitous fried chicken. For those heading to Kentucky and are interested in the underworld beneath the surface, then Mammoth Caven National Park is a must. The Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world and so one could say it has earned the "mammoth" in its name. It has been named as a World Heritage Site since 1981 as well as an international Biosphere Reserve since 1990. It is more than a cave system and is home to many kinds of unique subterranean wildlife and the site of thousands of years of human prehistory.
About The Mammoth Cave
- Size Of The National Park: 21,380 ha
- Record: Longest Known Cave System In The World
- Length: Over 400 Miles Of Surveyed Underground Passageways (Nearly Twice As Long As Sac Actun In Mexico - The Second Longest Cave System In The World)
The Mammoth Cave is carved out of limestone strata dating from the Mississippian period. Part of the reason for the cave's stability is the capping upper layer of sandstone. The flip side to this is that the cave roofs are dry and there are none of the characteristic stalagmites or stalactites found in other caves (they are formed by dripping water).
Today, the Mammoth Cave National Park is one of Kentucky's most popular tourist attractions. It is located in central-south Kentucky to a backdrop of hilly country. To see how the Mayan Caves were the conduit to the underworld see here.
Mammoth Cave Wildlife
The caves are home to a number of kinds of wildlife including various species of bat (Indiana bat, big brown bat, little brown bat, gray bat, and eastern pipistrelle bat).
- Decline Of Eastern Small Footed Bat: In The Past Population Estimated 9-12 Million Bats In The Historic Section, A Few Thousand Remain Today
There are other invertebrates in the cave along with two kinds of eyeless cavefish (eyes are of little use in the darkness of the caves).
Attractions Inside The Mammoth Caves:
- Frozen Niagara
- Fat Man's Misery
- Grand Avenue
Visiting The Mammoth Caves
There are several cave tours offered by the National Park Service. Most of the tours are on lit routes, but there are also tours where the visitors must carry their own lights in the form of paraffin lamps. There are even tours on routes that are doubled "wild". These venture through undeveloped parts of the caves where visitors need to crawl in mud and endure dusty tunnels in parts.
- Duration of Tours: Range From 1 To 6 Hours
- Historic Boat Ride Tour: The Echo River Tour Included A Boat Ride On A Subterranean River In the Cave, Unfortunately, This Was Discontinued in The 1990s
- Admission Fee: $0.00 Admission Is Free (Extra For Camping And Cave Tours)
- Tip: Bring A Jacket, Regardless Of The Surface Temperature, The Cave Is A Constant 54 Degrees Year Round So It Can Get A Little Chilly
- Note From The Cave's History: Many Of The Cave's Initial Explorers And Guides Were African Americans
The Mammoth Cave National Park is open 24 hours a day (Eastern Standard Time if one likes), but services are limited after hours.
Visitor Center Hours: Closes 4.30 pm In The Winter And 5.00 pm In Summer (Currently The Center Closes At 6.30 pm)
Examples of tours include:
Accessible Modified Tour
- Duration: 2 Hours
- Distance: 0.5 Miles
- Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
- Difficulty: Easy
- Famous Parts of the Cave Visited: Snowball Room, Cleaveland Avenue
- Cost: $22.00 Per Adult
- Duration: 2.5 Hours
- Distance: 2 Miles
- Number of Steps: 400
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Cost: $22.00
Wild Cave Tour
The more adventurous of visitors may be interested in the Wild Cave Tour. This is the most difficult of the cave tours and takes around 6 hours and covers some 5 miles underground. But be warned not to bring one's best clothing as this is damp, dirty, and a tad scary. This is one of the most out-there activities one can do in the national park and perfect for spelunking.
Other Activities In The National Park
Activities in and around the cave inside the national park include biking, camping, hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, fishing, and of course cave tours. The national park has a number of overnight accommodation options for those travelers looking to really immerse themselves in this unusual national park. For those interested in unique and unusual cave-based accommodation see here.
The Mammoth Caves are stunning and a testament to how much can lurk under the surface and out of sight. There is so much more to many places than what meets the eye. For anyone planning to see Kentucky, no itinerary is complete with a visit to these massive caves.