Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is home to the world’s longest known cave system, at over 420 miles surveyed to date. Right there in Kentucky- who knew?! Certainly not this family, who happens to be FROM the Midwest. This cave system is impressive to say the least. The Rotunda, a large circular room within the cave, which you won’t want to miss, is over 0.25 acres, underground! And if cave exploring isn’t enough of a reason to stop, this park also offers hiking, biking, kayaking, horseback riding and fishing. Being able to explore above ground, underground, and on the water really made this park feel like the ultimate adventure! Below is a two day itinerary taking you past all of the park’s main features!
Entrance Fee: FREE. Cave tour prices are variable, depending on the tour.
Lodging: There is one lodge at Mammoth Cave National Park that offers a mix of traditional rooms, cabins, and historic cottages. Reservations for the lodge can be made here- The Lodge at Mammoth Cave. Mammoth Cave also offers three campgrounds inside park property- Mammoth Cave, Maple Springs and Houchin Ferry. The park also offers 13 backcountry camping sites, permits are required. Reservations for both the campgrounds and backcountry camping can be made at Recreation.gov. Both Cave City, KY and Horse Cave, KY have lodging options outside the park.
Dining: Dining inside the park includes Green River Grill and Spelunkers Café and Ice Cream Parlor, both are located right across the bridge from the Visitor Center (Important note: both options are currently closed in 2022 r/t construction at the lodge). Caver’s Camp Store has meals to go, groceries, camping supplies and firewood (remains open, despite construction). Dining outside the park can be found in the previously mentions cities of Horse Cave and Cave City.
Must Know Before You Go:
1. My biggest piece of advice for going to Mammoth Cave National Park is to book your cave tour in advance. There is very limited availability, and the caves are the most exciting part of this national park. The hiking trails are a bonus, but the caves are why you should visit! There were so many people showing up and being turned away for cave tours the day we went, and we went on rainy weekdays. You can reserve your cave tour at Recreation.gov and we were able to purchase tickets several weeks in advance.
2. If you plan on kayaking, canoeing or boating on the Green River(highly recommend!), please review the park’s water safety recommendations here- River Safety at Mammoth.
3. Hiking boots recommended. Trails can get quite muddy. Also, many trails are also covered in slick, wet rocks hidden under the leaves in the fall.
4. Even when it is very cold or very warm outside, it is always 50 degrees in the caves so you will need to plan layers appropriately.
5. If you have little ones, only front child carriers are allowed in the caves.
Cell Service: Service was sporadic on the trails but excellent near the lodge, restaurants, and visitor center.
2 Day Itinerary
Visitor Center- There is a very large parking lot right at the Visitor Center and most trails are easy to pick up from there so that is where I would start your day. It is also where you will check in for your cave tour and pick up a map for your hiking trails.
Extended Historic Tour- This ranger-led cave tour was 2 miles long and took about 2 hours to complete. There are 540 stairs on this tour and the cave is fairly dark in many areas, so you will want to keep your kiddos close. We really loved this tour and could not believe how big it was! The magnitude of the Rotunda was quite breathtaking, and the kids could not believe we were underground- frankly, neither could I. 😊 If you only have time for one tour, this is the one I would chose. It was very impressive!
River Styx Spring Trail/Green River Bluffs Trail- The start of the River Styx Trail begins right outside the entrance/exit of the Historic Tour, so this is the perfect hike to take first. When you come out of the cave take the wider trail on the left (River Styx Trail) and walk down about 0.5 miles toward the river. There will be a short boardwalk on the left-hand side that you can take in and back to the River Styx Spring. We then walked back out and continued a little farther toward the river. Once you get to the Green River, you turn right to get on the Green River Bluffs Trail. If you want to take a short detour, you can turn left for a beautiful outlook of the river and then head back to the Green River Bluffs Trail. While the first trail in this hike is quite short and easy, the second trail of the hike is a little more challenging. The uneven terrain and steep climbs make this more difficult but all three of my kiddos had no problem completing it. The views are beautiful, and it is only about 1.5 miles. It will drop you off at the Woodland cottages and you can take the main road back to the Visitor Center.
Heritage Trail- This is an easy 0.5-mile loop that is stroller accessible. About halfway around the loop is a great view at Sunset Point.
Frozen Niagara Cave Tour- This tour is great for all ages. At only 1 hour and 15 minutes, you will travel 0.25 miles and the entire tour only has 12 stairs. The amazing cave formations you will see on this tour do indeed look like stunning frozen waterfalls!
Sinkhole Trail/Whites Cave Trail/Engine No. 4 Trail – If you did not take a stroller, I would hop right on the Sinkhole Trail from the Heritage trail. It will be on the left-hand side right before the end of the Heritage trail. These next three trails are not stroller friendly so if you did bring a stroller finish the Heritage trail and then start the Sinkhole Trail. The Sinkhole Trail is a beautiful, easy walk through the forest and will pass you by the Mammoth Dome Sinkhole. About a mile in, you will hit the Whites Cave Trail. This walk is also lovely and takes you past Whites Cave. Honestly, Whites Cave itself was not that exciting, but the kids liked peeking in the cave as we passed, and the 0.6-mile trail is quite easy to navigate with kids. At the very end, the kids got to play in the amphitheater, which they loved, before heading over to check out Engine No. 4. The Engine No. 4 trail is an easy walk on your way back to the Visitor Center. About halfway there you cannot miss the large train in the open field. If you asked my children, the train was their favorite part…because who doesn’t love trains?? 😊
Echo River Spring Trail- For this 2.2-mile out and back trail I would park at the small parking lot near the Green River Ferry. This trail has a little bit of everything- water views, caves, forest and most importantly it is almost entirely paved so give your shoulders a break and take the stroller if you have little ones!
Sand Cave Trail- This was our last stop on our way out of Mammoth Cave National Park. This is a 0.3-mile easy, stroller accessible trail. It is a nice easy walk out and back to an overlook of the entrance of Sand Cave.
Hope you have a wonderful adventure!