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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Mammoth Cave National Park

For more than 10 years, we dreamed of visiting the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, so we knew it had to be the first major stop on our itinerary. We couldn't fathom heading out on another road trip, or embarking on this full-time adventure, without visiting this national park.

Mammoth Cave National Park | TurtleVida

We definitely were not disappointed!

We found an RV park only 7 miles down the road from the Visitor's Center. The drive to the park would be worth it in itself, as it was such a gorgeous drive - especially in October. There is also a very nice trail from the RV park to the national park. You can read a review of that trail here.

From the outside, the visitor's center doesn't necessarily grab your eye as anything all that special, but once inside, it's really quite impressive. There is a maze of displays and information about the caves - from the geology to the history of it being a tourist attraction.

One of the tidbits that stuck with us the most was the fact that before the national park was established in 1941, the caves were owned by private businesses. The businesses, vying for the tourist market, would sometimes resort to a little sabotage of other nearby caves.

Discovered 1802 | The Mammoth Cave of Kentucky | Open Every Day In The Year | image of one of the displays inside the visitor's center at Mammoth National Park

In order to preserve the caves, the national park was established.

You could easily spend a few hours wandering through all the information and displays in the Visitor's Center. While that is a little exciting, obviously, getting down into the caves is what you're gonna want to do.

Since we visited the park at the end of October, the number of tours were reduced due to it being the off-season. The park is open year-round though, so there were still plenty of tours to choose from.

For most people, we would definitely recommend making reservations ahead of time. They aren't required, but the tours do tend to sell out. If you're flexible, like we were, you could wait to purchase tickets until you've arrived and are able to talk with a ranger about which tour is best for you. If your time is a little less flexible, you can find descriptions of all current tours on their website and make reservations before you arrive.

We really wanted to go on the Extended Historic Tour, but, sadly, it was sold out the day we wanted to take a tour. We opted, instead, for the Domes and Dripstones tour and would absolutely recommend it.

Tip: Stay close to the ranger to be able to ask more questions and learn a bit more about the caves as you're led through the tour.

While the tour was over 2 hours, it went by really fast! The first section was a bit narrow, on windy trails down into the caves, but it evens out after 20 or so minutes. The beginning reminded us of the slot canyons out West, except when looking up, you do not see the sky, of course. 😉

Dome & Dripstones Tour, winding down into the cave

After the winding beginning, there are sections of the cave that are quite wide. These are the parts referred to as the Domes. Here the ranger gathers everyone together to share information about the cave and answer any questions that have come up. Conveniently, there are benches in these sections and you can rest a bit (especially if you were in the front and got there first).
Tip:  Try to save all your questions to these stopping points, as it's where the ranger tends to answer them. We  asked a bunch during the tour but were often told to remember that question so he could answer it in front of the group.

Domes & Dripstones Tour, resting at one of the sitting areas in a dome section of the cave

There are dripstones throughout the tour, but it ends in the section known as Frozen Niagara where the dripstones are truly magnificent! This final section garnered lots of oohs and aahs.
Tip: If you're unsure about walking long distances or having to negotiate numerous stairs, there is a tour dedicated to just this section of the cave. It only includes 12 stairs!

Frozen Niagra in the Mammoth Caves, magnificent dripstones

Domes & Dripstones Tour at the Mammoth Cave National Park

The temperatures inside the caves don't vary much throughout the year. We found them to be a little cool but were perfectly comfortable in light sweatshirts, though we did end up taking them off a couple times during the tour as we got warm from all the walking.

We definitely want to return to this park to take more tours and would highly recommend it.

If caves aren't your thing, there is plenty to do above ground as well. You can explore the grounds for free, which we didn't do nearly enough of. In the warmer months, you can also go kayaking on the Green River as well as other activities, we're sure.

Jeff and Clarinda

Have you ever visited the Mammoth Cave National Park or any cave tour?

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