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  • Writer's pictureBrian Childress

Mammoth Cave National Park - Kentucky

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

(Post and photos by Leigh Touchton and Brian Childress)

Mammoth Cave National Park is an American national park in west-central Kentucky, encompassing portions of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system known in the world.

Since the 1972 unification of Mammoth Cave with the even-longer system under Flint Ridge to the north, the official name of the system has been the Mammoth–Flint Ridge Cave System. The park was established as a national park on July 1, 1941, a World Heritage Site on October 27, 1981, and an international Biosphere Reserve on September 26, 1990.

The park's 52,830 acres are located primarily in Edmonson County, with small areas extending eastward into Hart and Barren counties. The Green River runs through the park, with a tributary called the Nolin River feeding into the Green just inside the park. Mammoth Cave is the world's longest known cave system with more than 420 miles of surveyed passageways, which is nearly twice as long as the second-longest cave system, Mexico's Sac Actun underwater cave.

Coversations/Things we learned:

This park houses the largest cave system in the world. It is highly recommended you give yourself two or three days as there are several cave tours which you must pay and register for.

Unlike Carlsbad Cavern which is a cavern; just one type of cave which is formed naturally in soluble rock and grows speleothems (the general term for cave formations like stalagmites and stalactites). Mammoth Cave is a true cave which is defined as any cavity in the ground that has a section which does not receive direct sunlight. Mammoth Cave was created by the natural process of limestone erosion, known as karst topography. During this process rain and rivers slowly dissolve and shape soft limestone, creating a vast system of caves. Underground rivers are still carving new passages today.

Mammoth Cave also has Indian Bats. These bats and to a lesser extent, Gray Bats, were prominent species in Mammoth Cave only 150 years ago. Today these bats are listed as endangered. Indian Bats along with Brown Bats frequent Mammoth Cave but their numbers have dropped due to White-Nose Syndrome.

Researchers call the disease “white-nose syndrome” (WNS) because of the visible white fungal growth on infected bats’ muzzles and wings. This cold-loving fungus infects bats during hibernation, when the bats reduce their metabolic rate and lower their body temperature to save energy over winter. Hibernating bats affected by WNS wake up to warm temperatures more frequently, which results in using up fat reserves and then starvation before spring arrives. Since WNS already exists on bats in this cave you will be required to walk though a soap/fungicide mixture when leaving the cave to prevent spread to other bat caves.

Visitors are warned that this cave system has very low ceilings and pass-throughs like “Fat-Man’s Misery” which is very narrow with a low ceiling clearance. The park should provide helmets for those standing over 5 foot, 8 inches but they don’t. Therefore, if you are disabled, have a heavy build, or claustrophobic, stay away from this particular tour. If you are taller than 5 feet, 8 inches, we recommend a helmet which you will have to bring for yourself since there none given out to visitors.

The lighting has recently been changed to orange instead of white in order to stop the growth of algae. The low light levels and cramped passageways make concussions a real possibility for tall folks. Take this very seriously. The Heritage tour lasts 2 hours and you will cover approximately 2 miles. Know your limitations and err on the side of caution.

The temperature inside the cave is approximately 55 degrees year-round so bring a jacket. Masks are required. Due to the cold air and your warm breath, your glasses are probably going to continually fog so taking clear photographs is a real challenge. Flash photography is not permitted and the scoldings from the end-of-the line Ranger were rather nasty.

Mammoth sells 50-60 tickets for this tour and processes visitors rapidly with very little explanation of notable features. It felt like an assembly line.

This park has some of the nicest hiking trails we have seen and there is also a free vehicle ferry for crossing the Green River. There are over 80 miles of trails - we hiked 6 miles and loved the wide, well maintained forest pathways. There is also an ADA approved trail. Park entry is free! The park charges for cave tours only.

The visitor center has an impressive museum which provides a good history of the cave and region. There is an excellent gift shop and adequate cafe with inside and outside seating.

In summary, this is a national park you should go out of your way to visit. Outside of a rude Park Ranger, we found this park worth the visit.

Contact Information:

P.O. Box 7

Mammoth Cave, KY 42259-0007

Phone: (270) 758-2180


Visitor Center and Park Complex:

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Museum at Visitor Center:

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Mammoth Cave:

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Hiking Trails:

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(Vehicle Ferry Inside Park)

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