The 53,000 acres of lush forest in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky sit atop the longest known cave system in the world, giving visitors the opportunity to hike above or below ground. A word of warning: Don’t rely on your car’s GPS to get you to the caves. Instead, check the website here for directions. GPS is notorious for taking visitors to the north side of the park, not the cave entrance. However, signage is very good when you get closer.)
Reservations are recommended for the various cave tours since they fill up rapidly. You can’t enter the caves without a tour and who would want to since it would be very easy to get lost in the 400+ miles of charted trails—and who knows how many miles of uncharted ones?!?! There are also cave tours for people with physical limitations.
The tour we took lasted about 1 ½ hours and began with approximately 250 steps down a winding staircase. (Remember that what goes down, must come up!) Once down, we enjoyed the beautiful sights. Parts of the tour required us to bend down to make it to the next large area, but the required flexibility was worth it when we stood in awe of some of the cavernous views. Stalactites and stalagmites abound in the cave where they continue to grow until they kiss. Of course, we had the dark adventure when all the lights were turned out to show how dark caves really are. The children on the tour were very impressed, and a little scared, until the lights came back on.
Our guide shared the long history of the cave with us as we walked. Archaeologists have found evidence that the cave was used around 4,000 years ago by Native Americans who mined the upper three levels for gypsum, selenite, and other minerals. The cave was lost about 2,000 years ago and was rediscovered by those of European heritage somewhere between 1798 and 1802 when John Houchins was looking for the black bear he shot but didn’t kill. Settlers quickly discovered the presence of nitre which could be mixed with other items to make a good grade of gunpowder. The guide’s entertaining stories added more to the information we had read about in the museum. Through the years, the caves have also served as a church and tuberculosis sanitorium among its other uses.
The tour we took was very interesting. I’d enjoy returning to take a different tour and also have time to hike in the forest on one of the many trails.