The Ultimate Guide to Mammoth Cave National Park

To the Batcave!

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Created by Rebecca Radnor - April 24th 2016

Welcome to the world's largest cave system-- a whopping 400+ mile labyrinth of subterranean wonder. Whether you're a professional spelunker or a caving novice, navigating Kentucky's incredible Mammoth Cave National Park is easier than you might think. Plus, it boasts one of the most colorful histories and coolest attractions of all the country's National Parks. From mummies to sinkholes, there's a lot to see above and below the ground.

Photo of Mammoth Cave National Park
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1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy, Brownsville, KY, US

Mammoth Cave National Park

Some tips for visiting Mammoth Caves National Park:

-The NPS puts on different tours that highlight various parts of the cave, so you don't have to worry about getting lost underground in a 400 mile maze of creepy darkness. The Historic Tour, the Frozen Niagara Tour, and the Domes and Dripstones Tour are always popular, but there's also a more adventurous Introduction to Caving tour, and The Violet City Lantern Tour is especially awesome, since it encompasses parts of several shorter tours, plus you do the whole thing by lantern light, which adds an air of mystery and excitement to the whole thing. -The tours they offer (and when they offer them daily) change depending on the seasons, so check out their website to pick out what you want to do. Also, some of them have height, age, or other restrictions, so keep that in mind as well. -Above the ground, you'll find 70 miles of trails, and the Green River where you can kayak, canoe, swim and fish. You can also find horseback riding, camping, and more! -Inside the cave, it's about 54 degrees, although it can be warmer or colder, depending on various factors. Pack a sweater and good walking shoes!

Photo of Big Mike's Rock Shop
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566 Old Mammoth Cave Road, Cave City, KY, US

Big Mike's Rock Shop

Since Mammoth Caves is all about the geological wonders hidden below the Earth, Big Mike's Rock Shop is a kitschy, fun place to pick up some souvenirs. Pick out a geode and have them cut it open for you, browse the colorful rocks and minerals, and check out the dinosaur fossil upstairs!

125 Park Boundary Rd, Smiths Grove, KY, US

Porky Pig Diner

There aren't tons of restaurants around rural Kentucky, but Porky Pig Diner is a solid bet. Plus, the mom-and-pop vibes are pretty great; they even have a basset hound named Pound Hound who hangs out outside. Order the fried chicken or fried catfish, a coffee or a sweet tea, and some pie for dessert and you'll be prepared to take on the cave.

Photo of Cedar Sink - Mammoth Cave NP
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Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, US

Cedar Sink - Mammoth Cave NP

Cedar Sink Trail is one of the most unique hikes in the park-- the relatively short, but staircase-heavy trail leads past a river, through lovely forests, and around a huge sinkhole. Plus, you can see the river dipping in and out of the cave.

105 Gardner Ln, Cave City, KY, US

El Mazatlan

After exploring the caves, you'll probably be in need of some sustenance (and maybe a drink). Make like a local and grab some filling Mexican food at El Mazatlan. Consider splitting the delicious fajitas with someone... you'll want to save room for a giant margarita, fried ice cream, and plenty of chips and salsa.

Photo of Wigwam Village No 2
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601 N Dixie Hwy, Cave City, KY, US

Wigwam Village No 2

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Most people think of the Wigwam Village motel as a Route 66 attraction, but not everyone knows that there used to be multiple Wigwam Villages dotted across the US. Only a few are still standing, including the ones along Route 66 (Wigwam Village #7) but there's one right near Mammoth Cave-- Wigwam Village No 2!

2841 Hiseville Bear Wallow Road, Cave City, KY, US

Bear Wallow Belles

If you're looking for something homier and less kitschy, nearby Bear Wallow Belles is a Victorian home turned into a bed and breakfast, all situated on a quaint dairy farm. Country-style breakfasts, private bathrooms, and loads of tasteful antiques add to the cozy feel of this little spot.

Photo of Onyx Cave
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93 Huckleberry Knob Road, Cave City, KY, US

Onyx Cave

If you're looking for a more low-key cave tour, the leisurely 45-minute walk through Onyx Cave, located just outside the park, is pretty easy but no less impressive. It's a wet cave (which means it's still actively forming) that contains features like "cave bacon", "cave coral", and more.

Photo of Outlaw Cave
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3057 Mammoth Cave Road, Cave City, KY, US

Outlaw Cave

Another subterranean adventure in the area is Outlaw Cave. The 45-minute tour doesn't have any stairs whatsoever, so it's great for strollers and wheelchairs. You'll see stalactites, stalagmites (and learn the difference between the two) along the way. Pro tip: the last tour of the day, usually around 6pm, is a lantern tour.

Photo of Diamond Caverns Cave
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1900 Mammoth Cave Pkwy, Park City, KY, US

Diamond Caverns Cave

Diamond Caverns has been stunning visitors with its beauty for almost 150 years, but just because it's been around for awhile doesn't mean its not worth visiting. It's got state-of-the-art lighting that illuminates the cathedral-esque caverns.

Photo of Crystal Lake Coffee Shop
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792 Beaver Dam Chapel Rd, Mammoth Cave, KY, US

Crystal Lake Coffee Shop

Looking to grab a bite between hikes and tours? Luckily enough, Crystal Lake Coffee Shop is located near the visitor center, and it serves up tasty, no-frills breakfasts, lunches, and dinners (all with a side of retro diner vibes), complete with vegetarian options!

Photo of Old Guides' Cemetery
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Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, US

Old Guides' Cemetery

The cave was first extensively mapped by a slave named Steven Bishop, and when the cave was sold to John Croghan of Louisville in 1839, Bishop stuck around, since he was pretty much the guide to the caves. Croghan had an interesting plan for the massive caverns-- he thought that the air in the caves had fumes in it that would cure tuberculosis, a disease that was running rampant at an almost-epidemic level at the time. The hospital was short-lived... and ironically enough, TB would eventually kill both Croghan and Bishop. Bishop is buried nearby on a hill above the cave in what is known as "The Old Guides' Cemetery", which makes for an interesting stop while visiting the park.

Photo of Cub Run Cave
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15101 Cub Run Hwy, Cub Run, KY, US

Cub Run Cave

Believe it or not, the Cub Run Cave was discovered fairly recently-- in 1950. It was opened for a short time, then closed before being reopened in 2006. It's got all-new elevated wooden walkways, and the tour groups are kept small and personal. Plus, the drive out here from Mammoth Cave National Park is quite pretty!

Snow and cold temperatures definitely limit your tour options of the cave in the winter, and summer is by far the most popular time to visit. Spring is lovely, with mild temperatures and wildflowers, and there's lots of great fall foliage in the autumn, plus transitional seasons are less crowded as well.