Mammoth Cave National Park – Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Website – http://www.nps.gov/maca/index.htm
Camping – Tent camping available inside the park (which we took advantage of)
This was our new national park for 2014, and it was a beaut. Okay, not really a beaut. But a ton of fun.
For those of you who’ve done things like Crystal Cave in Pennsylvania or Lurray Caverns in Virginia, this is not going to be that pretty. In fact, the cave is more or less undecorated by stalactites and stalagmites or any other of scenic features of the underworld so enjoyed in other caves. Expect gray and brown with some mud thrown in for effect.
For those of you expecting ridiculously sized rooms, you know, Mammoth ones, you’ll be disappointed. Yes, Mammoth Cave does have some bigger rooms, but nothing too ridiculous. It’s name comes from its 400+ miles of passages, which is hard to truly appreciate on a 2 mile tour.
However, this cave offers two things in abundance that I love – history and adventure! The ranger will talk, a lot, about all sorts of historical things that happened in the cave. I loved it, it was fascinating. As anyone whose ever visited a national park knows (especially if you do any of the programs), the rangers are sometimes just as good as the park itself. That’s definitely the case here. The history will be unveiled mostly through stories of mining bat guano, early and famous tourists (including John Wilkes Booth), and examining cave graffiti. While I am very opposed to creating graffiti in a cave, if you do it long enough ago, it becomes historic. Some of the grafitti in here is way more than 100 years old!
The other fun part is ADVENTURE! We took the Historic Cave Tour, which is the one recommended for newbies. It was only two miles, but two hours long, including about 200 steps down and 500 up. There are some crazy parts to the tour, notably Fat Man’s Misery, which is a squeeze around the knees as you walk in a narrow gap and slowly the ceiling gets lower and lower. I had a helluva time trying to keep my knees close enough together so that my legs could move, yet to keep my body bent forward enough to not leave brain marks on the walls. I only hit my head once, so I consider that a success. Needless to say, the Pres (almost 2 1/2 years old at this point) had an absolute blast. It was a giant playground to him, and he laughed the whole time and called to his parents to keep up. The prize goes to my wife, who did the whole thing while baby-wearing.
At the end of the day, this is an awesome place to go as long as you go in with the right expectations. Do not expect to be blown away by intricate works of nature in cave designing. Do not expect to be blown away by the sheer size of massive rooms (although if you do the tour that we did, there is a pretty big vertical room that you climbs flights and flights of steps of). Do come for a cave that has a richer history than any other in the USA and for the adventure that comes with taking walking tours that are a little more than you average stroll down carved cave floor pathways with movie theater style lighting.
As for us, we were told that some of the other tours you can do get ever crazier, we’ll have to come back and try them too.
– Try NOT to get in the back, because if you get behind slow folks, you’ll end up missing the beginning of the tour.
– Bring a little flashlight. This is allowed, and it lets you check out nooks and crannies that the cave lighting might not catch.
– Definitely book ahead of time, tours do fill up. We were lucky to catch the last tour of the day, which was pretty light compared to normal (40 people on a tour that usually has three times that many).
– Sneakers, sneakers, sneakers.
– There is no flash photography allowed in the cave, and no tripods. Therefore, I can almost guarantee that all of your pictures will turn out terrible (mine did). Save your battery and enjoy the adventure of the whole thing.
We also camped out in the park, which had nice tent sites. Bathrooms were clean and well done. Sadly, no ranger program that night.