Mammoth Cave National Park – Tours, Camping, and Best Tips

Petr Novák

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky conceals a unique world – the longest cave system globally with 398 mi of surveyed passages. The second-largest cave system, Sac Actun in Mexico, is less than half as extensive. Mammoth Cave, continuously expanded by new discoveries, is so extraordinary that it has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Mammoth Cave National Park | © daveynin

Table of Contents
  1. Information About Mammoth Cave National Park
  2. What to See and Do in Mammoth Cave National Park
  3. When to Visit Mammoth Cave National Park
  4. Admission to Mammoth Cave National Park
  5. Directions to Mammoth Cave National Park
  6. Accommodation at Mammoth Cave National Park
  7. Tips and Suggestions for Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park
  8. Photos of Mammoth Cave National Park

Information About Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park, located near Brownsville, Kentucky, is about an hour and three-quarters drive from Nashville. Spanning 83 mi2, it is one of the smaller parks. However, this is not surprising given that the vast majority of it is underground. Mammoth Cave receives approximately 515,774 visitors annually, as per 2021 statistics.

Mammoth Cave National Park was established on July 1, 1941, but the area was already quite active before that. During the Anglo-American War of 1812, the caves were used as a nitrate source needed for gunpowder production. The source was guano – accumulated bat droppings. Due to the British blockade, there was a severe shortage, and Mammoth Caves emerged as a suitable source. Joseph Bishop, an African-American slave serving the caves’ then-owner, Franklin Gorin, extensively mapped the caves in the 1830s-40s.

In 1972, Mammoth Cave and Flint Cave, then the world’s longest cave, were connected.

As is typical with caves, bats primarily populate them. In Mammoth Caves, the most common bat species include the brown bat, the yellow bat, and the social bat. The combined population of these species in the historical part of the caves is estimated to be in the thousands. In addition, the watchful eye can spot newts, spiders, and the endangered cave shrimp.

What to See and Do in Mammoth Cave National Park

Planning activities at Mammoth Cave NP is straightforward: cave tours are a must. There are several routes to choose from, varying in difficulty, length, and cost. Tour timings and frequency change throughout the year, so plan your visit using the official website.

English-guided tours of Mammoth Cave include:

Mammoth Passage Tour

1 hour 15 minutes | 0.75 mi | Easy

A straightforward tour that takes you through the cave entrance discovered 5,000 years ago to one of the largest passages of Mammoth Cave.

Historic Tour

2 hours | 1.99 mi | Moderately challenging

Visit the oldest section of the caves, widely explored since the 19th century.

Domes and Dripstones Tour

2 hours | 0.75 mi | Moderate

A tour ideally paired with the previous one, includes several domes and pits plus a massive connecting passage.

Frozen Niagara Tour

1 hour 25 minutes | 1,312 ft | Easy

A tour suitable for visitors with young children or seniors, or for people who are claustrophobic.

Grand Avenue Tour

4 hours | 3.98 mi | Very challenging

An extremely challenging tour that gives you a comprehensive view of the cave’s vastness. This tour includes the Frozen Niagara Tour and a significant part of the Domes and Dripstones Tour.

Great Onyx Lantern Tour

2 hours 15 minutes | 0.99 mi | moderate

Tour the secluded Great Onyx Cave, which was privately owned until the 1960s. The views of the cave formations are all the more interesting because they are lit by lanterns.

Violet City Lantern Tour

3 hours | 2.98 mi | challenging

An exclusive tour of the caves as in the old days, when only ancient lanterns were used for lighting. Stories from the early days of caving in Kentucky included!

Gothic Avenue Tour

2 hours | 0.99 mi | moderate

This magical tour begins at the visitor center, with the original entrance gradually going through the Rotunda and Church sections to Gothic Avenue. It is magical because it focuses on the heritage of previous visitors to the cave. You can see their signatures and stone artefacts dating back 200 years.

River Styx Tour

2 hours 30 minutes | 2.49 mi | moderately challenging

A tour focusing on the origin and development of the cave. The tour includes the entire historical route and parts of the Mammoth Passage, Star Chamber and Gothic Tour.

Star Chamber Lantern Tour

2 hours 30 minutes | 1.49 mi | moderate

This evening tour under artificial lighting is for those interested in history. They will learn, among other things, how tuberculosis patients were once treated in the cave.

Focus on Frozen Niagara Tour

1 hour 30 minutes | 1,312 ft | easy
A short, early evening tour of parts of Rainbow Dome, Crystal Lake, Moonlight Dome, Onlyx Collonade and the popular Frozen Niagara stalactites. The program is primarily intended for amateur photographers.

Wild Cave Tour

6 hours | 3.39 mi | extremely challenging

A very challenging tour of the least accessible parts of the cave. You will climb, crawl, walk, climb and crawl. The physical exertion is offset by the views that other tour participants will not have.

Introduction to Caving

3 hours 30 minutes | 0.99 mi | challenging

This challenging course is for a maximum of 20 people interested in an introduction to caving and caving science. Walking is off-trail and caving equipment is used.

Trog

2 hours 45 minutes | 1.49 mi | moderately challenging

A tour off the main trail exclusively for children aged 8 to 12, with kids as guides too.

Especially during the summer months, tour bookings tend to sell out quickly, so I strongly recommend booking in advance! Not all programs are available all year round. Prices effective as of June 13, 2023 are as follows:

Program Adult Children
6-12 years
Mammoth Passage Tour $11.00 $9.00
Historic Tour $20.00 $15.00
Extended Historic Tour $23.00 $17.00
Frozen Niagara Tour $18.00 $14.00
Grand Avenue Tour $35 $27
Great Onyx Lantern Tour $23.00 $18.00
Violet City Lantern Tour $25 $20.00
Gothic Avenue Tour $19.00 $15.00
River Styx Tour $22.00 $16.00
Star Chamber Lantern Tour $25 $20.00

The national park’s above-ground portion conceals a nice selection of trails for hikers. Some of these can be traversed on a bicycle or on horseback.

Adventure seekers can canoe down the Green River. According to participants’ experiences, it is an excellent experience.

When to Visit Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park is open year-round, with the majority of visitors traditionally visiting in the summer when some of the caves are accessible without a guide.
Kentucky’s weather is characterized by hot summers and cool winters. Particularly during the summer months, the proximity of the Gulf of Mexico significantly influences it. The rainiest period of the year is spring, with thunderstorms common from September to October.

Average Temperatures and Visitor Numbers at Mammoth Cave National Park

The average temperatures at Mammoth Cave Park in Bowling Green are given below. Visitor numbers are based on the 2017-2021 average, and the data source is the National Park Service.

Max Temp Min Temp Precipitation Days Visitors Popularity
January 45°F 27°F 8.4 8 352 🟩
February 46°F 28°F 8.0 10 709 🟩
March 59°F 39°F 9.9 45 085 🟨🟨
April 70°F 48°F 10.8 54 030 🟨🟨
May 77°F 57°F 12.5 50 616 🟨🟨
June 84°F 64°F 12.2 75 588 🟧🟧🟧
July 84°F 66°F 11.9 107 112 🟥🟥🟥🟥
August 86°F 66°F 10.2 67 627 🟧🟧🟧
September 81°F 61°F 8.3 45 256 🟨🟨
October 70°F 48°F 7.9 50 432 🟨🟨
November 57°F 39°F 8.3 25 009 🟩
December 48°F 32°F 9.1 15 171 🟩

Admission to Mammoth Cave National Park

Entry to Mammoth Cave National Park is free of charge, but a fee is required for guided tours of Mammoth Cave.

These cave tours are not covered by the America the Beautiful pass.

Directions to Mammoth Cave National Park

When planning a visit to Mammoth Cave Park, it’s necessary to consider car rental, as there is no public transportation available.
Access to the park is possible from both the north and south. The bullet points below provide directions from the main points in the area, leading to the visitor center, which is the recommended starting point for your park tour:

From / To Distance Driving Time Route
Chicago 390 mi 6 hours 15 minutes View Route
Nashville 93 mi 1 hour 40 minutes View Route
St. Louis 291 mi 4 hours 45 minutes View Route
Washington 664 mi 10 hours 40 minutes View Route

Parking facilities are available at the visitor center.

Mammoth Cave National Park is bisected by the Green River, which can be crossed by a car ferry. This ferry operates all year round, excluding December 25.

Accommodation at Mammoth Cave National Park

🏨 Hotels

Several hotels are located in the vicinity of Mammoth Cave, including popular chains such as Super 8, Days Inn, and Best Western. The average price for a room per night is $60.

⛺ Campsites

Within the park, there are three campsites that offer overnight accommodation for tents and caravans:

  • Mammoth Cave Campground
    This is the largest campground with space for 105 tents. The fee per site per night is $25.
  • Houchin Ferry Campground
    This campground is the only one located on the banks of the Green River. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis, provides 12 sites for tents only, and charges $20.00 per night.
  • Maple Springs Campground
    This small campground, located by the water, is reserved for overnight campers with horses.

Tips and Suggestions for Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park

ℹ️ Visitor Center

A great starting point for your tour of Mammoth Cave National Park is the information center. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (operating hours may vary by season). You can purchase tickets for cave tours or pick up souvenirs here.

👍 Good to Know

It’s recommended to allocate at least half a day for your visit to Mammoth Cave. For those who experience claustrophobia, a visit might not be the best idea, as some tours take you as deep as 328 ft. The lack of daylight and minimal artificial lighting can also affect the quality of photos taken inside.
Before you set off for the park, don’t forget to download free maps of Mammoth Cave onto your phone.

Photos of Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park Visitor Center | © Anna Harris
Mammoth Cave National Park | © AllieKF
Mammoth Cave National Park | © AllieKF
Mammoth Cave National Park | © daveynin
Mammoth Cave National Park | © daveynin
Mammoth Cave National Park | © John Schuster

US National Parks

  1. List of US National Parks
  2. America the Beautiful Annual Pass
  3. Timed-Entry Reservation for US National Parks

Travel Guides to USA National Parks

Contribute with Your Question or Personal Experience

Add a comment

Please read the article and preceding comments before posing any questions. I personally review all new comments and promptly remove any advertisements, spam, or offensive content.

Save on Car Rentals in the USA