Home » 2002 Cross Country Road Trip

Mammoth Cave, KY

Saturday, July 27, 2002 - 9:00am by Lolo
500 miles and 8 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


We got to Mammoth Cave late in the afternoon after a long 8 hours of driving. Rather than try to cram in a tour of the caves that evening when we were exhausted and cranky, we purchased tickets for the 2-hour Historic Tour early the next morning.

Dad and Young in CaveDad and Young in CaveThat evening, we checked into Headquarters Campground, which was a short drive from the Visitor Center and in walking distance to the Amphitheater. Needing to stretch our legs after our all-day confinement in the RV, we hopped on our bikes and headed out of the campground and down towards the river on the Green River Ferry Road. I had a hard time enjoying the thrill of the steep descent down to the river, knowing that I would soon have to repeat this hill in the other direction and listen to the complaints of my young. As expected, the ride back up really was tough--it was extremely hot and humid and the high ozone levels that day made it difficult to breathe. Needless to say, there was much whining.

After dinner, we strolled over to the Amphitheater to hear a ranger talk on the history of Mammoth Cave. We usually like to attend these ranger talks when we stay in a National Park campground. They can range from so-so to really good depending on the knowledge and enthusiasm of the ranger. This one was pretty good.

The next morning we, and about 30 other tourists, met at the Visitor Center for our scheduled Historic Tour of Mammoth Caves. As we began our climb down the steps into the natural Historic Entrance, we immediately felt the shift in climate. We left a hot, humid day behind and entered the cool 54 degree, damp, and never-changing climate of the caves. Unlike other caves, Mammoth Cave doesn't try to be glamorous with fancy lighting, paved pathways, and elevators. Rather, you feel as if you are touring the caves the same way that tourists in the 1800s did. In fact, at one point during the tour, the ranger flipped off the lights, throwing the cave into complete and utter darkness. We sat for a moment in total silence, experiencing a stillness that was eerie and absolute. Then with another flip of the switch, the stillness was broken and we were brought back to a more normal state of mind. The tour continued through a section of the cave known as Fat Man's Misery, because of its narrow, winding passageway. Eventually, we exited the cave into the bright sunlight of a beautiful Kentucky morning.

Although the caves at Carlsbad Caverns, which I describe later in this trip, are more dramatic with their beautiful formations, the kids liked Mammoth Cave for its pure naturalness and impressive size.


Mom and Young in CaveMom and Young in CaveMammoth Cave National Park is located in central Kentucky about halfway between Louisville and Nashville. It is the world's largest known cave system with more than 350 miles of surveyed passageways, and probably as much as 600 miles more of undiscovered ones. However, only 12 miles of these are accessible to the public through ranger-guided tours.

During the War of 1812, the caves were used as a mine for saltpeter, an ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder. After the war, the caves became a tourist attraction. Stephen Bishop and Mat and Nick Bransford, slaves of the cave's owner, became legendary as tour guides. Bishop also explored and mapped many more miles of the unknown cave.

Mammoth Park became a National Park in 1926, a World Heritage Site in 1981, and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990. It is open year round as the weather underground is about the same all year long--54 degrees and damp. The only way to explore the caves is with a ranger-led tour for which you must purchase tickets. The tours range from 2-hour non-strenuous walks to 6-hour strenuous ones where you sometimes have to crawl on your stomach.


  • Mammoth Cave National Park
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