Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s longest known cave system. Although more than 400 miles of the limestone labyrinth have been explored, park officials estimate there could be another 600 miles in the cave system.
The park, which is a world heritage site, is also very accessible. For instance, Mammoth Cave National Park is less than 100 miles from Louisville, Kentucky, or Nashville, Tennessee.
If you’re planning a trip to Mammoth Cave, the National Park Service (NPS) wants to help. In fact, the NPS recently released its “Top Ten Tips for Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park” as part of its “Plan Your Vacation Like a Park Ranger” series. The tips are even written by the rangers who work at Mammoth Cave, so you know they’ll be insightful.
“Planning a visit to Mammoth Cave?” the rangers ask. “Great! Here are some tips that will help you have a fun and memorable visit to the longest cave system in the world.”
So, let’s get right to it. Here’s what the rangers want you to know before you visit Mammoth Cave National Park.
1. Make Reservations
“Cave tours are our most popular activity and they often sell out,” rangers explain. Purchasing cave tour tickets in advance “will ensure you can get the tour you want, on the day you want, at the time you want. It’s is a win-win-win!”
While you’re planning your trip, rangers explain that they also know you “don’t want to miss your chance to roast s’mores around the campfire.” That’s why they also recommend making campsite reservations.
You can learn more about the park’s three campgrounds here and make reservations here.
2. Pick The Right Tour
Mammoth Cave offers a variety of cave tours for visitors of all abilities and interests. “This allows you to select the adventure that best fits your group’s needs,” rangers explain. “From a 2.5-mile, 2.5-hour dirt trail hike to see an underground river, to a 0.25-mile, 1.25-hour walk to see hundreds of dripstone formations, there’s a tour that’s right for everyone.”
You can learn about all of the different tours here. When you’re ready, you can purchase tickets for cave tours here.
3. Visit The “Sunny Side” Of The Park
Mammoth Cave is known for its extensive labyrinth of underground cave passages, but the park also has more than 85 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. “Get out on the trails early in the day to view wildlife, wildflowers, and the park’s scenic views along the forested rolling hills before the rest of the world has even rolled out of bed,” rangers suggest.
You can learn about hiking at Mammoth Cave here, biking here, and horseback riding here.
4. Hang Out With A Ranger
“If you’re looking for something to do other than visit a dark hole in the ground, join one of our guides for a free ranger-led program,” the rangers suggest. “The programs are the perfect activity to complement your cave tour.”
You can learn more about ranger-led programs — including evening programs — here.
5. Paddle Away On A Weekday
Many people don’t know it, but Mammoth Cave National Park is also home to more than 30 miles of the Green and Nolin Rivers, which are perfect for paddling or fishing, the rangers explain.
Keep in mind that the river can get very busy during weekends. To avoid the crowds at river access points, rangers recommend planning your canoeing, kayaking, and fishing for weekdays.
You can learn more about canoeing, kayaking, and boating on the Green and Nolin Rivers here.
Pro Tip: Don’t worry if you don’t have a canoe or kayak. Several private canoe and kayak rental businesses operate inside the park. You can learn more about those outfitters here.
6. Remember Your Jacket
In the summer, it can be humid and the temperature can be 90 degrees or hotter outside the cave. Deep inside the cave, however, the temperature is always 54 degrees.
Rangers recommend being prepared for your cave tour by bringing extra clothing or a light jacket so you stay comfortable inside the cave.
7. Be Safe
“Mammoth Cave is a place for fun, not folly!” rangers explain. “At the end of the day, we want both you and the park to be in a better condition than when you first found each other.”
Rangers explain that following concepts such as keeping a safe distance from wildlife, never feeding wildlife, staying on boardwalks and trails, and never parking in the road or blocking traffic will help you avoid the most common accidents. Also, by following the Leave No Trace Seven Principles, you’ll help protect the park as well, they continue.
You can learn how to “Protect Your Park, Protect Yourself” by staying safe here.
8. Watch The Clock
Mammoth Cave National Park sits on the far eastern side of the Central Time Zone. This can be confusing to visitors arriving from the north or from locations in the Eastern Time Zone, the rangers note.
It’s important to pay attention to local time so you don’t arrive too late — or too early — for your cave tour, rangers explain.
9. Don’t Let Technology Lead You Astray
Rangers warn visitors not to trust their vehicle’s navigation system or GPS units when traveling to Mammoth Cave because they can provide inaccurate information. Instead, rangers recommend checking your route and reviewing directions on the park’s website so you can avoid unintended delays. That’s especially important when you need to arrive at the park in time for your scheduled cave tour.
You can find directions to the park here.
Pro Tip: Rangers also point out that while public Wi-Fi is available at the park visitor center, cell service throughout the park can be spotty.
10. Visit South-Central Kentucky
Rangers know that there’s a lot you can do at Mammoth Cave and the surrounding area.
“Feel like you’re cramming a lot of Mammoth Cave into a day trip?” they ask. “Stick around and avoid the rush! You might even check another National Park Service site off your list by visiting Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville, Kentucky — which is right up the road.”
The good news is that if you do want to stay, the park has three developed campgrounds and several backcountry campsites — in addition to the Lodge at Mammoth Cave. You can learn more about where you can spend the night here and make reservations for those places here.
You can also learn more about the nearby local communities and their attractions here.
While you’re on the topic, be sure to read our other Mammoth Cave National Park coverage. Also, since they are nearby, be sure to read our Louisville, Kentucky, Nashville, and Tennessee coverage.