One cannot visit Mammoth Cave National Park without visiting a cave in Mammoth Cave National Park. If you can only tour one cave on your visit, this is the one to tour.
The Historic Tour was my favorite tour that we took in Mammoth Cave National Park. It covered so much of the history of the park, the different formations, and covered 2 miles underground.
Distance: 2 miles
Duration: 2 hours
Level: Moderate, 540 steps total, tight squeezes, and areas to duck down
Dog Friendly: No, there is limited boarding available (see below).
Fees: $20 Adults, $15 Youth (6-12), Children 5 and under free
Need to Know
Book Ahead– I strongly recommend booking ahead of time on the recreation.gov website, especially if visiting over a weekend. We didn’t book ahead until the day we took the tour and were almost unable to take the tour. We had booked a shorter tour, the Wandering Woods Tour, beforehand and didn’t realize that we’d be up for another one. We were visiting on a Friday, all tours were booked solid for Saturday and Sunday.
Pickup Tickets: Tickets purchased ahead of time or at the visitors center must be picked up 30 minutes prior to the tour.
What to Bring– Not much. There are a few things allowed and recommended, there are more things restricted.
- Water- allowed
- Camera-no flash or tripod
- Front baby carriers
- Canes permitted if required for stability
- Sweatshirt or light jacket (cave is 54 degrees year-round)
What NOT to Bring– There are more restricted items than there are permitted items. Here are some things to leave behind.
- Anything other than water.
- Food (If you have dietary complications and require food before two hours passes, see your tour guide.)
- Child Backpack Carriers, kids will likely hit their head.
- Backpacks with metal frames, are higher than shoulders or lower than waist level.
- Walking stick/trekking pole
- Firearms, knives, weapons of any kind
Don’t Touch! This was something that the Park Rangers really stressed before and during tours. The oils from our hand have damaging effects on the cave walls and structured within the cave. It is quite obvious to see this damage in some sections of cave where visitors have touched. Do your best to avoid making contact with the cave walls and surfaces.
Watch Your Step– Something our guide said at the very beginning was, “If it looks wet, it probably is.” There are some spots in this cave that are wet and slippery, wear shoes with solid grip and no exposed toes. Leave your crocs at home.
After meeting at the shelter and hearing the guide rattle off the rules and regulations about the tour, you’ll head down to the cave entrance. Yes, down. The cave entrance is at the base of a downhill path, then it descends a flight of steps to the entrance of Mammoth Cave. When water levels are higher in the park there is a trickle of a waterfall flowing, we saw just a few drops.
Upon entering the cave, it’s not tight or cramped. It’s actually quite spacious, and then it really opens up. Mammoth Dome is 57 stories high. That’s insane. The reason they call it “Mammoth Cave” is actually because of it’s size, not because of mammoths. That was a question Sandy had been wondering, we were happy our guide was able to answer.
For hundreds of years before Mammoth Cave’s rediscovery, Native Americans harvested minerals from this cave. It is unknown what they used the minerals for, but it sure is fascinating.
It was also used for harvesting gunpowder during the revolutionary war. Obviously, Great Britain wasn’t going to continue supplying the rebels with gun powder, so they had to find another source. Thankfully, Mammoth Cave had the resources they needed.
We meandered briefly into the Gothic Avenue tunnel, there were a couple of spots with writing on the wall. Some historic, some idiotic. We noticed a lot of Peters, interesting. Some this this writing was so neat with dates going back a couple hundred years. New graffiti is gross, old graffiti is fascinating. Bizzare.
Don’t look down. Just kidding, totally look down. The depth of the this hole is mesmerizing and amazingly, it’s even farther down than it looks. While walking across on the bridge, look between the slats for a knee weakening experience.
Fat Mans Misery
There is a very tight squeeze for a portion of the tour, we needed to turn sideways and duck at the same time. It was fun to not just walk through a hole in the ground but to really experience maneuvering about the cave. Sandy showed off her petiteness and simply walked along. At the end of this narrow hall is a the Great Relief Hall, makes sense after the tight squeeze. It’s 280 feet below the surface. Here the tour guide spoke about sink holes and sea level while the group rested on benches, a good opportunity for a selfie.
The tower of stairs brings guests back up on the way back to the cave entrance level and offers a view of an unground flow of water. This was such a neat thing to see, it distracts one from the their burning thighs. The majority of the 540 steps in this tour are right here in the tower. Be prepared to huff and puff like the big bad wolf after this thigh master.
Warning: Surfaces may be slippery.
The Lodge at Mammoth Cave offers day us kennels for park visitors. There is limited space and is on a first come, first served basis. We did not make use of these kennels, our adventure dog was too old to make this journey comfortably so she stayed home. For more info on the day use kennels, see The Lodge at Mammoth Cave.
- Rates: $3.50+ $1 per hour after first hour
- Locks available for rent.
- Day hours only, self service.
- Bring water dish, spigot available.
- Vaccination records required: Rabies, DHLP, Bordetella, Parvo
- Do not leave pets in the car while attending a cave tour, Kentucky is hot!