Where is Mammoth Cave National Park?
Mammoth Cave is in south-central Kentucky about 9 miles northwest of I-65 and is located approximately 85 miles between Louisville, Kentucky, and Nashville, Tennessee. The park has multiple entry points, and it's recommended to plan your activities and stay before entering the park. The park has miles of trails above ground and marked caverns to explore underground. Tours book fast, and GPS can be faulty in the cave or along with the trails father from the visitor center and camping sites.
How Big is Mammoth Cave National Park?
The park stretches almost 53,000 acres in the rolling hills of south-central Kentucky, along the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. It includes river valleys, forests, historic churches and cemeteries, sinkholes, and the world’s longest cave system. Visitors can explore over 60 miles of trails, with the majority located on the north side of the park. Mammoth Cave US National Park is a limestone labyrinth with more than 400 miles of it explored, and the park estimates a potential for another 600 miles in its system. Visitors have several options for tours that can range from 1 to 6 hours exploring the 5 layers of caverns.
Mammoth Cave National Park Weather
In general, Kentucky has a moderate climate with warm, yet moist conditions averaging about 50 inches of participation a year. In the spring the temperatures average around 35-60F and the park receives its highest average of rain. The summers average in the high 80s; winters average in the low 40s. Southern Kentucky, where Mammoth Cave is located, receives the highest average precipitation for the state, about 50 inches per year, primarily in spring. Winter can bring mild to moderate snow and ice with lows averaging in the 20s/30sF. Storms happen year-round, and although severe storms are infrequent the area has experienced tornadoes and flooding in low-lying areas. Visitors can rest assured the temperature deep in the cave is a constant 54°F (12°C), so an adequate jacket and pants allow the cave to be comfortably explored year-round.
When did Mammoth Cave Become a National Park?
U.S. Senator M.M. Logan presented the concept of a Mammoth Cave National Park to the Secretary of the Interior in 1901. Yet it wasn’t until 1923 Stephen Mather (the first Director of the National Park Service) once again made an argument in his annual report for the park. In 1925 after the creation of the Southern Appalachian National Park Commission to survey three possible park sites, Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, and what is now Mammoth Cave National Park. On July 1, 1941, Mammoth Cave National Park was established with 45,310 acres.
Things to do in Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park offers nearly 20 tour options for its visitors. From accessible tour options with an elevator to guided lantern exploration through the cave’s deep caverns, there’s something for everyone. Beyond the caves, the park also offers short or extensive trails to explore the area above ground. The area is also home to other park options within a 30-minute drive offering water parks, zip lines, and horseback riding through the area. Below, our National Park Visitors Guide highlights some of the activities Mammoth Cave National Park has to offer.
The world’s largest known cave system is something worth repeating. The nearly 400 miles of explored caverns are just the beginning of what is believed to be hundreds of miles of cave systems still to be explored. The cave is well lit for most tours, but guides will sometimes humor visitors with a brief demonstration of the absolute darkness of the caverns (with a warning ahead of time of course).
The park offers over 60 miles of trails on the northern side of the park. The park's location along the outer edge of the Appalachian Mountains provides visitors with views of dense forests and dynamic hikes from moderate to advanced-level experiences. The trails are most popular in the spring and fall when the weather is cooler, and the trails are the most photogenic.
Horse rides are a great way to see more of the park in less time. The guides are rigorously trained and do an incredible job from horse riding basics for beginners to information and history along the tour. We recommend going for an hour so that you have enough time to enjoy the scenery and the horses don’t get too tired on the trails.
Canoe or kayak along the river and relax in the quiet wilderness. You can bring your own or rent one and you can expect plenty of areas along the banks to stop and rest or enjoy the park along the river. The water comes from deep inside the cave so it’s incredibly clean, and the staff is informative and helpful making sure you enjoy your time on the river.
The park has a lot of options for camping inside the park. The majority of the camping sites are along the Green River on the southern side of the park and have facilities for guests. The site lots are generally spread out allowing a lot of space for you and your family or group to enjoy yourselves without disturbing neighboring campers. We recommend booking your campsite ahead of time especially in the peak summer months.
When to go to Mammoth Cave National Park?
Mammoth Cave National Park is open to visitors for cave tours, trail hiking, horseback riding, to name a few activities available in the park year-round. The park’s peak season is during the summer months when the weather can be hot above ground but offers a lot of opportunities for shade or cover from the weather. The wooded hiking trails provide beautiful backdrops and are wonderful opportunities for photographs and seeing wildlife throughout most of the year as well. In the winter expect there to be fewer tours operating but generally, they are also less crowded than the peak season from late spring to early fall. You can expect the caverns to be damp once inside, so we recommend you bring warmer clothes than you would wear. The cavern's interior passageways are generally stable year-round and stay between the mid-50’s to lower-60's F.
Must-Have Things to Bring to Mammoth Cave National Park
The park is massive above and below ground but offers visitors a lot of options for facilities and supplies. The park is well-established, and the guides and volunteers are knowledgeable and eager to help.
Whenever traveling it’s always wise to have water. The park has plenty of water fountains and access to clean water, but it’s something you never want to run out of on a hike. List of Parks always recommends bringing a full thermos for each person if you’re planning on hiking the trails. It's best to talk to the guide before bringing bags into the cave because you may need to go through tight spaces depending on the tour.
The park has its own snack shops and plenty of options nearby outside of the park but as most parents know - you always need snacks. It’s a good idea to check cave tour information for suggestions on what supplies they suggest bringing based on the tour you select.
Mammoth Cave is an established and visitor-centric park with internet capabilities, but it has limitations because of its size. The trails are marked but you’ll want a map if you decide to venture farther from the centralized visitor center. You may have phone service at the entrance of the cave, but you can expect no service throughout most of your tour inside the cave.
It’s not required, but we (and as you'll see on the park website) highly recommend you buy tickets for your cave tour before you arrive. For the safety of visitors, the park is currently reducing tour frequency and the number of visitors allowed to go on each tour. This will also give you more time to plan and prepare for your exact needs on the tour you choose.
Jacket and Cold Weather Attire
Make sure you check the weather before visiting the park. We recommend always having a jacket or something to keep you dry in your bag when going on a cave tour. Once within the cave, the temperature stabilizes but it's still relatively cool and you’ll want to dress appropriately so you can have a more enjoyable tour experience. You can always take your jacket off as the temperature warms as you come back to the cave entrance.
Whether you’re planning on a day exploring the cave or hiking, try to bring hiking boots or shoes with some grip. Even though most of the trails and paths are well maintained, the cave can be dark, and the stone can be slippery and are much safer and enjoyable with some traction.
In the spring and summer we recommend you have plenty of bug spray if you’re spending significant time above ground in the park. The caves are generally not an issue for bugs, but no one wants to be in the middle of the trail or wake up after the first-night camping covered in bites.
Water and food are essentials, and although you don’t have to have toilet paper, you never want to be in a situation where you are without it. Also, reusable items like plastic bags for collecting your trash and taking it outside the park. Masks are also a greatly appreciated item to bring, your tour guides and other visitors will appreciate you for it.
Where to Stay in Mammoth Cave National Park
The park is well-established and although it’s over an hour drive from a major city, visitors can find amenities to match their needs, from cabins to restroom facilities. “The Lodge at Mammoth Cave” is next to the visitor center and features a mixture of modernized hotel-style rooms. More rustic visitors can also stay in the historic cottages nestled in a woodland setting all within walking distance to cave tours and park trails. Lodging outside the park is a 20 to 45-minute drive to reach one of the numerous communities surrounding the park. These towns offer a wide choice of accommodations including hotels, cabins, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds, to accommodate any visitor’s needs.
Food Nearby Mammoth Cave National Park
Inside the park, visitors can enjoy 2 dining options. The Green River Grill is located inside the lodge across the footbridge from the visitor center and offers fine dining and catering services for events. Spelunkers Café & Ice Cream Parlor provides counter service dining and food on the go. The café is located inside the lodge across the footbridge from the visitor center. Outside of the park, visitors can find dozens of options from fast food to local favorites like fried green tomatoes or derby pie if your timing is right!
Airports Near Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave is situated nearly 85 miles between Louisville, Kentucky, and Nashville, Tennessee along I-65. If you’re coming from Nashville International Airport, take I-65 North to exit 48 at Park City, and then head northwest on Ky. 255 to the park. If you’re coming from Louisville International Airport, take I-65 South to exit 53 at Cave City and head northwest on Ky. 70 to the park.