Mammoth Cave National Park

We are wrapping up a few days at Mammoth Cave National Park in southern Kentucky.  Since it is somewhat close to home, we have been here several times before, and because it is one of our favorite places to visit in Kentucky, it was one of the first places we thought of when we knew we would have a few days to travel.  Of all our visits, this one is definitely the most crowded we have ever seen the area.  We attribute that to it being Easter weekend and also spring break week for many schools.  Add that to the fact that national parks have all gotten so much busier in the last few years, and we feel like it was a perfect storm.  The visitor center and its vicinity was a ZOO, but if you got away from that area at all, the crowds decreased significantly.  That just goes to show that even in the busiest of places, you can avoid much of the crowd if you just venture a little off the beaten path.

Site C77 at Mammoth Cave Campground

We stayed in Mammoth Cave Campground that is located in the park and is only a short walk from the visitor center, lodge, and historic cave entrance.  We really enjoy being within walking distance of the main attractions! The campground here is a basic national park campground.  It is set in the trees with sites fairly close together.  Each site has its own picnic table and fire ring, and they are mostly paved parking pads, but many of the sites are pretty sloped.  If you are traveling in an RV, come prepared with lots of leveling blocks and some patience, because it might take you a while to get leveled and set up!

After setting up, we wandered over to the visitor center and enjoyed their exhibit area that does a great job of explaining the area and the extensive cave system.  We also walked down to the historic entrance to the cave.  There is water that trickles over the edge of the entrance and it is a really pretty setting.  We were even able to walk a very short distance through the entrance to where the cave is gated off.  We were amazed at the breeze of cool air that rushes out of the cave.  On a hot, sticky Kentucky day, this is definitely the place to hang out!  To finish out our day, we went to the evening ranger program in the amphitheater.  If you have never been to a ranger program, we encourage you to try one out the next time you have a chance!  They are a great way to learn more about the park you are visiting.  Most of the rangers do a great job at making the content not only informative, but also entertaining, and the programs cover a wide range of topics. 

On day two (Easter Sunday) we took a bike ride down the Mammoth Cave Railroad Hike and Bike Trail.  This is a really nice gravel path that takes you to several stops along the way including a historic cemetery and a pond.  We got a late start on our bike ride, and since we had plans to meet up with some friends that evening, we weren’t able to ride the entire path, but we still had a great time!  We also had an amazing Easter meal that night with some friends we hadn’t seen in years.  Thank you so much for your hospitality, Jim and Lynn!  It was great seeing you, the meal was fantastic, and we are still enjoying all the treats you sent back with us!

Monday we had a cave tour scheduled.   On this trip, we chose to take the Historic Tour which focuses on the many ways humans have used the cave over the years.  This included learning about Native American uses of the cave, mining saltpetre in the cave in the early 1800s to make gunpowder, and the many ways tourism has impacted the cave and how that tourism has been handled and changed over the years.  If you are interested in the natural formation of the cave or are really interested in seeing various cave formations, this is probably not the tour for you.  There are definitely other tours that explore the stalactites and stalagmites, gypsum flowers, cave popcorn, etc. that most people think of when they think of caves, but the Historic Tour wasn’t one of them.  This was a good tour for us on this visit, since we have previously done some of the others, but for those who are able to walk a longer distance and up and down stairs, we recommend the Grand Avenue tour.  We did that one last time we were here and it covers a little bit of everything related to this amazing cave.  No matter which tour you wish to take, we urge you to make reservations as far in advance as you possibly can.  This is a popular place and the tours fill up fast.  We believe that in the four days we were here, all tours – with the exception of a stray cancellation here or there – were fully booked ahead of time.

After our tour, we still had a few hours before dark, so we chose to go for a short hike.  When thinking of Mammoth Cave, most people just think of going underground, but there are also a generous number of hiking trails on the surface to explore.  We hiked the Green River Bluffs Trail and then over to the entrance to Dixon Cave.  There is one really nice overlook of the river and the gorgeous redbud trees were in full bloom to add to the beauty.  As for Dixon Cave, you can really only view the entrance from a distance.  The cave is one of the few remaining homes to Indiana bats, and to avoid disturbing them, the park service has this cave completely closed to humans.  Interestingly, Dixon Cave used to be part of the Mammoth Cave system, but a collapse about a million years ago cut it off from Mammoth Cave and now Dixon dead-ends at the site of the collapse.

Spring weather in Kentucky can be a bit unpredictable and, at times, volatile.  Today has been one of those days where the weather could turn severe at any moment, so we have had a quiet day without much adventure.  Because the campground is heavily wooded, it probably isn’t the safest place to be in a storm, and we spent a significant amount of time in the lodge parking lot, the lodge lobby, and even once ventured into the staff break room in the basement of the lodge because of a tornado warning. This is certainly not how we hoped to spend our last day in the park, but our safety is top priority, and we did what we felt was necessary.  Thankfully, other than a couple of mild thunderstorms and some heavy rain, the threat of severe weather did not come to fruition here. Home, on the other hand, is a different story. We have had multiple calls from people at home saying that there was a terrible storm there this morning that caused a lot of damage.  While it sounds like our house and property came through okay, the power pole in front of our house snapped off and the power lines were laying in the road.  Our home has been without power since early this morning and it doesn’t sound like it will be restored until sometime tomorrow.  Compared to some who have endured much damage to their homes and vehicles, our power issue is minor and we are grateful that that seems to be our only problem.  Our thoughts are with those who are enduring much worse.

Tomorrow we move to a different place, and one we have never been to before.  We are looking forward to exploring somewhere new!  Come back in a few days to follow along on the adventure, and in the meantime, stay safe wherever you are!

Until next time!

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