We visited Mammoth Cave in December 2023 as part of our Tucson for Christmas trip.
We couldn’t resist picking up another national park (our 40th!) while in the vicinity: From Knoxville, it was a pleasant 3.5-hour drive on smaller roads to Mammoth Cave National Park in south-central Kentucky. On a Monday in December, we had no problem parking the Airstream in the big lot at the visitor center; there’s also an overflow lot not much farther away for busier days.
Mammoth Cave is obviously known for its cave (the longest in the world at 426 miles!!!), but the park also has several miles of hiking trails on the surface, and a pretty extensive bike trail network along the roads.
We spent a few hours there hiking and touring the cave and had a lovely time.
Touring the cave
If you’re going to Mammoth Cave, you have to do a cave tour. There are several different cave tours available, but based on our arrival time and the available tours so late in the season, we chose the Domes and Dripstones tour.
While only .75 miles of walking, this is not an easy tour! There are a lot of stairs, and at points we were shimmying through tight squeezes or through low tunnels.
Along the way, we passed through high domes, narrow passages, and collapsed roof sections, ending with the grand finale of Frozen Niagara–the prettiest part, in our opinion. And the worst part–the CAVE CRICKETS. Sooo creepy!
Our guide, Ranger Eric, was the BEST. He was funny, knowledgeable, told great stories, and was happy to answer questions from this geology nerd!
Hiking the surface trails
Dogs are allowed on hiking trails at Mammoth Cave! Before we humans left the dog in the Airstream and did the cave tour, all three of us did a 4.5-mile loop in the woods and along the river on the surface overtop of Mammoth Cave.
We paralleled miles of bike trails along the long road into the park. Hiking-wise, you can piece together hikes from the 7.2 miles of trails near the main visitor center, or hit the backcountry for more. We put together a 4.5-mile loop with Bugsy in the woods and along the river and overtop of the cave. It was pretty and peaceful, with zero other hikers!
We spent the night in nearby Bowling Green, Kentucky, an easy base for exploring Mammoth Cave. Read about our Bowling Green experiences here.