Mammoth Cave National Park

We visited Mammoth Cave in December 2023 as part of our Tucson for Christmas trip.

Bugsy at the Mammoth Cave sign

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.

the Airstream in the empty lot at Mammoth Cave
the Airstream at Mammoth Cave NP

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.

Frozen Niagara in Mammoth Cave
Frozen Niagara in Mammoth Cave

We spent a few hours there hiking and touring the cave and had a lovely time.

Touring the cave

Frozen Niagara in Mammoth 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.

the walkway through Mammoth Cave

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.

rock formations in Mammoth Cave

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!

the understated entrance to Mammoth Cave
The understatedness of the cave entrance cracked me up
Ranger Eric speaking in Mammoth Cave
Ranger Eric entertaining the crowd

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

hiking in Mammoth Cave NP

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.

Bugsy along the hiking trail at 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!

crazy cave formations from under Frozen Niagara in Mammoth Cave

We spent the night in nearby Bowling Green, Kentucky, an easy base for exploring Mammoth Cave. Read about our Bowling Green experiences here.

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