This National Park Has the Longest-known Cave System in the World — With Over 400 Miles of Underground Passages, Sparkling Domes, and a Frozen Waterfall

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky has great hiking and kayaking, too.

The idea of another world existing beneath our feet is both thrilling and terrifying — and it’s the reality at Mammoth Cave National Park, which has the longest known cave system in the world. The park’s namesake cave runs more than 400 miles under the earth's surface — and that’s just the part that has been explored and mapped. Inside the aptly named Mammoth Cave, you’ll find tube-like passageways, great rooms with sparkling walls, slot canyons, huge domes, and even a dripstone that resembles a frozen waterfall. 

Historic Entrance of Mammoth Cave in Mammoth Cave National Park

Courtesy of Mammoth Cave National Park

It’s no wonder Mammoth Cave has long drawn visitors to south-central Kentucky. And while it's easily the park’s biggest draw, it isn’t its only attraction. Mammoth Cave National Park is home to thousands of years of human history and stretches nearly 53,000 acres above the earth's surface. The landscape — rolling hills, thick forests, and lush river valleys — lends itself to hiking and biking, and the park is also traversed by the Green and Nolin rivers, which offer plenty of opportunities for boating and fishing.

If you're interested in visiting a lesser-known park with lots to offer — it's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve — let us guide you through the wonders of Mammoth Cave National Park, including what to do, where to stay, and when to go.

Best Things to Do at Mammoth Cave National Park

Canoes on Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park

Courtesy of Mammoth Cave National Park

The park’s main attraction is Mammoth Cave, which provides more than 400 miles of underground adventure. To access the cave, you must buy a ticket, and while there's often a self-guided tour option, we recommend joining one of the many guided tours, which take visitors to places like Gothic Avenue, an underground passageway renowned for its Gothic-style rock formations, and the Snowball Room, which can be accessed through tube-shaped passages and sparkling gypsum-covered walls. 

If you want to explore the park above ground, head to the Green and Nolin rivers, which are part of a National Water Trail and provide the ideal setting for kayaking and canoeing (including paddle-in camp spots). Anglers will find bluegill, catfish, bass, and perch, among others.

Cleaveland Avenue in Mammoth Cave National Park

Courtesy of Mammoth Cave National Park

There are also several hiking and biking trails, including the impressive Big Hollow Trail and the Connector Trail, which offers bikers 10-plus miles of single track. Hikers can explore the more developed trails near the visitor center on the south side of the park, or adventure out to the backcountry trails on the north side.

Best Places to Stay Near Mammoth Cave National Park

Right next to the park’s visitor center is The Lodge at Mammoth Cave, with standard rooms and a series of picturesque cottages. We recommend booking a night in the white historic cottages, which are set under the trees and have simple but comfortable decor. 

The nearby Mammoth Cave Hotel, which has been in operation since 1965, is being renovated for a late summer 2023 reopening. 

Shower Bath Springs near Frozen Niagara in Mammoth Cave

Courtesy of Mammoth Cave National Park

There are also three developed campgrounds inside the park: Mammoth Cave, Maple Springs, and Houchin Ferry. Mammoth Cave Campground is the closest to the visitor center and has both RV and tent sites, while Maple Springs Campground features several group and RV sites and is a 10-minute drive to the visitor center. The Houchin Ferry Campground is a tent-only campground with a more remote feel. It's 20 minutes from the visitor center. 

The park also has 13 designated backcountry campsites, which require a hike, horseback ride, or paddle to reach.

How to Get to Mammoth Cave National Park 

Mammoth Cave National Park Visitor Center

Courtesy of Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park is divided by the Green River, which flows from east to west. Most of the action takes place on the south side of the water, where you’ll find the cave tours and Mammoth Cave Visitor Center. The north side of the river is quieter and more remote, with plenty of space for backcountry camping, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

The visitor center is roughly 1.5 hours south of Louisville, Kentucky, just more than two hours from Lexington, and under 15 minutes from the small town of Park City, which has long served as the historical entrance to the national park.

Best Time to Visit Mammoth Cave National Park

Interior of Mammoth Cave near Giant's Coffin

Courtesy of Mammoth Cave National Park

The park is open year-round, but noticeably busier in the summer. The spring and fall tend to be significantly quieter, while winter is the park’s low season. The good news is that no matter when you visit, the cave remains a steady 54 degrees Fahrenheit, offering a cool respite from the summer heat and protection from the cold and wind of winter.

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