Mammoth Cave National Park

Where is it?

Mammoth Cave National Park is located at 1 Visitor Center Parkway, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

Highlights of the park include:

  • Visitor center, museum, and gift shops
  • Cave tours – most require advance reservations and fees
  • Hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails
  • Paddling and fishing
  • Ranger-led programs, including night sky programs
  • Picnic areas
  • Three campgrounds for tents and RVs in addition to backcountry campsites
  • Mammoth Cave Lodge which includes dining options
  • Lodging options also include historic cottages and woodland cottages
  • Grab and go food options near the visitor center
  • Day boarding kennels for dogs and cats

Mammoth Cave is a on the National Register of Historic Places, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and an International Dark Sky Park. Here is the park’s website link: Mammoth Cave

We fell in love with this backroad barn we found just outside the park.

Wi-fi and cell service can be hit and miss at Mammoth Cave, though we had some luck at the visitor center. We also do not recommend using Google Maps for directions to this park. Google took us on a much longer route than necessary. Though the best thing about the Google route is that we got to take the Green River Ferry across the river. That was definitely a first for us!

Mammoth Cave’s Green River Ferry

“Within National Parks is room — glorious room — room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve.”  — Enos Mills

Historic facts about Mammoth Cave

  • The cave has been known since prehistoric times. Artifacts such as bowls and woven sandals have been found inside.
  • An ancient burial site containing the preserved remains of a Native American woman was found in the early 1800s. At one time, the remains were on display for visitors to the cave but are now in the possession of the Smithsonian Institute.
  • In 1935 the remains of another ancient Native American, a man who had been crushed by a large rock, were found by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the cave. His remains were also displayed until public distaste for viewing them caused the park to remove them from view. The man was then buried in a secret location inside the cave.
Beautiful drive through the park.
  • During the War of 1812, saltpeter, an ingredient used in making gun powder, was mined by enslaved African American workers at Mammoth Cave. Remains of the mine can still be seen today at the Historic Entrance.
  • Tourists began arriving at Mammoth Cave as early as 1816, and the former miners who were familiar with the cave served as tour guides.
  • In 1842, Dr. John Croghan established an experimental tuberculosis treatment facility inside Mammoth Cave which he had previously purchased for $10,000.00. After several patients died, Croghan ended his experiment. Dr. Croghan died of tuberculosis in 1849. Two of the huts he built for his patients to live in can still be seen today.
  • Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world. About 400 miles of the cave have been explored, with 600 additional miles left unexplored!
  • After years of work went into acquiring the land and creating the park’s infrastructure, Mammoth Cave National Park was dedicated on July 1, 1941.
The Green River really is green.

Green River Bluffs Trail

Our visit to the park started with a hike on the Green River Bluffs Trail, which came recommended by a ranger in the visitor center. We had only a couple of hours to spare before our Frozen Niagara cave tour began, so this turned out to be the perfect hike for us. We were even back at the visitor center in time to enjoy a parking lot picnic lunch.

Although the park was crowded, we only saw one group of three people and a dog on the trail.
On the bluffs overlooking the Green River
Another view of the trail

We found this trail to be easy with only a few steep inclines. After the Green River overlook, we took the Dixon Cave Trail as part of the loop back to the visitor center.

Dixon Cave

According to park information, Dixon Cave was part of Mammoth Cave about a million years ago. The collapse of a sinkhole caused Dixon to be cut off from Mammoth, however, the event created Mammoth’s Historic Entrance. This cave is not accessible to humans due to the endangered Indiana bats that hibernate there in the winter months. Interestingly, Dixon Cave maintains a steady temperature of 44 degrees F (7 degrees C), which makes conditions perfect for the bats to hibernate.

File:Mammoth Cave Historic Entrance NPS.jpg
Historic Entrance – photo courtesy of the National Park Service and Wikimedia Commons

Trivia: There are 14 species of cave dwelling animals in Mammoth Cave that are found nowhere else in the world.

Frozen Niagara Tour

Advance reservations for cave tours are highly recommended and can made through Recreation.gov. Click here to see detailed tour listings as well as pricing for each of the tours. We made our cave tour reservations about a month before our trip and got the last two places in our preferred time slot. To begin many of the cave tours, ticketed visitors meet in a pavilion near the visitor center. Park buses then carry the groups to the cave entrance to begin their tour.

Our ranger-guides told us on the bus ride that we were going to see the most beautiful cave entrance in all of Mammoth Cave National Park. While we envisioned something similar to the Historic Entrance, that is not what it was at all!

Here it is. It sure doesn’t look like a cave entrance, does it? While there are other accesses to Mammoth Cave, the two main entrances are this one, which is manmade and the Historic Entrance, which is natural.

The photos above and below are views from the Frozen Niagara tour. Flash photography is not permitted in the cave, and the guides keep the tour groups moving which makes it difficult to get good shots. Our photos do not do justice to the way it really looks; the cave is much more beautiful and interesting in person.

Unfortunately, our shots of the Frozen Niagara formation did not turn out, so we have borrowed one from the National Park Service and Deb Spillman. Her shot shows the beauty of the incredible formation.

Frozen Niagara flowstone formation.

Thank you so much for joining us on our visit to Mammoth Cave National Park! We hope you will join us again for another great national park or road trip destination.

If you would like to visit more national parks, click on these:
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Devils Tower Road Trip: Things to Do
Death Valley National Park

Travel safe, and we will see you on the road.

Mike and Kellye


As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.











Three Get Ready and Four Let’s Go to the Black Hills of South Dakota – Day One


→Note: this post is the first in a series as we cover a week long vacation itinerary. Our trip starts at Rapid City, South Dakota. 

  • Rapid City, South Dakota is a great “home” base for all this area has to offer.
  • Rapid City has a major airport.
  • Excellent family vacation destination.
  • When to go: Anytime. We recommend May, June, July and September. (Note: the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes place during the first two weeks of August. We do not recommend going at this time unless you are planning to participate in the rally.)

There is so much to do in the western part of South Dakota that you could actually spend several days (or weeks) at most of the sites we’re going to talk about, however, we’re going to do it in one week. For those who want to do it all and see it all, but don’t have a lot of time, this road trip is the one for you!

Starting in Rapid City, let’s hit the road.


*Recommended hotel in Rapid City: Holiday Inn Express on I-90. (Restaurants and shopping nearby.)

*Recommended splurge restaurant in Rapid City: Minervas Restaurant & Bar – 2111 N. LaCrosse St.

*Recommended family restaurant in Rapid City: Chili’s Grill & Bar – 2125 Haines Ave.

*RV and tent camping available in many locations in and around Rapid City.

Day One:

Destinations: Devils Tower National Monument and Spearfish Canyon

Travel tip: this will be a full day, so plan to leave early in the morning. We recommend 7:00 am. Pack a picnic lunch, road snacks, plenty of water, and suitable-for-hiking footwear for this day trip.

Drive time between Rapid City and Devils Tower National Monument: 1.75 hours.

IMG_1299Take I-90 West toward Sturgis. Bonus Stop: Sturgis, South Dakota. Even if you’re not a biker, the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame is worth a stop.

Continue on I-90 via Spearfish, and then on to Sundance, Wyoming. At Sundance, the road changes to US Highway 14. Bonus Stop: Sundance, Wyoming. Crook County Museum – 309 E Cleveland St. Nice museum with history about the area and the Sundance Kid.


Travel tip: top off your gas tank in Sundance.

Continue on US Highway 14, then take Highway 24 north toward Devil’s Tower.  Make a quick stop at the Devils Tower Trading Post for souvenirs before proceeding to the park entrance.


Devils Tower National Monument

  • Website link: Devils Tower National Monument
  • Cost: $20.00 per car (as of August, 2018). Travel tip: the National Park Service will be increasing all park entrance fees during the next year.
  • RV and tent camping available in the park.
  • Picnic areas and hiking trails in the park.
  • Night sky programs.
  • Climbing is permitted with registration of climbers.

 After a stop at the visitor center, we recommend taking Tower Trail for a hike around the base of Devils Tower. Just a little over a mile long, the trail is easy (stroller friendly) and has some tree shaded areas and benches. Look up to see (the very gutsy) climbers on the tower. Afterward, enjoy a picnic lunch in the park.

Devils Tower from Tower Trail
Another view of Devils Tower

Take Highway 24 back to US Highway 14/I-90 east toward Spearfish, South Dakota. Bonus stop: Vore Buffalo Jump (archaeological site). Take Exit 199. Here’s a link: Vore Buffalo Jump.

Spearfish Canyon

At Spearfish take US Highway (Alt)14 south (Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway). Breathtaking scenery. Can’t miss: Bridal Veil Falls and Roughlock Falls for photo ops. Plan to hike the easy, paved trail at Roughlock Falls.

Bridal Veil Falls
Roughlock Falls

Continue on US Highway (Alt)14 to Deadwood.

Bonus stop: Deadwood, South Dakota.img_1383.jpg This town is a National Historic Landmark, rich in Black Hills Gold Rush and Old West history. Shopping, casinos, bars and restaurants, as well as historic homes, a museum, and the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

Hotels and camping available in Deadwood.

Continue on US Highway 14 to Sturgis, then take I-90 east to Rapid City.

We hope you had a fun and exciting first day of your Black Hills vacation. Check back next week for Day Two. Until then…

Travel safe, travel smart and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye


As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.