Although I’m not much of an outdoors person (I blame it on being chased by ducks as a child) one of my favorite places in the world to visit is Cave City, Kentucky, the home of Mammoth Cave National Park. Between school trips and family vacations, I’ve been lucky enough to visit the area too many times to count and have experienced many of the local attractions multiple times. With the knowledge gained from my annual visits there, I have decided to write a guide on some of my favorite attractions in and around Cave City and some tips for visiting them!
1. A Tour through the World-Famous Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave National Park Sign
The main attraction of Cave City is, of course, Mammoth Cave National Park. Before reaching the ranger station, I recommend starting your trip by visiting the “Mammoth Cave National Park” sign. This sign stands at the entrance to the park and has a small area with parking spots to pull off at for this photo opportunity.
No one around to take your picture? No worries! A large log stands in front of the sign to set your camera on for a photo.
Mammoth Cave National Park Wildlife
As you drive to the ranger station, be sure to keep a sharp eye for wild turkeys and deer! Since national parks are protected areas for wildlife, it is almost guaranteed that you see them around the park. My sister and I once spotted over 20 deer in a single week while we were there.
Visitor Center and Cave Tours
The Visitor Center features a gift shop, museum (more on that later), and customer service counters where you can purchase tickets for cave tours. Each tour cave tour provides a unique experience, so be sure to read the description of each tour before purchasing tickets. The description should include information on what you can expect to see, how many miles you will be walking, how many stairs you will be climbing, and the difficulty level of the tour. This is important to know, as some cave tours may too strenuous for small children or those with disabilities or medical conditions.
Visitors who buy tour tickets will meet under a specified gazebo at their designated time, awaiting the park ranger who will take them on their tour. However, if you have extra time before your tour, there are multiple things you can do while you wait! You can wander around the gift shops or take a stroll through the free museum in the building. You can also head across the walking bridge to visit the Mammoth Cave hotel, the gift shops, and the café on property.
While visiting Mammoth Cave National Park, I highly recommend taking one of the cave tours. I’ve taken too many tours to count, some of which aren’t even offered anymore!
If it’s your first time visiting, I highly recommend the Historic Tour; this tour will take you through the natural entrance of the cave and gives you a ton of history on the cave, including an abundance of myths and legends! But I’m not going to spoil them for you…you’ll just have to go and hear them for yourself!
Tips for Touring Mammoth Cave
If you’re going on a cave tour, I recommend bringing a good pair of walking shoes and a light jacket with you. The cave can be damp and chilly, so while wearing a sundress and a pair of flip-flops can be fine for heading to the pool, they’re not good for hiking around a cave in.
Ready to learn more about Mammoth Cave National Park? Be sure to check out my Extensive Travel Guide to Mammoth Cave National Park for information on the park’s history, where to stay, what to do in the park, and much more.
2. The Museum at Mammoth Cave National Park
Looking to do the trip to Cave City on a budget? The museum located in the national park’s visitor center is free and provides a ton of information on the history of Mammoth Cave and what you might expect to learn about during your cave tour.
The museum truly is an immersive experience, as there are some walls that look as if they are a part of a cave wall; in one section of the museum, it looks like there are people spelunking through “cave openings” in the ceiling.
If you’re looking for an immersive, free experience that will teach you more about Mammoth Cave, its history, and the cave’s environment, then the visitor center’s museum the place to do it.
Tips for Mammoth Cave Museum
Make sure to take your time while visiting the museum! There is so much great information for there that it’s not something that you’ll want to speed through. Otherwise, you’ll miss something really amazing!
3. Ranger Talks/Evening Program
The Ranger Talks are a free program the park rangers host throughout the week. Located in an amphitheater near the cabins, this event allows you to hear from a park ranger each night on a different subject…meaning that if you don’t like it the first time, you can just try it the second time to see if you get a better experience!
During the Ranger Talks I’ve attended, I’ve heard about subjects ranging from cave paintings throughout the world to the story of Floyd Collins (an iconic historical figure of the area). Both of the talks were accompanied by presentations and a campfire was burning nearby for people’s enjoyment. Oftentimes you can also look up and see bats flying around at the top of the tree line, which is a neat sight! (Especially considering that they were eating all the mosquitoes!)
This program lasts about an hour and is a great way to spend the night in the park.
Tips for Ranger Talks
Wear bug spray! Although there is a campfire nearby and many bats eating them above, it’s not going to keep away all the insects; constantly getting bit while trying to pay attention to a ranger talk is not fun for anyone.
If it rained earlier that day, consider bring a small towel to sit on. The benches may not be dry before the evening.
Have your camera ready! The ranger talks take place at dusk, which is when the deer will start coming out into more open areas. In fact, dusk is the closest I’ve ever seen them approach humans. (*Channels inner Disney princess*)
4. Floyd Collins Trail
Floyd Collins is one of the most iconic historical figures of the area because of the numerous caves he helped discover and explore. However, one day when crawling through Sand Cave, a rock fell on his foot. This left him trapped, unable to move or escape.
Collins’ precarious situation escalated to a nationwide phenomena as a rescue was attempted. However, after days of toil, Collins was found dead.
The trail to Sand Cave, the death place of Floyd Collins’, begins right next to the Mammoth Cave National Park sign. In fact, the entire trail is lined with signs depicting his story in both words and pictures, eventually leading to an overlook of Sand Cave; the cave is off-limits to the public.
Tips for Floyd Collins’ Trail
This trail is perfect if you have a bit of time to spare, since it only takes a few minutes to walk to the end of it. However, it is important to remember to wear bug spray, since the trail cuts through the middle of the woods.
Another great thing about this trail is that it is extremely accessible. Made out of wooden planks with no hills or dips, it’s easy to walk down or use a stroller/wheelchair on, and there are many benches along the way. If you want to get the full effect of Collins’ story, I recommend reading the signs along the side of the trail, which provide a brief history of his story.
5. Jellystone Park at Mammoth Cave
Jellystone Park is a campground themed around Yogi Bear and his friends. At Jellystone, there are many themed weeks throughout the year, with numerous daily activities centered around that theme. With everything from hayrides to pool volleyball to nighttime movies, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Jellystone Park has become even better throughout the years because of its multiple expansions and additions to the park. They recently added a second pool (which is used for activities–such as pool volleyball–at certain times throughout the day), a splash park, and a jumping pillow, perfect for any kid (or a kid-at-heart).
Tips for Jellystone Park Campground
Bring a fan/air conditioning. Jellystone Park offers tent and RV spaces, as well as cabins. When it comes to camping, I go old-school, and I have been in both the non-electric and the electric tent spots. Believe me, going from the former to the latter made a world of difference. When we moved to an electric camping spot, my family and I could suddenly plug up our electric fans in the tent, keeping us cool; this small change made our camping experience ten times better. If you decide to go camping in a tent, I highly recommend upgrading to an electric campsite for this sole reason.
6. Karst Beach
Karst Beach is a recent addition to Jellystone Park (mentioned above) but is also available to non-campers. This sandy beach and 2.3-acre lake feature a number of great activities, including a volleyball net and Wibit. The prices for campers and non-campers alike can be found on the Karst Beach website along with their hours, safety rules, FAQs, and more.
Tips for Visiting Karst Beach
If you’re not staying at Jellystone Campground, be sure to purchase your Karst Beach tickets online, as there is an additional charge for walk-up purchases.
7. Canoeing and Kayaking on the Green River
After hiking on the trails around Mammoth Cave National Park, take a canoeing trip along the Green River! There are several local companies you can rent a canoe and/or kayak from, with Mammoth Cave having a list of them here. The company I booked my canoe trip through provided my family and me with our canoes, life jackets, and transportation, which made our canoeing trip much simpler to plan.
Another cool thing about canoeing on the Green River (at least with river route we took is the little cave that you can canoe or kayak into!
Mammoth Cave National Park also has a list of some rules and regulations to follow while canoeing along the Green River, which you can find by clicking here.
Tips for Canoeing
Wear bug spray! The bugs can be quite vicious along the river. In fact, you might even want to wear a long pair of pants (with breathable fabric) to avoid being bit while canoeing.
Canoeing also takes a few hours, so I recommend applying some sunscreen before your trip, along with taking a pair of sunglasses and plenty of water. The middle of the Green River (where you’ll be canoeing along to avoid the rocks and fallen trees on the river’s banks) is not well-shaded.
8. Lost River Cave
Wanting to take a cave tour but without all the walking and stairs? Although technically not located in Cave City, Lost River Cave is a great option for a cave tour. This tour is divided into between (very) short walking tour and a boat tour through the cave.
During the walking tour, you will walk to the river outside the cave and learn about some of the history and tales surrounding the cave, some of which date back to the Civil War era; other tales describe the legend of Jesse James.
After the walk, you will then enter the cave, walk down a few stairs, and climb into a small boat. Your tour guide will then takes you on a short tour of the cave, going through more stories and information about the cave’s ecosystem.
The Lost River cave tour was quite different from previous cave tours I’ve been on, as there are some portions of the cave tour where the ceiling was so low that visitors have to bend forward to their knees to avoid hitting their heads on the cave ceiling.
However, in case you have any worries about falling into the river, never fear. The portion of the river that you’ll be touring is only a few feet deep.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Cave City, KY
There are numerous destinations to tour while visiting Cave City and this post only scratches the surface of it. Both Cave City and the local area offer some additional destinations and experiences to do during your visit, whether it’s tours of other local caves, a visit to a roadside attraction, or just a classic movie theater or arcade experience. Although I’ve visited Cave City myself on numerous occasions, each trip provides an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.
Have you visited Cave City before, or do you plan to? Let me know about your experience and recommendations down below, or let me know if you have any other questions!