I have a confession to make: I’m not an outdoors person. Yep, I said it. I spilled the beans. But I have some completely valid reasons why (besides my fear of anything that can sting/bite me). After all, who wouldn’t be scarred for the rest of their life after being attacked by ducks as a child, getting bit by half a dozen ticks while trying to catch butterflies, and stepping in a chigger nest (and subsequently being bitten dozens of times) while trying to hang a yard sale sign?
(*Looks out the window and shudders*)
But even with my intense * dislike of the outdoors, it couldn’t keep me inside all the time, because one of my favorite places in the world to visit is Cave City, KY, the home of Mammoth Cave National Park. I have visited this landmark and the local area so many times, with both my school and with my family, that I’ve lost count. Confident with the knowledge gained from my annual visits there, I have decided to write a guide on some of my favorite attractions of the area, and some tips for visiting them!
1. A Tour through the World-Famous Mammoth Cave
The main attraction of Cave City is, of course, Mammoth Cave National Park. Before reaching the ranger station, you can start off your trip with the “Mammoth Cave National Park” sign that stands at the entrance to the park. There is a small area to pull off at for this photo opportunity, and parking spots to park your car at as you get your picture.
No one to take your picture? No worries! A large log stands in front of the sign, which you can set your phone on camera on (while on a timer of course) to snap your picture.
As your driving to the ranger station, be sure to keep a sharp eye of for wild turkeys and deer! Since national parks are protected areas for wildlife, it is almost guaranteed that you see them around the park. One year my sister and I spotted over 20 deer in a single week that we were there.
Once you reach the Visitor Center, you will find a variety of cave tours to go on, and each one offers a unique experience. Each tour gives a description of 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/medical conditions.
People who buy tour tickets will meet under a specified gazebo by at their designated time, awaiting the park ranger who will take them on their tour. However, if you’ve got extra time, there are multiple things you can do while you wait! You can wander around the gift shops our 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.
I do highly recommend setting aside some time to take one of the tours. I’ve taken too many tours to count, some of which aren’t even offered anymore. However, if it’s your first time visiting, I highly recommend the Historic Tour. This 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 Tours of Mammoth Cave
If you’re planning on 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 in a cave in.
2. Ranger Talks/Evening Program
The Ranger Talks are a free program that the park rangers host throughout the week, and they are one of my favorite things to go to! (But maybe that’s just because I’m a nerd, haha.) Located in an amphitheater near the cabins, this event allows you to hear from a different 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 PowerPoint 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 very neat sight! (Especially considering that they were eating all the mosquitoes!)
This program lasts about an hour, and it is a great way to spend the night at the park.
Tips for Ranger Talks
Wear bug spray! Although there is a fire nearby to keep away some of the insects and many bats eating them, it’s not going to keep away all of them, and constantly getting bit 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 princess*)
3. 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, which was previously mentioned. In fact, the entire trail is lined with signs depicting his story in both words and pictures, eventually leading to an overlook to the 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.
4. Jellystone Park Campground
Whenever I visit Cave City, KY, my favorite place to stay at Jellystone Park Campground, which is themed around Yogi Bear and his friends. At Jellystone, there are many themed weeks throughout the year, with numerous activities centered around that theme scheduled throughout the day. With everything from hay rides to pool volleyball to nighttime movies, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Jellystone Park has becoming even better throughout the years because of their 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.
Last year I got to try something in Cave City that I had never tried there before: canoeing.
Although I have canoed once before on a lake, I had never canoed on a river, which was quite the experience. My sister and I spent a lot of time learning how to steer around trees and little “islands” throughout the river, and trying not to capsize our boat during some of the more rapid sections of the river. Although it was longer than I would have preferred, it was a great opportunity to experience.
Another cool thing about canoeing on the Green River (at least with the company we canoed with) was that there is a little cave that you can canoe or kayak into! My sister and I didn’t try it, especially since we were more concerned about learning how to steer and paddle together as a team without capsizing, but it is definitely an amazing opportunity if you feel a bit adventurous.
Tips for Canoeing
Wear bug spray! Remember what I said about being terrified of flying things that can bite/sting me? Well, there’s a lot of those on the Green River, where canoeing takes place. 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 of being in the hot sun, so I recommend using some good sunscreen before going…and maybe also taking a pair of sunglasses and plenty of water. The middle of the river, where you’ll be canoeing down to avoid the rocks and fallen trees on the edges, is not well-shaded.
6. The Museum at Mammoth Cave National Park
Looking to do the trip to Cave City on a budget? One of my favorite things to do is visit the free museum located in the National Park’s visitor center. As an interior design major who hopes to go into the themed entertainment design industry one day, I can’t help but go crazy over the design of this museum every time that I visit. The museum truly is an immersive experience, as there are some walls that looks as if they are a part of a cave wall, and in one part 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 the cave, its history, and the cave’s environment, then this is the place to do it.
Tips for Mammoth Cave Museum
Make sure to take your time! There is so much great information for you there, so it’s not something that you’ll want to speed through. Otherwise you’ll miss something really amazing!
7. Lost River Cave
Wanting to take a cave tour, but without all the walking and stairs? A new destination that I recently tried out was Lost River Cave, which was located further away from Cave City, but still within close proximity. This is a very quick tour, which is divided into two parts: a short walking tour (and by short I mean very short) and a boat tour through the cave.
During the walking tour, you walk to the river outside of 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 then enter the cave, walk down a few stairs, and climb into a small boat. Your guide then takes you on a short tour of the cave, going through more stories and some information about the cave’s ecosystem. This cave tour was quite different from some of the previous cave tours that I’ve been on, as there were some portions of the cave tour where the ceiling was so low that you had to bend forward to your knees to avoid bumping your head. However, in case you have any worries about falling into the river, never fear. The portion of the river that you’ll be on is only a few feet deep.
There a numerous amount of activities to do and see 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 for you 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. No matter what, each trip gives me an amazing experience that I’ll never soon 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!