Last April, while visiting family in Louisville, we decided to take a day trip to Mammoth National Park. Located in central Kentucky, Mammoth National Park was officially established in 1941 and is home to the longest cave system in the world. On the surface, Mammoth National Park extends around 80 square miles but the underground cave systems extend a least 405 miles! Exploration and surveying continues today, with new passages discovered each year!
There are tour options of various intensities, but we chose the 2 hour Domes and Dripstones Tour. With over 100 people on the tour, we rode buses to what appeared to be just a door at the bottom of a sinkhole but it was really a man-made entrance to the cave. At the mouth of the opening, you can feel the cool air from within the caves, which stays around 54 degrees Fahrenheit year round.
Heading into the cave, we descended around 280 steps winding through small openings, over deep crevices and under large domes. The descent was both exhilarating and at times a little terrifying. Water dripped down on our heads throughout the climb but once we got 250 feet underground, everything was completely dry. We stopped to rest for a few minutes on benches while he ranger taught us more about the cave system. At one point she turned off every source of light humans had put into the cave. Immersed in complete darkness, there was no source of natural light in the cave at all.
We continued our trek through wide caverns and narrow pathways admiring the variety of dripstone formations along the way. Our tour concluded with a visit to the “Frozen Niagara”, a large formation of dripstones resembling a waterfall frozen in its tracks. After hiking through the caves for 2 hours we only explored 0.18% of the discovered passageways throughout the cave system!
Once back at the visitor center, we had to walk over soapy mats to clean off the bottoms of our shoes. This is to try to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease detrimental to bats. The fungus first appeared in the United States in the winter of 2007 and an estimated 5.7-6.7 million bats have died in country since. We talked to the park ranger about it and she told us that these efforts are to try to contain the fungal disease and they are hoping the bats will develop an immunity.
Overall, the cave tour was definitely worth the $15 price tag. Before you head to your tour, be sure to walk through the visitor center for small exhibits and an informational video! You’ll learn about the discoveries made in Mammoth Cave throughout history. Our quick day trip was well worth the trek but we wish we had more time to explore all the things Mammoth National Park had to offer!