I’ve got a confession to make: I’m not an outdoors person. I’m terrified of anything that can fly and sting/bite me, and since the South is the home of wasps, mosquitoes, bees, ticks, spiders, and hornets, you can usually find me inside where they can’t get to me.
(*Looks out the window and shudders*)
Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. But even if it wasn’t, 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. With all of my visits there, I have decided to write a travel post of what to do while you visit, should you ever decide to go there as well!
1. A Tour of Mammoth Cave
The main attraction of Cave City is, of course, Mammoth Cave National Park. You can start off your trip with a picture by the sign that stands at the entrance to the park. There is a small area to pull off at, and parking spots to park at as you get your picture.
No one to take your picture? That’s fine! 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 you and/or your family’s picture.
National parks are protected areas for wildlife, and since this national park resides in Kentucky, you will see a TON of deer and turkeys during your visit. One year, my sister and I spotted over 20 deer in the week that we were there. As you drive to the Visitor Center, be sure to drive carefully and look for them!
Once you get to the Visitor Center, you will find a variety of tours to go on, and each one offers a unique experience. One tour is just for kids (which I went on when I was little!) and some are just for adults. (Spelunking, anyone?) 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.
People who buy tour tickets will meet under a specified gazebo by a certain time, awaiting their park ranger to 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.
However, you don’t have to buy a tour ticket to see the cave. Just take a stroll down the hill, and right around the corner you will find yourself face-to-face with the magnificent Mammoth Cave. One of my favorite parts about seeing it is that you can feel the air getting colder the closer you get to it, even when you can’t see it yet.
Going on the cave tours is one of my favorite ways to learn about the history of the cave, and there are a ton of stories and legends to tell! However, 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 several nights throughout the week, and they are one of my favorite things to go to! 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, just try it the second time to see if you get a better experience!
When I went to it, I got to hear rangers talk about cave paintings throughout the world, as well as 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. This program lasts about an hour, and it is a great way to spend the night at the park!
When I attended, one of the most memorable moments was watching a turtle crawl across the stage. I guess he wanted to join in on the presentation, as well!
Tips for Ranger Talks
Wear bug spray! Although there is a fire nearby to keep away some of the insects, it’s not going to keep away all of them, and constantly getting bit is no fun for anyone.
If it rained earlier that day, consider bring a small towel to sit on. Sitting on a wet bench for an hour is not a fun way to spend the night.
Have your camera ready! The ranger talks take place at dusk, which is when the deer will start coming out. In fact, dusk is the closest I’ve ever seen them approach humans. (*Channels inner princess*) So if you’re wanting a close-up of the deer, this is the time to do it.
3. Floyd Collins Trail
Floyd Collins is one of the most iconic historical figures of the area because of the numerous caves he helped explore and discover. However, one day a rock fell on his foot when crawling through Sand Cave, leaving him unable to move or escape.
Collins’ precarious situation escalated to a nationwide phenomena as a rescue was arranged. 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 (I think that’s what they are?) and no hills or dips, it’s easy to walk down or use a stroller 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 that line the trail, which give a brief summary of his story.
4. Jellystone Park Campground
Whenever I visit Cave City, KY, one of my favorite places 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. They are currently adding some more additions to the park, which I can’t wait to see and enjoy!
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 first to the second 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 are 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 (and without capsizing), but it is definitely a cool opportunity!
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. 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, or else 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 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 onto 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 other ones that I’ve been on, as there were some portions that you have to duck really low, and the guide is in charge of steering the boat. However, in case you have any worries about falling into the river, never fear. The portion of the river that you’ll be boating on is only a few feet deep.
There is a ton of stuff to do while visiting Cave City, and this post just scratched 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 that’s tours of other caves, a visit at a roadside attraction, or just a classic movie theater or arcade experience. Just do your research before your trip and you’ll be sure to have an amazing visit!
Have you visited Cave City before, or do you plan to? Let me know all about it! Write me a letter back (in the comments) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!