Mammoth Cave National Park – Domes and Dripstones – Kentucky

In case you didn’t already know, 2016 is the centennial celebration for America’s National Park Service. On, August 25, 2016, the NPS will have been in existence for 100 years. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to visit one of our country’s amazing national parks, but if not, make this the year you do! I like to visit national parks and experience our country’s magnificent natural wonders every chance I get. During our recent trip to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby (more on that soon!), we visited Mammoth Cave National Park on our way back to Nashville to catch our flight home.

The Mammoth Cave system is the world’s longest known cave system and was formed from thick limestone and sandstone layers. More than 400 miles of the cave system have been explored, but there are still several hundred miles of unexplored underground caverns. Tours of the cave have been offered for 200 years, well before the cave was part of a national park. I was interested to learn that many of the early tour guides were African-American slaves. These early guides made many of the initial discoveries and maps of the cave and remain some of the most important people involved in the cave’s history.

Mammoth Cave National Park is located about an hour and a half from Louisville and about 30 minutes from Bowling Green. There is no fee to enter the park, but there are various fees for ranger-led tours of the cave (you cannot enter the cave on your own). I strongly suggest reserving a tour in advance, particularly if you are traveling in a group, as they tend to book up quickly. See the website for essential info regarding hours and fees.

Make sure you arrive early for your tour. There is a great museum inside the Visitor Center that provides information on the history of the cave, how it was formed, species that live inside the cave, and how the cave is explored. We barely scratched the surface of the museum, but it was a great accompaniment to the information we received on the tour. In the Visitor Center, you can also buy tickets for tours or visit the gift shop. Also, don’t forget a long-sleeved shirt or jacket. Temperatures in the cave are consistently in the 50s-60s.

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Learning about the cave through the audio system inside the museum

There are several types of tours available. The most popular tour is the Historic Tour which enters through the cave’s natural entrance and leads to the most famous Mammoth Cave landmarks. We did the Domes and Dripstones tour due to timing and availability, but found it to be a wonderful and in-depth tour that highlighted some of the most impressive features of the cave system. It was $15 for adults and $10 for children.

The Domes and Dripstones tour enters through the New Entrance which is reached by taking a short ten minute bus ride. Upon arrival, we entered through an airlock and descended 280 steps into the cave.

Bus Ride to the New Entrance
Bus ride to the New Entrance
Entering the airlock
Entering the airlock
Descending 280 steps into the cave
Descending 280 steps into the cave

Highlights included the Moonlight Dome, Grand Central Station, and the Grand Canyon. The tour included visits to dramatic domes and pits and ended with an impressive walk through various dripstone formations.

Alex and I in the cave
Alex and I in the cave

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Find out more about the other cave tours offered hereNote: some tours are only operated seasonally.

After our visit to Mammoth Cave, we stopped in Bowling Green to have lunch at Mariah’s. Mariah’s is a staple in downtown Bowling Green and includes a wide variety of very reasonably priced comfort food. What to order: Chicken Tender Cobb Salad, Smokey BBQ Chicken Pizza.

Thanks for reading! Hope to see you back here next week for a recap of the Kentucky Derby and our time in Nashville. And check back soon to hear all about our recent trip to France, Greece, and Turkey. See you soon!

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