While driving from state to state on a summer road trip I found myself at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. I had never been in a cave before so I was excited to find out what it was all about. We headed straight to the Visitor Center to learn about campgrounds within the park and the different cave tours we could take.

There were a lot of visitors there that day and we found out that we needed to make reservations ahead of time for the campgrounds and cave tours. Almost every tour was already booked for that day. Fortunately we were able to get tickets for one of the short tours that started in about an hour. The longer tour–the one that we really wanted to do–we reserved for two days later.

We quickly got ourselves prepared for the Mammoth Passage Tour. The cost of a ticket was only $5 per adult and $3.50 per child for the one-hour tour. The whole group left from the Visitor Center to the cave’s largest and most visited entrance. I could feel my excitement growing as we got closer and closer to entering the cave. When we got to the opening there were steps leading down into the darkness. Kentucky in the summertime is hot and humid–that day it felt like a sauna outside. By the time I got all the way inside the cave it felt as though I had just walked into a refrigerator. One of the rangers informed us that the temperature throughout the cave system are usually in the 50’s.

Heading down into the cave for the Mammoth Passage Tour

Inside, the cave was very dark and very spacious. A friendly and knowledgeable ranger told us about the history of the cave, showed us some items that had been found in the cave a long time ago, and walked us through some of the popular areas. Something I found really interesting was how electricity had been wired along the trails. The cords are run through pipes attached to a number of electrical boxes along the way. One ranger stayed in the front with a flashlight and switched on lights as we traveled through different areas. The other ranger stayed in the back of the group and turned off the lights as we filtered out of each area.

Some shoes left in the cave now on display as an artifact 

It was hard to get good pictures in there but this one shows the marked trail

After the hour passed I felt like I had a good introduction to Mammoth Cave and I was eager to see and learn more. But now we had to find a campsite to stay at while we waited for our next tour. There are three campgrounds in the park and the only one with any sites available was Houchins Ferry. Getting to this campground required us to do something we had never done before–take a ferry over a river… in the car. There was this sort of floating piece of road that you drive onto which takes you over the Green River. It was an interesting experience.

Some cars in front of us going on the ferry

Evening fog creeping along the Green River right next to our campsite

We found a site here and settled in for the night. The cost was only $12 but it was pretty primitive. There were only a few port-o-potties and a water pump. Not the greatest of accommodations but it would do for a couple nights. We fished in the river, had dinner, and then went to sleep. We had a whole day to kill before our big cave tour so the next morning we decided to drive around the park and check some things out. It turns out there was another ferry over the river called Dennison Ferry, but it’s no longer there. Then we wanted to hike. We went to the Temple Hill Trailhead and decided to hike the McCoy Hollow Trail and the First Creek Trail.

Hiking on the First Creek Trail

Heating up dinner over the fire 

Both trails went through densely forested areas and followed narrow paths that meandered up and down hills. It was quite a workout taking into account the summer temperature and humidity. There were also a lot of mosquitoes, gnats, and flies following us around–nature in the summer.  Afterward we were hot, sweaty, tired, and hungry. We knew we would sleep well that night!

We went back to the campsite, gathered firewood and heated up some canned soup for dinner. We waited until it was dark to make a visit to the water pump to clean ourselves off. The water was cold but felt refreshing after all that hiking. Then we were back in the tent and ready for bed.

The next day was going to be fun and exciting–we would go on a four hour tour focusing on the ups and downs of the cave system. Stay tuned for the full report!

# Comments

  • Jeff Barber

    Great report! I used to go to Cumberland Caverns, a HUGE cave, in Tennessee and I remember the tour guides saying Mammoth cave was even bigger. It’s been on my wishlist ever since!

    That river ferry is very cool… never been on one of those myself. Was there a fee to ride across?

  • SarahHikes

    Thanks Jeff. It was a really cool place to visit. I would love to go back. The ferry was an interesting experience. I don’t remember there being any fee to use it. It’s probably included in admission to the park.

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