Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky offers a variety of different cave tours–there’s literally something for everybody. If you have kids you can send them on a kids-only adventure. Have trouble walking long distances or climbing stairs? Take the Frozen Niagara Tour. Want to see the caves’ underground rivers? Go on the River Styx Cave Tour. There’s even a tour led completely by lanterns. We decided to go on one of the longest and most difficult tours–Grand Avenue. Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the whole world and we wanted to see as much of it as we could in one day.
That morning we met our group and the rangers at the Visitor’s Center. We were then bused to a different cave entrance where the tour would begin. This was going to be an intense hike–it’s a four-hour guided tour through some of the most fascinating areas. The description promised many tough climbs and lots of geological history. All in all, there would be a total of 670 stairs and an elevation change of 280 feet. It is considered strenuous and only for hikers in good physical condition.
The ranger talking about some REALLY old graffiti
The temperature inside the cave was very cool. After about 30 minutes I had to put my sweater on but it was a welcome change from the hot temperatures outside. The tour group was pretty large–about 60 or 70 people. We tried to stay in the front of the line so we could hear the ranger talking about the history of the cave, the geology, and other interesting pieces of information. One mile into the hike we all stopped for lunch at the Snowball Dining Room.
Part of the Snowball Dining Room
People in line to get their lunches
Inside the Snowball Dining Room there were benches set up just like in a school cafeteria and a food line selling boxed lunches. We ate a big breakfast and brought snacks along because we didn’t want to spend any extra money. The most amazing part of the dining room for me was the restroom. There was a full-facility restroom with toilets and sinks and the cave for a ceiling. It was so neat and unexpected.
After a short break we were back to exploring the cave. The first part of the tour was fairly easygoing and we hadn’t really seen that much yet. But that soon changed. We ended up walking through some pretty narrow pathways which was kind of like wandering through a very dark maze. Then we met with some of those strenuous climbs mentioned in the tour description. There were some inclines that were so steep you HAD to grab onto the railing to pull yourself up. To make things even more interesting, a few spots were a bit wet which made it slippery and extra-hard to climb without just sliding backward.
One of those narrow pathways we trekked through
Caution: Low Ceilings
Aside from all the maze navigating and slippery hill climbing, the rangers played a couple interactive games with the group. The one that I remember the most was when we all stopped in this big open area and they shut off all the lights. They wanted to show us just how dark it was inside the cave. I literally could not see my hand waving right in front of my face. That was my first time experiencing TRUE darkness. The rangers also showed us and talked about some of the critters that live inside the cave. Apparently there are eyeless and pigmentless cave salamanders and crayfish that have sensory systems which allow them to mentally picture their environment. I found that truly fascinating!
Water dripping from the ceiling creating the stalactites and stalagmites
The climax of the tour was at the very end when we were taken into a room with the most beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. These are the formations created in limestone caves when water filters in, flows downward, and evaporates, leaving behind disolved limestone. It’s such a unique phenomenon to see in person. They look like sculptures or works of art. It was a great way to end an exciting tour!
I really enjoyed hiking through Mammoth Cave. It’s really intriguing when you’re in such darkness because you can barely see more than a few feet in front of you. This takes the thrill of waiting to see what’s around that next corner to a whole new level.
Have you ever been in a cave? Share your photos and tell us about your experiences!