Mammoth Cave National Park helps preserve the cave system that is located in the Green River Valley area of south central Kentucky. This cave system is one of the world’s longest systems, expanding more than 400 miles of explored caves and caverns. If you are looking for an outdoor adventure, you will want to make sure that Mammoth Cave is on your spelunking destinations.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Sections To Explore

There are many different tours into the Mammoth Cave system, many of which offer tight quarter exploration and tons of spelunking. However, there are only a few areas of this national park that you can explore and experience without the direction of a tour guide. If you plan to explore the Mammoth Cave area on your own, without a tour guide, you will want to make sure that you are fully prepared and know the areas of the cave you are allowed to crawl through on your own.

There are several different areas of Mammoth Cave that you are able to explore on your own. Some of these areas include access to hiking trails, wildlife viewing areas and other recreational activities. Some of the areas to explore include:

  • Cedar Sink – a one-mile trail that will take you down into a massive sinkhole.
  • Dennison Ferry Recreation Area – the place to visit when wanting to enjoy a picnic on the Green River or launch a boat.
  • Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike Trail – a nine-mile trail that will take you down to the Mammoth Cave Railroad and connects to the hotel.
  • Sand Cave – this s a fun and short trail that will lead you to Sand Cave.
  • Turnhole Bend – a half-mile loop trail with a scenic overlook of the Green River area.

There are several different trailheads that you can also explore. Some of the trailheads at Mammoth Cave include First Creek Trailhead, Lincoln Trailhead, Maple Springs Trailhead, Temple Hill Trailhead and White Oak Trailhead. Though many of these public areas are not as exciting as going deep into the caves, they do allow you to go on an adventure on your own time, without the need to follow a guide.

Related: Outdoorsman’s Guide To Jackson Hole

Guided Tours

When exploring Mammoth Cave, you will want to enjoy the Wild Cave Tour. This tour will take your through five miles of tight spots, including some areas which have been known to pants some guests on the tour. The guide will take you deep into the cave, then at the two-hour mark they will set you all free to explore the different caverns and caves on your own for a bit, thus making this the most unique and adventurous tour available. Other cave tours offered through the Parks Department at Mammoth Cave include Domes and Dripstones, Frozen Niagara and a historic tour. To book a guided tour at Mammoth Cave National Park call (270) 758-2417.

Neighboring Caves

Those wanting to add a little bit of Aussie to their vacation will want to visit Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo in Horse Cave, Kentucky. There, you can visit with animals from Australia and explore Mammoth Onyx Cave. It took a long time for water to create the beautiful underwater scene you will see in Mammoth Onyx Cave, including the many beautiful onyx formations inside the cavern. Kentucky Down Under is open year-round and offers guided tours into its cave.

Another neighboring cave is Onyx Cave, which is located just across the street from Dinosaur World. This is another beautiful cave to explore and guided tours are available seasonally. Another neighboring cave that is worth the time to stick around and explore is the Outlaw Cave.

Related: 5 Must-See National Parks In The US

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Spelunking Gear

It is imperative you are fully prepared to go deep into Mammoth Cave. Having everything you need will help ensure you have a fun, safe and exciting time exploring the many caves and caverns. Though most of the tours you will take through the caves will supply most of the gear you will need, it is a good idea to still bring a flashlight and camera with you. It is also a good idea to wear comfortable walking shoes, and a lightweight jacket will keep you warm in the cool temperatures within the cave. Before heading out to your tour, check with the park for specific guidelines on what to wear and bring. Each tour has different requirements and you may not be allowed to go on the tour if you are not prepared properly for it.

If you are going spelunking in caves that are open to the public, you will want to make sure you have all the proper gear. Spelunking gear should include a helmet, headlamp, extra batteries, first-aid kit, food and water. If you do not have these items, you can either purchase them from local sporting goods stores or find a Cave City area company that rents out sporting equipment.

Ranger Programs

There are a variety of ranger-led activities and programs available at the Mammoth Cave National Park. The programs offered depend upon the season and include everything from guided tours into the caves to above-ground activities for those who do not want to go spelunking. Reservations are not required for these programs and activities, but are highly recommended to ensure you have a spot. For more information about the different ranger-led programs call (270) 758-2417.

Safety Tips

When taking a guided tour of the caves, double check to make sure that your physical abilities will allow you to enjoy the tour from start to finish. You do not want to get stuck crawling through a tight crevasse or not be able to climb the stairs back up to the entrance to the cave. If you are questioning if you can complete a tour, speak with the guide before heading out and explain your concerns. You can also speak with the person you make the guided tour reservations with. He or she should be able to help determine if the tour you want to take is right for you.

If you choose to go exploring the area, make sure to familiarize yourself with any potential hazards and bring an adventure buddy along. You never want to go caving alone. Remember to allow the slowest person to set the pace, and take your time when going into areas that you do not have a clear view of. You never know what is lurking around the corner, so going slowly and being careful will help reduce the chances of you getting injured.

Heather Landon (Heather Leigh Carroll) is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions – writing and travel – to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at