5 Notes on Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park

Historic Entrance at Mammoth Cave National Park

On an Eastern National Parks road trip, I got to visit Mammoth Cave National Park. I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be one of our most underrated National Parks.

The Main Attraction Is Hidden From View

Ok, it should be really obvious that Mammoth Cave is all underground. But I have to say that driving to, and entering the Park is underwhelming and anticlimactic. You’re basically driving through rural Kentucky (which is beautiful! but totally everyday) and then you exit off the Interstate, pass the National Park sign, into just a nice, regular hardwood forest, and then to a nice-State-Park-esque visitor center with a big parking lot.

The Park does not scream EPIC! and AWESOME! and WOW! on entering like the Western Parks (and some Eastern Parks) do. There’s no massive canyon or geyser or overlook that just takes your breath away.

Now, the National Park Service has done a fabulous job (as always) with the ground, signage, museum, films, etc. But it’s definitely not typical National Park vibes.

The Main Attraction Is Actually That Insane

Mammoth Cave really does host the largest cave system on Earth. It’s so huge that I still can’t really fathom it. As a geological formation and as part of our natural history, it’s on par with the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and every other world heritage preserve.

It’s just…underground and very hard to get to. Even the “short” cave walks through the historic entrance go on seemingly forever. The list of underground hikes that you can do with the rangers go on for pages.

Even the small part of the caves that I saw were like nothing I’ve ever seen – or even thought could exist underground.

The Above Ground Has Lots of Other Nice Attractions

The Park has a lot of acreage for an Eastern Park. And it does preserve a large piece of Eastern Woodland that has been slowly removed and does not exist in large chunks any more. The Park has preserves a lot of churches and villages in the same way as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It also has a surprising amount of hiking, backpacking, and water trails.

The Green River valley is breathtaking.

5 Notes on Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park 1

The Concessionaire Could Use an Upgrade

For better and for worse, the Park is very close to a nice, developed town. That’s great on one hand for the options and amenities. On the other hand, the concessionaire who runs the cabins, lodge, and dining facilities runs a pretty bare bones operation. I was glad to get to stay in the Park rather than having to drive in everyday…but dealing with restaurant times, selection, etc wasn’t the best experience.

That said, I drove through the campground and I think it would be a solid option for staying in the Park.

Mammoth Cave is totally underrated and worth a visit. The fact that we have a National Park protecting something that huge and worthwhile in Kentucky is amazing. It’s an easy drive from most Americans and should definitely get more visitors.

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