This Impressive Kentucky National Park Promises Unique Above And Underground Adventures

Are you looking for a true adventure on your next trip? Consider visiting Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. A vast cave network waits below the surface of a beautiful but unassuming 80-square-mile landscape of hilly forest cut by springs and rivers. While you wouldn't guess it from above ground, the park features 365 miles of caves, the largest known cave system on the planet, descending into the earth. Caverns in the depths below Mammoth have still yet to be discovered.


As frightening as descending into the bowels of the earth might seem, from Japan's incredible Otake Limestone Caves to Italy's famous sea cave with glowing blue water, people all over the world can't resist it. The thrilling cave tours may be the draw of Mammoth Cave National Park, offering a rare glimpse into the fascinating caverns under the earth; however, you'll find plenty to do above ground, too. The list of options includes hiking trails, bicycle paths, spots to rent a kayak, and a variety of campsites that allow you to spend the night under the stars or a canopy of trees, fall asleep to the sound of the wind in the leaves, or wake up to the symphony of a rushing river.

Descend into a massive cave system

Unlike some dangerous caves, like Costa Rica's Cave of Death, which doesn't allow visitors, you can safely hike deep into the caverns of Mammoth Cave National Park. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive to explore the first 10 miles of caves, accompanied by park rangers who share the scientific details of the limestone caverns and tell stories about their history. One of the most famous tales centers on Stephen Bishop, a brilliant man enslaved and forced to give tours in the 1830s but who, through self-taught scientific study, became an expert on everything to do with Mammoth Cave and discovered miles and miles of caverns.


Prepare for adventure when you enter this cave system. While many caverns that cater to tourists include colorful artificial lights to make it easier to get around, at Mammoth, when the park ranger shuts the light off, you can experience the true level of darkness inside the earth. On some tours, oil lanterns serve as the only illumination, and you can watch the shadows cast by the incredible rock formations inside dance on the cave walls.

Exploring the surface at Mammoth Cave National Park

While the caves are definitely the most unique element of Mammoth Cave National Park, the landscape above includes some old-growth forest, alive with wildlife like wild turkeys and white-tailed deer. The most popular route in the park is probably the Green River Bluff, Echo River Springs, Sinkhole and Heritage loop. The trek lasts a little under two hours and takes you through the woods on some easy paved routes (though occasionally, you'll find some tricky-to-navigate rocky sections). The rock formations below extend above, and you may find some beautiful rock shelters as you explore the park.


The real show begins when the sun sets. Similar to how the rangers try to preserve darkness in the caves, the park has set the standard for reducing light pollution. Just like the underrated waterfront Voyageurs National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park is an International Dark Sky Park, which means you'll experience some of the most incredible stargazing in the world. You won't need a telescope; instead, head to a big open area like the parking lot by the visitor center. You can even sign up for an evening program and enjoy a ranger's stories about the park while looking up at the night sky.