Nearly 4,000 years ago, man walked along the Kentucky hills and discoved a grand opening in the earth. Yes, this was the great entrance to Mammoth Cave, the longest, at 390 miles, explored cave in the United States. Perhaps this is where Geico got those cave man commercial ideas, perhaps not, but it is one of those amazing natural wonders that has been known about since the dawn of man, or as close as Kentucky gets to that dawn.
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Mammoth Cave Then
Four thousand years ago, man discovered a Mammoth Cave dwelling deep within the Kentucky hills. Long before moonshine and likely before the wheel, perhaps discovered while running from a predator, or being one while looking for food. It becamse a source of refuge, of discovery, even one of mining for two thousand years. And from 1816 on, it became a wonderful place to tour with that hotel and cave operators taking folks with interest deep into its winding passageways.
Photo above: Francis Benjamin Johnston, photographer, and her party entering the cave in 1892. Courtesy National Park Service. Below: Kayaking on the Green River within the park is just another one of the activities at Mammoth Cave beyond the cave itself. Courtesy National Park Service.
Mammoth Cave Now
Take your place amongst the generation after generation of cave dwellers, fur traders, pioneers, and now tourists to take at least the Mammoth Cave Passage Tour, which will introduce you to what's around the next corner of the cave, then come back for more detailed spelunker experiences, some lasting up to six and one half hours and requiring you to crawl.
And there's more here in the Kentucky hills than just the cave. There's 52,000 acres of verdant hillsides to hike in, camp in, ride in, fish in, and have fun in. Plus there's history around every bend. That's what you get when history begins at the dawn of cave man, right, runs through Indian tribes, those European pioneers, and now the modern day camper and tourist?
Cave Tours Galore - From easy to hard, from short to long, and all within the 390 miles that man have explored since the dawn of time. It is the longest cave in the world; longer than the 2nd and 3rd longest combined.
Mammoth Passage Tour - 1.5 hours, 3/4 mile
Frozen Niagara Tour - 1.5 hours, 3/4 mile
Mammoth Cave Discovery Tour - 30-45 minutes, 3/4 mile.
Historic Tour - 2 hours, 2 miles.
New Entrance Tour - 2 hours, 3/4 mile.
Grand Avenue Tour - 4.5 hours, 4 miles.
Snowball Tour - 3 hours, 2 miles.
Violet City Lantern Tour - 3 hours, 3 miles.
River Styx Cave Tour - 2.5 hours, 2.5 miles.
Star Chamber Tour - 2.5 hours, 1.5 miles.
Focus on Frozen Niagara Photo Tour - 1.5 hours, 3/4 mile.
Great Onyx Lantern Tour - 2.25 hours, 1 mile.
Gothic Avenue Tour - 2 hours, 1 mile.
Trog (Ages 6-12, adult guardian 1st 30 minutes) - 2.75 hours, 1.5 miles.
Introduction to Caving - 3.5 hours, 2.5 miles.
Wild Cave Tour - 6.5 hours, 5 miles.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Mammoth Cave T-Shirts and Souvenirs. Official gear from America's Best History.
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Take at least one cave tour. Whether you only have the time to take the 1.5 hour Mammoth Cave Passage Tour, or want to dive deep into the reaches of the cave system with something more akin to the crawl on your knees, climb on the rocks, Wild Cave Tour. That's 6-6.5 hours and is really for only the most experienced cave explorer, but it's an option you have here, too.
2. Hike a trail. Sometimes it's good to stay above ground and there's plenty of trails all around this park from the North Side of the river to the South Side, as well as all around the Visitor Center area.
3. Stay overnight. Whether you camp at one of the campsites or stay at the Mammoth Cave Inn, it's a good way to see the park in another light, and that's twilight, night, and sunrise.
Photo above: Houchin Ferry campsite. Courtesy National Park Service.