Underground Wonders: Mammoth Cave with Kids
Mammoth Cave National Park is a great place to visit with kids. The cave itself is huge, the largest known cave system in the world, with explorers mapping more passageways each year. Kids will love going deep into the dimly lit (and sometimes dark!) cave and learning all about the history and geology of the cave.
The park also offers a wide range of ranger-led programs and outdoor activities from camping and hiking, biking and boating, to backcountry camping and horseback riding. With so much to see and do, a visit to Mammoth Cave with kids is the perfect destination for a family vacation.
We visited Mammoth Cave on our Epic Cross-Country Road Trip as part of our Family Year Out when our kids were 4 and 7.
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What is Mammoth Cave National Park Famous for?
Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s longest known cave system. Primarily made up of limestone, this labyrinth contains over 400 miles of explored tunnels and it is estimated that there are at least another 600 miles more that have yet to be explored.
Mammoth Cave National Park encompasses Mammoth Cave and a number of other smaller caves. The park was established as a National Park in 1941 to preserve the cave system for future generations. The caves are also a popular destination for spelunkers or people who explore caves.
The climate inside the caves is relatively stable, and the environment is protected from outside weather conditions. As a result, Mammoth Cave has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kentucky.
Unlike other famous cave systems, you won’t see many dripping and delicate stalactite or stalagmite structures. Rather, you’ll find a dynamic history of different groups using the cave in different ways and the stories that accompany them.
Don’t miss our posts on other US National Parks & Monuments
Where is Mammoth Cave?
Mammoth Cave National Park’s over 50,000 acres are primarily located in Edmonson County, near the southern border of Kentucky. It’s about an hour south of Louisville and an hour and a half north of Nashville, TN.
The nearest towns are Park City (14 minutes away) and Cave City (18 minutes away) which is also the home of Dinosaur World, another popular destination with families.
Exploring Mammoth Cave with Kids
To explore the caves, you must have a ticket for a guided tour. They strongly recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time as they can sell out weeks in advance.
There are lots of different tours to choose from at Mammoth, so you can pick the one that is right for your family. There are short and long walking tours, lantern tours, more adventurous tours that require you to crawl at times, and one that is fully wheelchair accessible.
The Extended Historic Tour
We choose the 2 1/2 hour Extended Historic Tour for our family. We were a little worried that it would be a lot of walking for our kids- then 4 and 7, but they both loved it-they had a great time and had no problem with the walking and climbing.
The tour begins at the Historic entrance, which is down a flight of stairs and through a wide opening.
As you continue into the cave, you’ll follow a comfortable path, before entering the impressive Rotunda. From here you can see the remnants of saltpeter mining that used to occur in the cave.
As you move through the dimly lit cave, you’ll pass such fascinating features as “Bottomless Pit” and “Giant’s Coffin”. Your guide will highlight areas as you walk, and tell stories about the history of the cave.
Toward the end of the tour the passages narrow, so that you may have to duck and turn sideways to pass through them. This area is nicknamed “Fat Man’s Misery”, and was one of the most fun parts for the kids.
At the end of the tour, you’ll climb a metal tower of steps to reach the exit. This area is where you have the most steps at any one time.
What to Do Above Ground at Mammoth Cave with Kids
There is so much to do at Mammoth Cave National Park above ground! While most visitors come for the cave itself, you can easily spend a few days exploring the other parts of the park as well.
In addition to the cave tours, the park offers a number of surface walks, talk, and junior ranger activities. All the surface-led programs are free, check out the list of current programs and events.
Become a Junior Ranger
Mammoth Park is a great place to become a Junior Ranger! This is the first park where our kids got sworn in as rangers, and they absolutely loved it.
These packets are available to all ages (even adults) and provide a great way to synthesize and reinforce what you learn about at the park. Request Junior Ranger packets at the main information booth inside the visitors center.
The park has a number of unpaved roads and trails for mountain bikes, as well as miles of scenic roads for the road bike enthusiast.
In addition, Mammoth Cave National Park is part of the U.S. Bike Route Systems (USBRS) that connect urban and rural communities across the United States via signed roads and trails.
E-Bikes can be used in the park wherever traditional bicycles are allowed.
TransAmerica Bicycle Route, USBR 76
The TransAmerica Bicycle Trail was designated in 1982 and spans the nation from coast to coast. On its 4,228-mile (6804.3 km) journey, the trail passes through the states of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, and Virginia.
Along the way, riders can take several spur routes to scenic destinations like Mammoth Cave National Park.
Cave Country Bicycle Route, USBR 23
Designated in 2019, the Cave Country Bike Route connects USBR 76 to the Tennessee border, through Kentucky’s Cave Region. The 109-mile (175.4 km) route takes riders through Mammoth Cave National Park and connects to small towns and historic sites.
There are over 80 miles of hiking trails throughout Mammoth Cave National Park. There are 7.2 miles of trails around the visitor center and an additional 18 miles of easy access trails to the sound and along the Green River. On the north side of the park, you can explore over 60 miles of backcountry trails.
Canoeing, Kayaking, and Boating
Both the Green and Nolin Rivers run through Mammoth Cave National Park with over 30 miles stretching within the park.
Be sure to visit the national park website if you are interested in exploring these rivers for current conditions, resources and safety regulations.
The Green and Nolin rivers of Mammoth Cave National Park are home to over 80 species of fish in 18 different families, including darters, shiners, minnows, gar, bass, and crappie. Most of these species are native to the area with a few exceptions such as the common carp.
There is no license or permit required to fish within the boundary of Mammoth Cave National Park.
You should be aware that all Kentucky waters are under a consumption advisory for mercury. For more information about fishing, bait, and regulations, you can find it on the Mammoth Cave National Park Site.
With a wide variety of terrane and over 60 miles of trails for horseback riding, Mammoth Cave National Park is a great place to bring your horse. There are multiple trailhead parking lots for day use riders or take advantage of the Maple Springs Campground with its horseback group sites and make a few days of it.
Stargazing and More
Mammoth Cave National Park is a wonderful place for watching the night sky. With night programs for all ages, or tips for the individual stargazer, getting away from the city and out into nature is a great way to see the stars without all the light pollution.
Is Mammoth Cave Kid-Friendly?
Yes. Mammoth Cave is kid-friendly and most of the tours are great for kids of all ages. You can choose your tour based on time, distance, and amount of steps.
We chose the Extended Historic Tour which lasts 2 1/4 hours, covers 2 miles, and has 540 steps. Our kids were 4 and 7 when we visited and they both loved it and had no issues.
There are some areas where you will have to duck and watch your head and there is a place called Fat Man’s Misery which gets quite narrow.
How Much Does Mammoth Cave Cost?
You can enter Mammoth Cave National Park and explore its surface features for free. In order to tour the cave, stay in the campground, or reserve one of the picnic shelters, you must pay fees.
Cave Tour Fees
Tour fees range from $8.00 to $35.00 for adults (age 13 and up) and $6.00 to $28.00 for youth (age 6-12), with the exception of the Wild Cave Tour which is only available for ages 16 and up and costs $65.00 per person.
Picnic Shelters Fees
There are two picnic shelters available for reserving located near the visitor center. Each one has ten picnic tables and the open-air shelter has a working fireplace. The picnic area also has restrooms, freshwater, fire grates, and a garbage dumpster. You can reserve these at Recreation.gov.
The open-air shelter costs $55.000 per day and the enclosed shelter, which also includes heat and air conditioning costs $80.00 per day.
Campgrounds in Mammoth Park
There are three developed campgrounds located in Mammoth Cave National Park, and fees vary based on campground and amenities.
Mammoth Cave Campground is located on Mammoth Cave Parkway and is a 1/4 mile from the visitor center. This campground has no hookups and a regular site costs $25.00 per night and the group sites (tents only) cost $40.00 per night.
Maple Springs Campground is located on the park’s north side on Maple Springs Loop, six miles from the visitor center. There are group sites and horseback group sites, both with hookups and cost $50.00 per night.
Houchin Ferry Campground is located on the park’s west side on Houchin Ferry Road, 15 miles from the visitor center and 1-1/2 miles from the town of Brownsville, Kentucky. This campground has no hookups and costs $20.00 per night.
There are also backcountry camping permits available for $10 through Recreation.gov or in person at the Mammoth Cave Campground Kiosk.
How Long Should I spend at Mammoth Cave?
Most families will spend one day doing a cave tour inside Mammoth Cave. This is really the highlight of the park. If you have more time, spend an additional day hiking or biking around the park.
What To Bring to Mammoth Cave
You will want to wear sturdy walking shoes and bring a light jacket or sweater into the cave. Leave behind any large packs or purses, the cave can get quite narrow.
Child carriers, large backpacks, and walking sticks are not permitted. You may also not bring your pet with you on the cave tour!
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Mammoth Cave with Kids?
Summer is the peak season for visiting Mammoth Cave as schools are out and people are road tripping. But even in summer, the caves can be cold. We recommend bringing a sweater or light jacket for the cave tours. You will want to book your tour in advance as they do fill up quickly.
Where to Stay Close to Mammoth Cave with Kids
Cave City Kentucky is a great place to stay close to the park, with access to restaurants and other attractions.
Budget Hotel: Super 8 Wyndham Cave City. This hotel is clean, and no-frills, with a pool that our kids quite enjoyed. It is also very close to Dinosaur World if that is also on your itinerary.
Check Prices: Super 8 Wyndham Cave City
Cool Facts About Mammoth Cave
- Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave in the world with over 420 miles of surveyed passageways, almost twice as long as the second-longest, Mexico’s Sac Actun underwater caves.
- The cave’s Mammoth Dome is 192 feet high and the Bottomless Pit is 105 feet deep.
- The name of the cave refers to its large width and length of passage just inside the entrance that connects to the Rotunda. No fossils of woolly mammoths have ever been found in Mammoth Cave.
- Two of the more interesting animals that live in Mammoth Cave are the eyeless cavefish and crayfish, both of which have fully adapted to a life without daylight.
- Frontiersmen quickly realized that Mammoth Cave contained saltpeter (used in making gunpowder), and during the War of 1812, Hyman Gratz and Charles Wilkens established a commercial saltpeter leaching factory there.
- From 5,000 years ago until nearly 2,000 years ago, Native Americans also explored and mined the upper three levels of Mammoth Cave. Covering over sixteen miles of the system, they sought gypsum, selenite, mirabilite, epsomite, and other related minerals.
There You Have It
Mammoth Cave National Park is the perfect destination for a family vacation. With its huge cave system, variety of ranger-led programs, and ample hiking, camping, biking, boating, and horseback riding opportunities, there is something for everyone in this beautiful park.
We highly recommend this park, especially if you have a kid who is interested in geology. With so many cave tours to choose from, whatever the age of your kids, a visit to Mammoth Cave with kids is sure to be a family trip to remember.
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