Mammoth Cave National Park is the world’s longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles explored. Located in central Kentucky [in CST, for anyone who’s wondering; this really surprised us when we showed up an hour early for our reserved tour], it features several guided cave tours of varying difficulty.
We took the Historic Tour. For a “moderate” difficulty level, this route was very leisurely. If you’re in decent shape, I recommend signing up for a “strenuous” tour or anything with the warning “Small children may find this trip overly challenging.” Otherwise, be prepared for hordes of screaming children and their camera-wielding parents.
This tour includes the original main entrance to the cave system, as well as detritus of the old mining operation and landmarks like the Giant’s Coffin and Fat Man’s Misery. It does not include anything physically challenging, despite the warnings about heights, tight spaces and climbing.
Since we toured some of the oldest known areas of the cave system, we saw a lot of 19th century graffiti, some of it scratched and some drawn with soot from oil lamps:
And some with serifs:
Evidence of mining:
Much of the early 19th century exploration was done by slave guides, the most famous of whom was Stephen Bishop, the first person to cross the Bottomless Pit and discover sites such as Fat Man’s Misery. Because we took the Historic Tour, we learned quite a bit of Mammoth Cave’s black history.
Tours of Mammoth Cave have been offered since 1816, making it one of the oldest tourist attractions in North America. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps made many improvements to the site, and it was dedicated as a National Park in 1946.
People have been exploring this site for 4,000 years. During the 19th century, the air inside the caves was thought to cure tuberculosis. Numerous people have died in the caves, and Stephen Bishop was absolutely justified in calling it a “grand, gloomy and peculiar place.”
The extensive cave network is the highlight here, but Mammoth Cave National Park consists of more than 50,000 acres of rolling hills, and there is plenty to explore aside from the caves. I hope to visit again, taking a different, more challenging tour and checking out the rest of the park.
I’ve never been much of a nature lover, but I’m slowly learning. The other national parks I’ve visited include Acadia in Maine, Zion in Utah, Mesa Verde in Colorado, and Joshua Tree in California, plus two national monuments: Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah and Kasha-Katuwe in New Mexico.