Mammoth Cave National Park with Kids
Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world. We were all amazed to realize that they just keep discovering new parts of this cave system! That means that there is a lot to be explored here.
We visited in the Spring of 2021 (during the time of Covid). Guided cave tours were on hold and instead you could purchase a ticket to a timed, self-guided, 2-mile walking tour of the top-most layer of cave. This was perfect for our group, although it left me wanting to see more! You do need to purchase these tickets in advance as they sell out nearly every day.
It seems that most people stop by for just a quick visit. We, however, booked a two-night say in the woodland cabins to take full advantage of the park. We tend to like a rustic stay and that is exactly what we got. The woodland cabins have no heat or air conditioning, although when temps dropped into the low 40’s the staff made sure we had space heaters in the cabins and plenty of blankets. Our cabins were also under construction, making everything a dusty muddy mess.
The interior of the cabin was perfect. The beds were comfy with nice linens. We were given plenty of towels. Our cabin had two twin beds, two double beds, a shower, a toilet and two sinks – plenty of room for the whole family! The parking is not cabin adjacent, so be prepared to carry your bags to your cabin.
The advantage to staying in the park is having the place to yourself every morning and evening. While the visitors center was crowded from 10am until 3pm, we were virtually alone outside of those times. It was so quiet that deer munched the grass at our picnic site and we had all our questions answered by rangers standing alone at the visitors center. The kids asked all the things without any fear of gumming up someone else’s time.
The timed entry into the caves leaves the caves mostly empty. You are free to explore the first level at your own pace. You have 30 min to enter the caves with your timed ticket after attending a safety briefing. There are guides stationed around the caves to point things out and answer your questions. Masks are required in the cave. (If you wear glasses, the mask/glasses combo in the cave will fog up your glasses. Jeff had a ton of trouble underground. I put in my contacts for the tour.)
Back above ground, there is quite a bit of hiking to be done! Many of the trails originate in the Visitors Center area. We started with the River Styks Trail, where you can see the river emerging from the cave. Unfortunately due to all the rain, there was just a lake and some bubbles where the water was flowing out.
You will need a car to get to some of the other parts of the park. We had planned to take the ferry over to the western part of the park, but the rains meant the river was flowing too rapidly for the ferry to run. Instead we explored other parts of the park including some lovely cemeteries and nature trails.
The Jr. Ranger packet is a must. It was really what wove together for our kids the history of the caves. We didn’t bring the packet into the cave with us, but instead found a picnic area on one of our park drives and sat down to work on the packets together. The Jr. Ranger packets also had suggestions for other kid-friendly trails to explore.
We really enjoyed our time at Mammoth Cave National Park. I can’t recommend enough staying overnight to really get to explore the park. If more of the caves are open you may even want to venture into a deeper part of the cave, which may require another day.