We arrived to Mammoth Cave after checking out two more wonderful distilleries; Willitt and Makers Mark. Both beautiful and delicious. Shoutout to my friend Clare for the perfect recommendations – woman, you know your bourbon trail.
If I had to sum up this park with one word: underrated! I had never really heard much about this park but it is a must see! First, this park is technically free. Anything above ground is open to anyone (including dogs!) and the trails are wonderful.
We did not plan in advance so this is the second time that I should have gotten my shit together earlier (see Haleakala). All tours in the caves require tickets and it’s recommended to reserve them in advance. I honesty forget that national parks are popular since we just don’t have any in our area, and I assumed it wouldn’t be a busy time of the year. I was most definitely wrong because this area has a much later spring break than back home. We arrived on Thursday and tours were sold out until Sunday. While I’m definitely going to do my research earlier from now on, I’m kind of glad it worked out this way because it made us stay and explore above ground more than we probably would have.
I’m sure most people go in spring/summer for full bloom but it was still beautiful in my eyes. Trees were mostly bare, but lilac trees and purples were peaking out everywhere. It was also great because we had trails pretty much to ourselves the whole time. The first afternoon we hiked around the historic cave section which is on the south side of the park near the visitor center.
The next day, we took the Green River Ferry to the north side of the park. Even more secluded! This ferry just goes back and forth all day and it was stupidly fun to take Big Red on it. Fun fact about this park – it’s the first National Park to use all clean energy! Even the Rangers vehicles are electric.
Mike and I found a day area to relax and set up for the day. Mike took Luca running while I organized the van. When he came back, Mike went mountain biking and I took Luca running on the Big Hollow trail. Mike said that trail was by far the best at Mammoth Cave. We ended up cooking lunch and dinner while we were there which was nice because we really haven’t figured out how to cook on the road yet.
Saturday, we had coffee with a Park Ranger! Ranger Darren was great! My favorite thing I learned from him was the story of Lost John. He was found in the caves in the early 1900s. He was perfectly preserved, thanks to the caves temperature and humidity. They could even tell what his last meal was from what was in his stomach! They have determined that he was from 2300 years ago and they think that he was stuck from a falling rock because of the way his leg was pulled up. He was Native American but didn’t belong to any of the nearby tribes. They gave advice on what to do with his body because for awhile he was on display – which was pretty disrespectful so they said he should be buried back in the cave. Now he is, but only 2 people know where so he can rest in peace.
Later, we found ourselves on an extreme back road trail which was super narrow and winding and made me verrrrryyyy glad Mike knows how to drive well. Mike did a workout (I “coached” from the van) and then since it was crummy weather, we went into town and found the White Squirrel brewery. It was pretty decent beer – but the bar set up and employees were what made the bar cool. It was very surprising that it’s been hard to find any breweries in this area – at home, you can find a different brewery every couple miles and a new one is opening every month it seems. Anyway, that evening we grabbed a couple movies from Redbox, and hung out in the Walmart parking lot. Don’t be too jealous of us.
On Sunday, we had tickets for both the Historic tour and the Domes & Dripstones tour. Should you ever go to this Park, disregard their description of difficulty levels for tours. I was a little nervous because they stressed that both these are strenuous tours. They were also only 2 miles and .75 miles, respectively, and both lasted 2 hours. However… they clearly described it this way for the average American and the elderly…
Anyway, this Historic tour was awesome. We got to walk the same trails that people have walked for hundreds of years. 412 miles are mapped at Mammoth Cave, but for a long time, less than 10% had been discovered. It starts in the Rotunda – which really demonstrates why it’s called Mammoth Cave. Then we wind through to the “Giant’s Coffin” and the Ranger turns out all the lights so everyone can see what no light truly looks like – spoiler, it’s dark and you can’t see even your hand in your face. We went through Fat Man’s Misery and Tall Man’s Misery – more spoilers, not bad at all. I was also worried about that section because I’m thick but it was completely fine. I don’t think there is anyone that I know that would have had problems through it. And we saw a bat!
That afternoon, Mike wasn’t feeling well so I ended up doing the next tour by myself. And damn, he missed out. First you have to take a 10 minute bus ride to the cave entrance. The entrance to this isn’t natural, as the past owner wanted to capitalize on the Cave’s growing popularity and took some dynamite and made his own damn entrance. However, he was correct that his land definitely had caves that ended up connecting to the Mammoth Cave system. This tour is where we saw the “Frozen Niagara” and all the various types of beautiful cave formations that most people want to see – stalagmites, stalactites, cave popcorn, and more!
After that tour – time to head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!