Mammoth Cave National Park is a perfect RV destination

 Mammoth Cave National Park is a perfect RV destination

In central Kentucky, the Mammoth Cave National Park is not only a geological wonder that is unequaled in scope, it is also a great getaway for a long RV weekend, with a terrific campground, beautiful scenery and bike paths through a heavily forested area of gently rolling hills and the lush Green River valley.

mcstag1Located 15 minutes off I-65 at Cave City Exit (Exit 53) or Park City (Exit 48), the park encompasses 53,000 acres. But it is the 400 miles of caves beneath the surface that make it so dramatic, the largest such cave system in the world. It is probably even bigger. Cave explorers believe there are a couple hundred more miles under there still to be discovered.

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The stairways were built by a firm that builds stairways in submarines

The vast chambers and complex labyrinths as deep as 250 feel below the surface are amazingly accessible, though visitors should be in reasonably fit condition. There are lots of steps – our tour of the New Entrance part of the cave started with 243 steps straight down, on very narrow metal stairways built for the park service by a company that specializes in designing stairways for the cramped quarters on submarines.

The New Entrance to the Mammoth Cave system is a lot older that it sounds. First excavated in 1921 and enlarged and enhanced repeatedly through the years, it begins with a bus ride over the top of the cave to the New Entrance. An path works its way to the bottom of a depression – an old sinkhole, really – and ends before a steel door.

From there, you enter the cave, heading down the stairs, winding around huge rocks and sandstone formations, sometimes only a couple of feet wide. The tour  includes a dramatic series of domes and pits, large trunk passageways, and a short journey through dripstone formations. You see and learn about stalactites (deposits that drip down from the ceiling) and stalagmites (deposits that rise upward from the floor) and view an impressive formation dubbed “frozen Niagara”that looks indeed like a frozen waterfall.

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Behind this steel door is the New Entrance complex of Mammoth National Park

Our tour lasted about two hours. My favorite time came when, deep underground in a wide cavern, the ranger turned out the subdued lighting that illuminated the pathways and walls. Total, complete darkness ensued, so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face. The ranger had everyone sit still and be silent. There was total silence, too. I swear I could hear my heart beating, the blood running through my veins. I know, I have a vivid imagination.

This was just one of a several cave tours offered by the park service. It covers not quite a mile and goes up and down about 500 total steps. It has a constant, year-round temperature of 54 degrees.

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Shoes are sanitized to prevent White Nose Syndrome, a fungus that is devastating bat populations

As we left the tour, we had to walk over a special decontamination platform that looked like a soft treadmill. That's to sanitize out shoes and help prevent White Nose Syndrome, a fungus that has resulted in the death of over 5.5 million bats in the eastern United States.

I saw only one bat in the caves, though 40,000 or so are said to live in the complex.

We wish we had at least another day or two to have stayed at the park. We would have done all the other tours, as well. In the bookstore, you will find several excellent guides written by Roger Brucker. Yes, this is the same Roger Brucker who writes for this blog with wife, Lynn. Roger is one of the world's top experts on the caves, as well as, of course, an avid Roadtreker.

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Tai stayed in a shady outdoor kennel while we toured
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The campground at Mammoth National Park

When we visited the cave, we still had Tai, our Norwegian Elkhound, with us. For $2.50, we were able to rent an outdoor kennel for him. We brought his water bowl and he had ample shade and actually, after a couple of yips when we walked away to go on the tour, seemed to enjoy it.

We also visited the 105-site campground, just a quarter mile from the visitor's center. Each site offers a paved parking area, a picnic table, and a fire ring. The campground has restrooms, fresh water, a dump station, garbage dumpsters, and a recycling station.

Only three of the sites have hookups. For the others, there is no electricity or water.

If you want full hookups, the routes to and from the park off I-65 have numerous commercial campgrounds.

Besides summer, another great time to visit would be fall  when the hardwood forest around the park is in full color. Be sure and take bicycles, as there are lots of great rides around the park. If you forget,  bike rentals are available from the front of the campground store.

*Spelunking anyone?

*spelunking – Exploring cave systems, sometimes called caving or potholing

 

 

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

50 Comments

  • since i retired, i have spent almost all my time out west, and there are still many sights like Mammoth Cave in the east that i haven’t seen yet. it’s a big country, what can i say. the dog accommodations are nice – it seems to be a departure from the usual Federal policy of discouraging people from bringing their pets.

  • Thanks for this report. We’ll definitely bring our bicycles. Always been curious about that place. Your story has convinced us to visit. The campground looks great.

  • We love following your adventures. Not sure about the turning the lights out in the cave fun but will take your word for it and give a tour a try. We have a few more weekends to travel before heading south so this sounds like a great trip. May buy a new Roadtrek this fall, depending on how fast we can get delivery. I hear that they are way behind schedule because of the pent up demand and have six month delivery times. Our dealer at home is trying to steer us to a Winnebago ERA.

    • Ted & Mary: Probably because of availability (he has more stock in models that don’t sell as well). It’s your money, your experience, not your dealer’s.

      “A consumer’s most powerful weapon is the 180 degree turn.”

      If the dealer is not giving you what you want, find another dealer. We looked at a lot of different layouts and models, and Roadtrek is head and shoulders above everyone else in fit, quality, longevity and dedication.

    • There are other dealers out there. Roadtek is the best. Bought ours used in 2003, 3 yrs old, 17000 miles. Only problems have been with the chassis, None with the Roadtrek Coach. You may want to consider previously owned. Check RV Trader for one.

    • Ted & Mary-

      How about a trip to southern California to “try before you buy”?

  • Ted and Mary: This is a major investment. Get what you want. Not what your dealer wants you to get.

  • We looked at various companies Class B’s and a lot of different models. We looked at the ERA and was not impressed. The Roadtrek will offer you a lot more in terms of options and this is not something to rush into because of pressure from a dealer. Get what you want. And while dealers may be few and far between it really pays to go to more than one. Dealers will discount even factory orders and you will get a better price to purchase exactly what you want with a few prices to negotiate with. We had three dealers each 150 miles (one way) away from us and we went to all three. We took the best price to the dealer we liked the best who would give us exactly what we wanted and he matched that price. This dealer is not trying to put you in the best Class B for you and what you want but what he can sell easiest. It really does pay to wait to put in an order and get what you want – with the options you want – at a price most likely no more than something off the lot. Unless you are in a climate or will be right away traveling in a climate where winter will not matter you really want to take delivery in early Spring – so that your Roadtrek is not sitting winterized waiting for warm traveling weather. So time out your purchase – and six months from now (if it really takes that long) is just about right! (We were told six to eight weeks and the Roadtrek arrived in four weeks.)

  • Great camping there. Highly recommend mammoth cave canoe & kayak while in the area. Great way to see the park from the green river 🙂

  • Awesome

  • I enjoy visiting caves and this one sounds interesting.

  • Have seen this.

  • We were here back in May! Stayed at the sweetest little RV park called Sining Hills I think! So worth the stop and stated an extra night too! The caves were cool too!

  • been there ready to go back

  • I have been there a couple times it is a wonderous place

  • Been there! Love caves.

  • Dont forget your jacket! Always cool in a cave

  • NICE

  • I’m planning a trip there sometime this year

  • So I guess it’s not near mammoth lakes!

  • Been there many times and it’s awesome. This should be on everyone’s bucket list.

  • been there very large.

  • Wonderful family trip….so many fun things to do along with the great caves! Glasco close to the caves has some great antique stores.

  • We overnighted at Diamond Caverns RV Park there last July. Touring the cave was great. http://www3.resortparks.com/xap/nwb/MR010?resort=470

  • And stop to see me!

  • Mammoth Cave above ground is almost as cool as below ground. The wildlife is abundant and very friendly. We plan to be there in April or May and can’t wait to go back!

  • thanks for that, just found on the map, will stop there on our way back from Nashville. You always provide interesting info and I look forward to your posts. Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.

  • Wow

  • How do you transport your bikes with the roadtrek?

  • Went There last year had a blast

  • Cassy Pike

  • We stopped there a few summers ago, they do have a nice RV Campground situated in all the trees.

  • been there. a great place to visit.

  • been there got lots of neat pictures.

  • Was just there 3 wks ago and loved it

  • Joel Laurent

  • Please label the state and closest city for the locations that you highlight. It would make it so much easier than having to do a search.

  • I really enjoy reading about your adventures.

  • awesome

  • Been there and loved it.

  • Would love to see this. One day.

  • Is the car museum still next door?

  • Always a stop on our way Nashville.

  • Where is it ???

  • Cave City Kentucky

  • Nice

  • I loved it there!

  • Been there. It’s beautiful……

  • Sweet

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