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River Styx and the Old Mammoth Cave Underground River Boat Tour

The River Styx is an underground river flowing through Mammoth Cave that exits the cave system and flows into the Green River.

The Echo River boat tour of the River Styx was once one of Mammoth Cave National Park most popular attractions. It involved an underground boat tour through the cave system. Highlights of the tour was the ability to see the translucent blind fish and the Kentucky Cave Shrimp. However, the tour was stopped in the early 1990s because it was prohibitively expensive to keep the passage open to the public and human traffic was causing harm to the aquatic creatures living there. You will occasionally see historic postcards in Mammoth Cave National Park showing a boat traveling underground on the river in order to commemorate the boat tour

The Kentucky Cave Shrimp is currently an endangered species because of contaminated groundwater running through the cave. They were once thought to be extinct, but they have recovered to a population that numbers in the thousands. The entire known population lives in or near Mammoth Cave.

Th River Styx is discussed briefly on the Historic Tour, which is the popular tour that travels closest to the underground river, when it reaches River Hall. During periods of heavy rain, River Hall has been known to flood from the water running through the cave system to the River Styx.

The River Styx tour is occasionally offered when the conditions are right to take visitors down to the underground river. However, according to the park rangers during our tour, it is usually pretty muddy down the passage and visitors would usually have difficulty reaching it. The mud was described to us as so bad that you would sink in to it up to your knee.

You can still experience a part of this wonder. If you walk down the trail from the historic entrance toward the Green River, you can find where the River Styx meets the Green River and then walk back toward its exit from the Mammoth Cave system. It is a fairly easy downhill hike to see the river’s cave exit. However, it is a mildly strenuous uphill return to the Lodge from the Green River. We found this trail to be a pleasant hike after our last cave tour of the day.

If you have your heart set on an underground boat tour, consider the Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Located southwest of Mammoth Cave National Park, it advertises itself as Kentucky’s only underground boat tour. Lost River Cave is a seven mile cave system located outside of the national park.

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River Styx Tour Mammoth Cave National Park

As the longest known cave system in the world, Mammoth Caves National Park isn’t the kind of destination that can be fully explored in a single tour. As such, numerous tours lead by park rangers explore different sections and subjects around Mammoth Caves. The River Styx Tour dives deep into the geologic forces that have and continue to shape the Mammoth Caves.

Looking down into the River Styx while on the Geology Tour of Mammoth Cave National Park.

A Note About Accessability

The tour roughly follows the same route as the Historic Tour. Both enter through the historic entrance and wind deep below ground. Though the River Styx Tour delves a little deeper to catch a few peeks of the River Styx. While much of the route is along evenly graded gravel, the deeper the tour travels, the narrower and more uneven the path gets. Sections such as Fat Man’s Misery squeeze hikers between narrow rock walls. And low-hanging rocks can result in a few bumped heads.

As the tour reaches its deepest point, the route drops below the seasonal flood level. Here, the electrical lights that illuminate the rest of the cave cease. The tour continues by lantern light which can be difficult for those with poor eyesight. Along with the light, gone is the gravel walkway. The silty path that remains can be incredibly slippery. Finally, the end of the tour means a long climb to the surface via a winding spiral staircase. While the tour guides are lenient with those who may need to pause to take a breath, there is no elevator to bypass this final challenge. Overall, the route is doable for most visitors. But for those with limited mobility, there are other tours that have been designed to be more accomodating.

Man crawling through Tall Man's Misery on the Geology Tour of Mammoth Cave National Park.

A Landscape Made For Caves

The River Styx tour begins above ground, just behind the Visitors Center. Tour groups meet with park rangers to get an overview of their route. With those formalities completed, we take a short hike to the historic cave entrance. As we first descend to the entrance, we encounter sandstone: a gritty rock that acts as a roof 50 to 60 feet thick over Mammoth cave. As we enter the cave, we sink into limestone. Here, slightly acidic water dissolves minerals in the limestone and slowly creates the channels that form Mammoth Cave. The sandstone cap keeps water from entering above. So, that the only dissolving action comes from water traveling horizontally, allowing the caves to be so long.  

This type of cave is known as a Solution Cave. The wide chambers and rock formations that we will encounter are all the product of water dissolving limestone. We traveled up a ridgeline to reach the Visitors Center over the Mammoth Caves. Thus, we start high above the table water line and the nearby Green River. The water in Mammoth Caves flows with the tilt of the rock towards the Green River. At some point, the passageways we are hiking were flooded and worn away by a subterranean river. But now that river is much lower though not too low for us to reach. It is, after all, the name of our tour: the River Styx. The subterranean water emerges as springs that feed the river. They are technically tributaries of the Green River.

A paved walking trail winding through a green forest down to the historic entrance to the Mammoth Caves National Park.

The Law of Superposition

Traveling through Mammoth Cave, we travel down into the geologic history of the region. This is the Law of Superposition: in any body of undisturbed rock, the oldest strata will be at the bottom with newer rock deposited on top, over time. Limestone is collected in the beds of warm shallow seas. Sandstone is found in ancient deltas. Mammoth Caves exemplifies the geological history of the area. While the surface landscape is full of green rolling hills, this was once a warm shallow sea that eventually shifted into a delta during the Mississippian period.**

Our tour covers three distinct formations in the caves. The uppermost formation is the Gerkin followed by Saint Genevieve and Saint Louis. Each comes from a warm shallow sea but is distinct from the others. Each layer is named after rock formations first encountered in those respective locations. St.louis is rather self-explanatory: this sandstone deposit was first encountered in Saint Louis, Missouri. The same body of rock stretches to the Mammoth Caves. Saint Genevieve is also a location in Missouri while Gerkin is a little closer to the caves. We can see the contact between the Gerkin and saint Genevieve formations as we travel down into the cave. And we will encounter the beginning of the Saint Louis layer when we reach the River Styx. 

View of the Rotunda Room in Mammoth Cave National Park.

From Broadway to Misery

The initial descent in the cave is through the Rotunda Room and Broadway, both impressively large subterranean spaces. These represent a long and relatively stable period of geologic history. The subterranean river continued to carve out these large openings over extended periods of time.

When the tour shifts into a narrower passage and descends more steeply, we enter a route that represents a shorter period of time and erosion. The river flowed through these passages and dissolved the limestone enough for us to hike through. Yet, it continued to drop before it could carve out large passageways as encounter above. This marks a time when the sea level was unstable.* It accounts for the smaller passages between the 2nd through the 5th levels of the cave. These are typified by narrow squeezes at Fat Man’s Misery, low-hanging rock in Tall Man’s Misery, and lots of quick drops that we rely on stairs to traverse.

Man spelunking through the narrow passages on the Geology Tour of Mammoth Cave National Park.

We have been accustomed to cave tours highlighting columns, stalactites, stalagmites, and other dramatic rock features such as Ruby Falls . But these are the product of vertical water flow, depositing minerals as the water travels down. As noted before, the sandstone cap over Mammoth Caves prevents water from entering above. Thus, most of the water here flows horizontally. This is what made the Mammoth Caves the longest known cave system in the world. But it also means that there are few notable rock formations. The Bottomless Pit is an exception to the horizontal flow. This vertical passage once marked the end of the tour. Until 1835 when cavers laid a ladder over the pit and descended to the River Styx. 

Like rivers above ground, the River Styx seasonally floods. While most of the tour is conducted through well-lit passages, the cave is not wired below the seasonal flood line. Instead, we rely on lanterns. The soft and muddy trail that descends past the flood zone warrants a heavy tread. Before handrails were installed, the narrow ledge skirting the Dead Sea would make one feel even closer to literal peril. On one particularly slick steep stretch, our guide unintentionally demonstrated his skiing prowess. A misstep has him skidding down slick cave silt, a significant reminder of this unstable terrain. 

Back in the day, guides gave boat tours on the River Styx. Today, we stay at a distance, catching glimpses of the river from the trail. The route continues past our stopping point of the River Styx tour. But worn-away boardwalks and the unstable ground have us turning back after a River Styx overlook.  Even so, we have seen more of the subterranean River Styx than any other tour in Mammoth Cave.

Man walking through a dark cave, faintly lit by lantern on the Geology Tour of Mammoth Cave National Park.

Mammoth Dome

After the River Styx, the tour has reached its deepest point. So, it is time to hike back to the surface. Luckily, there is very little backtracking and the new sections cover some of the most remarkable parts of the tour. Mammoth Dome is a vertical shaft over 190 feet tall. Despite the relatively large chamber that we are in, it’s hard to capture the sheer scale of this rock formation. The rippling rock walls leave tour guests staring up with mouths agape.

Looking up at the towering Mammoth Dome while on the Geology Tour of Mammoth Cave National Park.

Ruins of Karnak 

Within the eyesight of Mammoth Dome is another remarkable chamber known as the Ruins of Karnak. The pillar-like formations do bear a notable similarity to the rows of columns found in the ancient temple complex of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt. Instead of carved and weathered freestanding columns of Hypostyle Hall, however, Mammoth’s ruins are naturally formed by the same water erosion as the rest of the cave.

Pillar head at the Ruins of Karnak along the Geology Tour in Mammoth Cave National Park.

A Living Cave

As we leave this massive cave system, it’s hard to imagine that something as simple as water could create something so grand. People look to explain these dramatic places in catastrophic events. An earthquake fault shifting mountains. A volcano burying the landscape. A flood displacing boulders. But Mammoth Caves is evidence of the slow nature of time: uniformitarianism. Only 300 years ago did science recognize this process. And even today, visitors are witness to the same processes that created the cave and will continue in the future. 

* So the wider passage is carved during a time when the sea level was stable. But the narrower passages represent a period of unstable sea levels with younger narrower caves

**In recent news, 60 different species of sharks tooth fossils have been identified in the saint Genevieve limestone deposits.

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Hike the River Styx Spring Trail

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Elevation Gain

Out-and-Back

Description

Added by Elyse Clark

Hike one of the surface trails at Mammoth Cave National Park to see a spring in which groundwater emerges out of a cave. This trail also brings you by the Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave and has views of the Green River.

Starting from the Mammoth Cave Visitor's Center, take the "Historic Entrance" trail that descends down the hill between the Visitor's Center and the Mammoth Cave Hotel. After 0.2 miles you will reach the historic entrance of Mammoth Cave on your right side. You cannot go in the cave without a guided tour, but you can walk down and look at the entrance. 

The trail splits into two trails at the historic entrance. Take the wider trail on the left side which has a sign stating the River Styx Spring Trail. You will descend for 0.4 miles.  When you level out near the Green River, take the boardwalk to your left to view the River Styx Spring, which is where groundwater is discharging from Mammoth Cave to the Green River. 

There is also a small area where you can view the Green River.  When finished, walk back the way you came up the hill to the Visitor's Center to complete this short and easy hike.  

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Hike the River Styx Spring Trail Reviews

mammoth cave river styx tour

Amelia Walker

Part of the complete Mammoth Cave Experience

My husband and I went on this trail after a cave tour!  Starting from the visitor center, you'll pass by the Historic Entrance to the cave - you can stop here if you haven't yet and see the very front end of the cave without a tour guide.  With the Historic Entrance to the cave to your back, keep heading down the hill on the wider path through the woods.  The signage at this park is great, so just follow them!  The "river styx' is at the down a short boardwalk, and offers a good view of the main attraction.  It's cool to see how many entrances there are into this huge cave system!  If you don't want to go out and back, I'd highly suggest adding on the Green Bluffs Trail that starts where the River Styx Trail stops!  Offers beautiful views and a different scenery back to the visitor center.

mammoth cave river styx tour

Lucas Bremer

Great side hike

A great hike to kill time while waiting on a cave tour. Trail is well marked, some of it paved and it will lead to a spring that bubbles up from the cave itself.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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The Adventures of Trail & Hitch

Two geeks, two cats in an airstream., best cave tours of mammoth cave.

Travel Adventures , Washington DC - Trail (Anne) - July 10, 2021

After writing a lengthy article on “ How to Visit Mammoth Cave National Park ,” I feel that I should make suggestions as to which cave tours to go on. We spent two weeks in the Mammoth Cave area and got to go on many of the major tours.

Historic Tour or River Styx Tour

I enjoyed the Historic Tour the most, out of all that we attended. We started at the Lodge Rotunda for a quick orientation before hiking down to the Historic Entrance. Our rangers guided us at an even pace, stopping every so often to tell a story or to point out a classic Mammoth Cave landmarks, which were visited by historical figures of the 1800s and early 1900s.

Highlights include crossing bridges over both Sidesaddle Pit and Bottomless Pit, squeezing through Fat Man’s Misery, crouching down into Tall Man’s Agony, and finally climbing up The Tower to view Ruins of Karnack and the great Mammoth Dome. Overall a fantastic tour featuring both history and cave decoration viewing.

At the time, I really wanted to take the River Styx Tour, which also includes the Historic Tour but then takes a side path down to an underground river. As much as I love history, I would have also enjoyed learning about the geology of Mammoth Cave. Sadly during our visit NPS closed the River Styx area due to a recent flood.

Up The Tower to Mammoth Dome

Violet City Lantern Tour

If you love history and wish to explore Mammoth Cave as they did in the past, then Violet City Lantern Tour is perfect.

A German mining engineer by the name of Max Kämper discovered a passage in 1918, along with his cave guide, Edwin Bishop. Together they crawled through a narrow passageway connecting Ultima Thule and Kämper’s Hall, which he named after himself. Today that passage area is known as Violet City, named after the cave owner’s wife, Violet Blair Janin.

From the shelters outside the visitor center, our ranger gave out lanterns before hiking down to the Historic Entrance. We passed landmarks we’ve seen on other shorter tours, such as the Rotunda, Broadway Avenue, and Giant’s Coffin.

Along the Main Cave just past Giant’s Coffin, we ventured into new territory. We saw the remains of old underground huts which housed Turburciolsis patients. Further down, we enter an underground canyon known as the Star Chamber, where the roof seems to rise about 20 or 30 feet above the ground and mimics a starry night. At a place called the Cataracts, we passed a subterranean waterfall pouring out of a hole in the ceiling.

Violet City Lantern Tours

At one point, after passing a 2000-year-old petroglyph, we end up at a spot where a 1935 work crew found the mummified remains of a Palio-Indian. Nicknamed “Lost John,” the National Park Service considered the 5-foot-3-inch man a major archaeological find and exhibited his body until 1976 when federal law prohibited the display of Indian human remains. The Rangers re-interred Lost John in a hidden location near where he was found.

Violet CIty

Near Ultima Thule, we climbed up and through the Grand Portal, a 60-foot wide and 50-foot high passage leading to Kämper’s Hall and Violet City. Sadly our lamps lacked sufficiency to illuminate the huge hall, but we saw dripstone formations, stalactites hanging down from the dark, and curtains of calcite. If you ask nicely, maybe your ranger will let you shine a flashlight on the Marble Temple, which is a flowstone wall decorated by stalactites on either side. We also passed several domes and Bishop’s Pit before climbing up and out a man-made tunnel to Violet City’s Exit.

Important Cave Touring Tip: Do not tailgate the person before. Since the cave path is dark and only lit by lanterns, keep an eye out for when the person before you stops or slows down. If you are a fast walker, I suggest going to the back of the group. That way you can pause longer, and catch-up quickly. If you are slow, move up front with the ranger who sets the pace for the group.

We pause for a rest and a history lesson

Grand Avenue Tour

Grand Avenue demands endurance from any hiker, but you’ll be rewarded with fascinating cave decorations and a wealth of stories as told by your ranger. Thankfully, our rangers were kind enough to go at an even pace and provide frequent stops along the way. We enjoyed this tour for its exceptional overview of the size and intricacy of the Mammoth Cave System.

After our orientation at the visitor center shelters, we took a short bus trip to the Carmicheal Entrance. This man-made passageway goes downward and into an area known as Cleaveland Avenue. The low ceiling tunnel felt long and unending, especially in low light. Here the walls showed evidence of an underground river now long gone.

Snowball room in Mammoth Cave – courtesy of NPS.gov

Snowballs & Grapes

After about a mile, we ended up in the Snowball Room. In this cavern, the ceiling is dotted with mineral lumps similar to snowballs in shape. These gypsum “blisters” formed as the mineral pushed outward into the cave by more gypsum forming in a layer just behind the surface. Beneath the faux snow roof, rows of tables stand ready to serve those who need a break. Our ranger tells us during certain times of the year, the Snowball room serves food. Just passed the Snowball Room, we entered an area called Mary’s Vineyard. Here the cave displays grapelike formations in the limestone deposits on the cave ceiling. As water carrying calcium carbonite drops downward, the water precipitates clusters of minerals, suspended in grape-like formations from the ceiling.

Gypsum Flowers & Flowstones

Our ranger then lead us to steep-walled Boone’s Avenue, a good example of one of the cave passages formed by water. Along the walls, there is past evidence of fast moving water, working its way down along a mild slope into deeper portions the cave. Through the winding channels, we arrived at Kentucky Avenue where the most fantastic gypsum crystals and needles can be found. Then at Grand Central Station, where at least five passages converge, we pause for our ranger to explain how this intersection of joints came to be. Our group then moved into the upper cave levels, where we finally got to see a fascinating variety of dripstone and flowstone formations such as the Frozen Niagara, Drapery Room, and Onyx Colonnade. All of it made a fine reward for the longest trip in Mammoth Cave.

Gypsum Flowers on Kentucky Avenue

Great Onyx Cave Lantern Tour

In 1915, Edmund Turner discovered Great Onyx Cave just after agreeing to be a shareowner with Flint Ridge landowner L. P. Edwards. As soon as Edwards agreed, Turner showed him where to dig, and resulted in the Great Onyx Cave, so named because of its cave onyx formations. Together, Turner continued to explore the cave while Edwards rushed to commercialize it.

At first, the owners of Great Onyx Cave refused to sell their land when the federal government in the 1930s, when it was making land purchases for the formation of Mammoth Cave National Park. When the National Park was established in 1941, Great Onyx Cave remained a privately held “island” within the Park’s borders. In January 1961, the owners finally sold Great Onyx Cave to the National Park Service. Today, you can take tours to the Great Onyx Cave depending on the season.

Great Onyx Cave Entrance

Despite search efforts, cave explorers have yet to find a connection between Great Onyx Cave to the rest of the Flint Ridge Cave System and Mammoth Cave. In fact, passages in the Flint Ridge Cave System pass beneath surveyed passages of Great Onyx Cave. During the cave’s commercialization, the owners most likely piled rocks and sand against the walls during their trail construction. During construction, it’s possible that they blocked off passages which might have connected to Mammoth Cave.

Although there are 8 mapped miles of Great Onyx Cave, you’ll only see a fraction of it. For those who love cave decorations, Great Onyx Cave is the tour you’ll want. Sadly, you’ll have to examine this geologic attraction by lantern light, putting a shadowy backdrop for an amazing yet abundant volume of dripstone gypsum, helictite formations, and travertine flowstones.

Great Onyx Cave

Mammoth Self-Guided Discovery Tour

If you have only time for a short visit to Mammoth Caves, I suggest the self-paced Discovery Tour. They usually offer this tour during the summer months and on weekends during spring and fall. You’ll visit the Rotunda, one of the largest rooms in the cave, and explore a Houchins Narrows and Audobon Avenue. Visitors will learn about 19th-century saltpeter mining operations and the geologic origins of Mammoth Cave from one of the many rangers stationed about the cave. Sadly you cannot reserve this tour online, the NPS only sells tickets daily and on a first-come-first-served base.

Saltpeter Sites

Wild Cave Tour

If you are up for an adventure, take the “extremely strenuous” Wild Cave Tour. They offer this tour daily in the summertime for adults only. After you pass the “42-inch-diameter-narrow-fit” test, they go through a detailed orientation on gear and safety. You’ll get overalls, gloves, and a hardhat with a headlamp. You’ll be crawling a majority of the 5-miles that this tour covers, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. At one section, you must traverse a slippery ledge while leaning across the chasm to put your hands on the far wall to balance yourself, then sidestep down the slope. Important: If you’re don’t like heights, super enclosed spaces or darkness, do not go on the Wild Cave Tour! Those who are relatively fit, and little to no fears of such things, will thoroughly enjoy this amazing experience.

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About author / trail (anne).

An attentive wife, lover of geekish things, avid blogger, amateur photographer, and a freelance web developer & desktop publisher for hire who is seeking wisdom through the passions of adventure.

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We’re planning a trip to Mammoth Cave in early April. We love the idea of the violet city lantern tour. However I’m a little claustrophobic and wanted to ensure that the trails, paths, etc had plenty of overhead headspace. Please advise. Thanks

I would advise against it. There are a few places where we had to duck and squeeze through passages. If you want a cave tour that has plenty of overhead space I suggest visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

You can’t help NOT love the park & caves! Enjoy them both & treat them with respect- for all our families& friends-You won’t regret it! Thanks-A Friend From Michigan! You all are GREAT!

I know! You’re totally right: respect nature — especially if you wish them to last through the generations to come. National parks are a fantastic legacy that America has to offer.

Amazing pictures and wonderful overview of the tours.

Thanks! Spending two weeks at Mammoth allowed us to take nearly all the tours. With the exception of a few tours only run certain seasons.

Very, very cool. I love that the NPS reinterred Lost John, too. I think they’ve done a pretty good job handling things like that.

I think everyone can learn a thing or two about the graceful way rangers respect historical artifacts and nature. I really admire them for that.

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How to Pick the Best Mammoth Cave Tour: from Families to Avid Adventurers

Mammoth Cave National Park is a natural wonder nestled in the heart of Kentucky. We’ll show you all the reasons why you should add this extraordinary national park to your travel bucket list and how to pick the best Mammoth cave tour for you and your family. Uncover the mysteries of the world’s longest-known cave system, boasting awe-inspiring rock formations and captivating underground passages at this underrated family destination!

We visited Mammoth Cave National Park when our kids were 4 and 6. In fact, it was the first time they earned Junior Ranger badges! We asked our friend Amanda Perkins of Life Has Its Perks Blog to break down the best Mammoth cave tours, so you can choose the right tour for you- whether you are a first-timer, a family with small kids, or looking for a more challenging or adventurous tour through Mammoth Cave.

This article may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase.   As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. All our recommendations are our own and are in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative.

At the bottom of this post,  download our Top Ten Tricks for Exploring National Parks with Kids .

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Table of Contents

Is Mammoth Cave Worth Visiting?

Yes, Mammoth Cave is worth visiting! Immersing yourself in the park’s stunning landscapes, from lush forests to picturesque river valleys to the famous cave itself, is a family bucket list experience.

Mammoth Cave National Park offers an experience unlike any other National Park east of the Mississippi River. From the moment you step foot into the cave, you’ll be transported to a world of natural wonder and beauty that will leave you awestruck. Mammoth Cave makes a great stop on a family cross-country road trip .

Mammoth Cave is an incredible feat of nature, with massive chambers, intricate passageways, and bizarre formations that have been sculpted by millions of years of water erosion and geologic activity. But beyond its sheer size and beauty, Mammoth Cave also has a rich history that is woven into the fabric of American culture.

In addition to the cave tours, Mammoth Cave National Park has a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy. We love hiking and biking as a family and there are plenty of trails to explore here. The Green River also provides opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. And for those who prefer to stay indoors, the park offers a variety of ranger-led programs and exhibits.

When is the Best Time to Visit Mammoth Cave?

The best time to visit Mammoth Cave National Park is during the spring and fall seasons, specifically from April to June and September to October. We visited in September, right after school started, and that seemed like the perfect time to come to Mammoth Cave! During these times, the weather is generally pleasant, with milder temperatures and lower humidity compared to the hot and humid summer months. 

The park’s natural beauty flourishes during spring, as wildflowers bloom and the surrounding landscape comes alive with vibrant colors. Fall offers a picturesque spectacle with the changing leaves, creating a breathtaking backdrop for exploration.

Visiting during these seasons also ensures a more comfortable experience while exploring the cave system. The cave’s temperature remains constant at around 54 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius) throughout the year, making it a refreshing escape from both the summer heat and winter chill.

More importantly, spring and fall attract fewer crowds compared to the peak summer season. This means shorter lines for the best Mammoth Cave tour, easier access to hiking trails, and a quieter overall ambiance.

Mammoth Cave National Park is a popular destination year-round, and each season offers its own unique charm. However, for those seeking pleasant weather, beautiful scenery, and a more relaxed atmosphere, spring and fall are the ideal times to experience the park’s wonders at their best.

The Best Mammoth Cave Tours

Tours are required when visiting Mammoth Cave. They offer visitors the opportunity to learn about the cave’s history and geology from knowledgeable rangers who will guide you through the cave system and point out interesting features along the way. There is one option for a short, self-guided tour of the cave, which is only offered in the summer. All other tours are guided tours.

There are a variety of tours available to suit every interest and level of ability, from easy strolls through well-lit sections of the cave to more challenging explorations of remote areas that require crawling and climbing. The cost of most tours ranges from $10 – $30 a person. Many cave tours require a short bus ride to and from the visitor center to the cave entrance.

We took the Domes and Dripstone Tour which was a perfect fit for us. There are quite a few stairs and some tight spaces, but we were up for the adventure. The views were incredible and not something I will soon forget. 

No matter which tour you choose, you’ll be treated to a one-of-a-kind experience that you will never forget. And with so much to see and do at Mammoth Cave National Park, you’ll want to plan a return trip before you even leave.

Top Tip: Make sure to book tours well in advance- not all tours are available year-round.

Best Mammoth Cave Tours for Families

Exploring Mammoth Cave with kids can be lots of fun! There are lots of fun things to see and do in the park, including many cave tours that are suitable for families with kids. Here are some of the best Mammoth cave tours for families.

1. Frozen Niagara Tour

🌟 Easy ⏳ 1.25 Hours ✅ 1/2 mile, Great for young children

The Frozen Niagara Tour is a great option for families with young children. This tour is an easy, half-mile walk through the cave, and it’s filled with all kinds of cool sights to see. You’ll get to explore the Frozen Niagara Formation which looks like a big, frozen waterfall. Your guide will tell you all about how the cave was formed and answer any questions you might have. This is one of the most popular tours at Mammoth Cave.

2. Domes & Dripstones Tour

🌟 Difficult ⏳ 2 Hours ✅ Great for older children

For families with slightly older kids who are up for a bit more adventure, the Domes & Dripstones Tour is a fantastic choice. We loved this tour that took us on a 2-hour journey through some of the most beautiful parts of the cave. We saw massive domes, towering stalagmites, and sparkling dripstones. You’ll even get to climb up a spiral staircase to a lookout point that offers a stunning view of the cave.

3. Mammoth Passage Tour

🌟 Easy ⏳ 1.25 Hours ✅ Educational

If you’re looking for a tour that’s both fun and educational, check out the Mammoth Passage Tour. This tour is led by a park ranger who will teach you all about the history of the cave and the animals that live inside. You’ll get to see some amazing cave formations, like the Giant’s Coffin and the Bottomless Pit. This tour is perfect for families with kids who love to learn new things.

4. Accessible Tour

🌟 Easy ⏳ 2 Hours ✅ No Stairs

Mammoth Cave National Park offers an accessible tour designed to accommodate visitors with mobility challenges. The Accessible Tour is the only tour with no stairs . This tour provides an inclusive experience, featuring wheelchair-accessible routes and audio descriptions. It allows everyone to marvel at the cave’s wonders and learn about its fascinating history, ensuring that no one is left behind in experiencing this incredible natural treasure.

5. Best Mammoth Cave Tour for History Buffs: Historic Tour

🌟 Difficult ⏳ 2 Hours ✅ Focus on History and Usage

If you love history, you’ll love the Historic Tour , which explores the cave’s role in the War of 1812 and the Civil War, as well as its use as a source of saltpeter for gunpowder during both conflicts. This tour involves a lot of stairs and some tight spaces. You can also do the Extended Historic Tour for a slightly longer, more in-depth experience.

6. Best Mammoth Tour for First-Time Visitors: Domes & Dripstones Tour

The Domes & Dripstones Tour is a fantastic choice for first-time visitors who want to experience a mix of history and beauty inside Mammoth Cave. We loved this tour that took us on a 2-hour journey, which includes massive domes, towering stalagmites, and sparkling dripstones. You’ll even get to climb up a spiral staircase to a lookout point that offers a stunning view of the cave.

Best Mammoth Cave Tours for Hard Core Adventurers

If you are looking for an exciting adventure during your visit to Mammoth Cave National Park, look no further! Here are some of the best Mammoth Cave tours for hard-core adventurers and adrenaline junkies like you.

7. Wild Cave Tour

🌟 Very Difficult ⏳ 6 Hours ✅ Ages 16+, Includes crawling

The Wild Cave Tour is not for the faint of heart and you must be at least 16 years old to take part. This tour takes you on a 6-hour journey through the cave that includes crawling through tight spaces, wading through underground streams, and climbing up steep rocks. You’ll get to explore parts of the cave that most visitors never get to see, and you’ll feel like a true explorer. This tour is definitely not recommended for anyone who is claustrophobic or has mobility issues.

8. Grand Avenue Tour

🌟 Very Difficult ⏳4 Hours ✅ Beautiful Areas, ages 6+

If you’re looking for a tour that’s both challenging and awe-inspiring, check out the Grand Avenue Tour. You must be at least 6 years old to do this tour. This tour takes you on a 4-hour journey through some of the most beautiful parts of the cave. You’ll get to see massive domes, towering stalagmites, and sparkling dripstones. You’ll also get to climb up and down several sets of stairs, so be prepared for a workout!

9. Violet City Lantern Tour

🌟 Very Difficult ⏳ 3 Hours ✅ Tour by Lantern Light, Ages 6+

For a truly unique and thrilling experience, try the Violet City Lantern Tour. This tour takes you on a 2-hour journey through the cave by lantern light and you must be at least 6 years old to go. You’ll get to explore the darker corners of the cave and learn about the history and geology of Mammoth Cave. This tour is not recommended for anyone who is afraid of the dark or has trouble walking on uneven surfaces.

10. Introduction to Caving Tour

🌟 Very Difficult ⏳ 3 1/2 Hours ✅ Includes Crawling and Climbing

For families with older kids ( 10 years or older ) who are ready for a real adventure, the Introduction to Caving Tour is an awesome choice. This tour takes you on a 3-hour journey through the cave that includes crawling through narrow passageways and climbing up steep rocks. You’ll get to see parts of the cave that most visitors never get to experience, and you’ll feel like a real explorer. This tour is not for the faint of heart, but it’s a great way to challenge yourself and make some amazing memories.

Most Underrated Mammoth Cave Tours

If you are looking for a Mammoth Cave tour that’s off the beaten path but still offers amazing views, you are in luck. Here are the most underrated Mammoth Cave tours that offer incredible sights you won’t want to miss.

11. River Styx Tour

🌟 Moderate ⏳ 2 1/2 Hours ✅ Includes Boat Ride, Ages 6+

The River Styx Tour may not be as well-known as some of the other tours, but it’s definitely worth checking out. This tour takes you on a 2.5-hour journey through the cave that includes a boat ride on the underground River Styx. Kids must be at least 6 years old to go on this tour. You’ll get to see some amazing cave formations and even a few bats hanging from the ceiling. And the best part? You’ll get to experience the cave in a completely unique way.

12. Great Onyx Lantern Tour

🌟 Moderate ⏳ 2 1/4 Hours ✅ Unique Part of the Cave

The Great Onyx Tour takes you on a 2-hour journey through a portion of the cave that’s not open to the general public. Kids must be at least 6 years old to go on this tour. You’ll get to see some incredible formations, including one of the largest stalactites in the world. You’ll also get to learn about the history of the cave and the people who have explored it over the years.

No matter which underrated tour you choose, you’re sure to be blown away by the amazing sights and experiences. Don’t forget to bring your camera and be prepared to be amazed!

Booking your Mammoth Cave Tour

To explore the cave, you’ll need to purchase a ticket for one of the guided tours. Tickets can be purchased online or in person at the park. It’s a good idea to book your tour in advance, especially during peak season, to ensure you get the tour you want. Tickets tend to sell out fairly quickly. You can book your tickets up to 2 months in advance.

Tickets can be purchased at the recreation website . Be aware that not all tours are available year-round. 

How to Get to Mammoth Cave

Getting to Mammoth Cave National Park is easy! The park is located in south-central Kentucky and can be reached by car, bus, or plane. If you’re driving, the park is located off Interstate 65, about 90 miles south of Louisville and 35 miles north of Bowling Green.

The closest airport to Mammoth Cave National Park is Louisville International Airport (SDF) , located approximately 90 miles north of the park. From the airport, visitors can rent a car or arrange for a shuttle service to reach the park. Interstate highways, such as I-65 and I-165, provide a straightforward route from the airport to Mammoth Cave.

To reach Mammoth Cave National Park from Nashville International Airport (BNA) , you can rent a car and drive approximately 95 miles north via I-65. The journey takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, offering scenic views of the Kentucky countryside.

Need a rental car to visit Mammoth Cave? We recommend Discover Cars , they always have easy, straightforward pricing. No last-minute surprises!

Book a Rental Car with Discover Cars

Don’t forget to stock up on road trip essentials and of course the best road trip snacks as well!

Where to Stay to Visit Mammoth Cave

When visiting Mammoth Cave National Park, there are various accommodation options available to suit different preferences and budgets.

Remember to book your accommodations well in advance, especially during peak season, to secure your preferred choice. Here are some suggestions for places to stay near the park.

Recommended Budget Hotel: Days Inn Wyndham Cave City

This Days Inn hotel is a clean, and no-frills motel, with a pool that our kids quite enjoyed. It is also very close to Dinosaur World if that is also on your itinerary.

Book Now: Days Inn Wyndham Cave City

The Lodge at Mammoth Cave

The only lodging within the park, you’ll find The Lodge at Mammoth Cave just next to the visitors center. This historic lodge offers comfortable rooms and cabins with modern amenities. Staying here provides easy access to the cave tours and other park attractions.

Campgrounds in Mammoth

Mammoth Cave National Park offers several campgrounds, such as the Mammoth Cave Campground and Maple Springs Group Camp, which provide opportunities for a more immersive and budget-friendly experience. These campgrounds offer both tent and RV camping facilities, along with amenities like restrooms, showers, and picnic areas.

Tips for Taking a Tour of Mammoth Cave

Here are some tips for visiting Mammoth Cave National Park, including what to bring and what is allowed in the park.

-Dress appropriately. The cave stays a constant 54 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, so bring a light jacket or sweater regardless of the season.

-Wear comfortable shoes with good traction, as some of the tours require climbing stairs or walking on uneven surfaces.

-Bring a water bottle to stay hydrated.

-Photography is allowed as long as there is no flash.

-Strollers are not allowed, and neither are backpack child carriers. Front packs are allowed.

-Pets are not allowed in the cave or on the cave tours, and they must be leashed at all times in the park.

-Smoking is not permitted in any buildings or on any trails.

-Always remember to stay on designated trails and respect the park’s wildlife.

FAQ: Best Mammoth Cave Tours

The “best” tour at Mammoth Cave National Park depends on personal preferences and interests. Ultimately, the best tour depends on factors such as fitness level, desired level of adventure, and interest in specific cave features or history. The park offers a variety of cave tours, each providing a unique experience. The Domes and Dripstones Tour is popular for its stunning formations, while the Historic Tour delves into the cave’s rich history. The Frozen Niagara Tour showcases the magnificent Frozen Niagara formation. The Grand Avenue Tour is the longest and most strenuous, offering a comprehensive exploration. For an adventurous experience, the Wild Cave Tour is recommended.

The most popular tour at Mammoth Cave National Park is the Domes and Dripstones Tour . This tour takes visitors through the cave’s awe-inspiring formations, showcasing the breathtaking domes and intricate dripstone features. It offers a glimpse into the natural wonders and geological history of Mammoth Cave. The Domes and Dripstones Tour is suitable for a wide range of visitors, providing an engaging and informative experience without being overly strenuous. Due to its popularity, it is advisable to make reservations in advance, especially during peak seasons, to secure a spot on this highly sought-after tour.

The hardest tour at Mammoth Cave National Park is the Wild Cave Tour . This tour is designed for the adventurous and physically fit, as it involves crawling, climbing, and navigating through tight spaces within the cave system. Participants wear helmets, headlamps, and kneepads as they explore lesser-traveled sections of the cave, experiencing the raw and rugged aspects of underground exploration. The Wild Cave Tour requires a high level of stamina, agility, and a willingness to challenge oneself physically and mentally. Due to the demanding nature of the tour, participants must meet certain age and health requirements and should be prepared for a thrilling and strenuous adventure.

The easiest tour at Mammoth Cave National Park is the Frozen Niagara Tour . This tour offers a relatively accessible and leisurely exploration of the cave. Visitors can experience the beauty of the Frozen Niagara Formation, a magnificent display of stalactites and flowstone. The tour involves minimal walking on well-maintained paths, making it suitable for individuals of various fitness levels and ages. It provides a captivating introduction to the wonders of Mammoth Cave without requiring strenuous physical exertion or navigating challenging cave passages. The Frozen Niagara Tour offers a convenient option for those seeking a more relaxed and accessible cave experience.

No, you cannot explore Mammoth Cave without a tour, although one self-guided tour is available for part of the cave. The cave is a complex and delicate natural environment, and for conservation and safety reasons, access to most of the cave system is restricted to guided tours. The National Park Service offers a range of tours led by knowledgeable guides who provide valuable information about the cave’s geological features, history, and environmental significance. These tours ensure that visitors can safely navigate the cave while minimizing any negative impact on the delicate ecosystem.

A tour in Mammoth Cave National Park ranges from 30 minutes to more than 6 hours depending on which tour you choose. The shorter tours, such as the Frozen Niagara Tour or the Historic Tour, typically last around one hour, providing a condensed but still captivating cave experience. Longer tours like the Domes and Dripstones Tour or the Grand Avenue Tour can last two to three hours or more, allowing for a more comprehensive exploration of the cave’s features and passages.

The cost of touring Mammoth Cave National Park varies depending on the specific tour chosen. The prices range from approximately $8 to $30 per person, depending on the tour. The shorter tours, such as the Frozen Niagara Tour, generally have lower prices, while longer and more extensive tours, like the Grand Avenue Tour, are more expensive.

While Mammoth Cave does not have a boat tour, however, The River Styx Tour includes a boat ride. This 2 1/2-hour tour is the only one that includes a boat. Mammoth Cave primarily offers walking tours, allowing visitors to explore the stunning underground passages and formations on foot.

Yes, you can visit Mammoth Cave in the winter. The cave remains open year-round, allowing visitors to explore its wonders even during the colder months. The cave retains the same cool temperature all year. However, some tours and facilities may have adjusted schedules or limited availability during the winter season.

It is very helpful to have a car when visiting Mammoth Cave National Park. Public transportation options are limited, and having a car provides flexibility and convenience for accessing the park, touring the area, and exploring nearby attractions. We recommend using Discover Cars for your car rental- you’ll find an easy interface and upfront pricing.

There You Have it: Best Mammoth Cave Tours

Mammoth Cave National Park is a truly fantastic place, and with a little planning, you can enjoy the best Mammoth Cave Tour for you and your family. From exploring the cave’s depths to hiking through the park’s beautiful forests, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at the beautiful National Park.

With so many cave tours to choose from, ranging from family-friendly to extreme adventures, there is something for everyone to enjoy. The park also offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and water sports, as well as ranger-led programs and exhibits. 

From the stunning cave formations to the beautiful natural scenery, there is so much to see and do at this incredible park. So, pack your bags, grab your sense of adventure, and get ready to explore the best tours of Mammoth Cave!

Interested in National Parks? Don’t miss our posts of family favorites like Glacier National Park , Yellowstone National Park , or Yosemite . We also like more under-the-radar parks like Craters of the Moon and the Wright Brothers Memorial ! For a wonderful autumn destination, check out Acadia National Park in Maine .

mammoth cave river styx tour

Cynthia Matthews von Berg is the founder of Sharing the Wander. She is a passionate traveler, mom, and travel coach specializing in long-term travel and family travel. She and her family embarked on a Family Gap Year in 2021, and haven't looked back.

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Passport To Eden

10 Best Mammoth Cave Tours Worth Your Time

mammoth cave river styx tour

This post is all about the best Mammoth Cave tours in Mammoth Cave National Park! You’ll find an overview of the different tours, travel tips, effort level listings, and estimated times based on our personal experiences hiking Mammoth Cave National Park.

In the beginning of autumn, I went on my first Mammoth Cave tour. I sat – legs pressed tight against a bench, feet clacking the ground – under the wide awning of Shelter A, waiting for a ranger to herd me (and a hundred or so other tourists) into the belly of the longest cave in the world. We walked and walked and walked some more. We climbed up and down thin, platformed stairs. We paused and gasped as the cave curved and snarled and dropped and twisted. Mammoth Cave’s pathways are serpentine; its walls are textured. And I was enamored by it all.

I returned to Mammoth Cave National Park often after, each time with the intention of taking one guided trip (sometimes two, much to the misery of my calves) through the cave itself. On those ranger-led tours, I chatted with travelers and staff, die-hard cave lovers and new-to-the-cave-scene visitors. Tour-by-tour, I fell deeper and deeper in love with Kentucky’s karst landscape.

Now, having been on almost all the Mammoth Cave tours (with the exception of their crawling tours), I feel ready to share my favorites.

Here are Passport To Eden’s top picks for the best cave tours at Mammoth Cave National Park!

Editor’s Note: Mammoth Cave tours are seasonal and not necessarily offered year-round. Sometimes tours close for construction (one of my favorite mammoth cave tours was closed in 2023 for this very reason. The goal was to make paths to be more accessible in the future). The best place to check what tours are available right now is the National Park website ( I’ll link it here ). I also tried to include a list of phobia warnings based on my own personal experiences on each of the cave tours. If you experience any cave-triggered phobias, I highly recommend talking with one of the rangers at Mammoth Cave National Park (you can reach them at 270-758-2180) before booking a tour. They can help you decide which tour (if any) might suit you best!

Table of Contents

Historic Tour

stairs leading up to Fat Man's misery in Mammoth Cave's Historic Tour

Mammoth Cave has long been a place for the curious. Even before it became integrated into the National Park system in 1941, tours were being led down and through its hidden alleys and layered passageways. The Historic Tour is the oldest, continually operated tour at Mammoth Cave . It’s also the most popular .

Go for the atmosphere: the gaping, moss-laden Historic Entrance; the vaulted, limestone ceilings; the remnants of 19th century century saltpetre vats . Go for the route too. You’ll stroll through wide and thin areas of Mammoth Cave. You’ll pass a coffin-shaped rock that looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of an old vampire novel. You’ll duck and twist and shimmy through Fat Man’s Misery (though I’d personally call this portion of the cave Anybody’s Misery). And by the end of your tour, you’ll be left with no doubts as to how Mammoth Cave got its name.

General Info

ESTIMATED TIME: 2 Hours (Allot 2.5 hours) STAIRS: 540 EFFORT: Moderately Strenuous COST: $20.00 Per Adult PHOBIA WARNINGS: Claustrophobia, Nyctophobia, Agoraphobia

Frozen Niagara Tour

wrangled beards of limestone in The Drapery Room, part of The Frozen Niagara Tour

Quick, short, and low-in-effort , The Frozen Niagara tour is hands-down the easiest tour offered at Mammoth Cave National Park. Don’t be fooled by the sketchy looking entryway: this is one of the most beautiful sections of Mammoth Cave . Within a small, dark, fourth-of-a-mile stretch, you’ll see wrangled beards of limestone, spirals of stalactites, and ice-like distortions of flowstone. Your tour guide will brief you on the geology of Mammoth Cave , the story behind the Frozen Niagara entrance, and some of the keystone species you might see at Mammoth Cave National Park (this part of the cavern is usually crawling with cave crickets).

ESTIMATED TIME: 1.25 Hours (Allot 1.5 hours) STAIRS: 12 With Optional 98 Stairs To The Drapery Room EFFORT: Easy COST: $18.00 Per Adult PHOBIA WARNINGS: Arachnophobia, Nyctophobia, Agoraphobia

Cleaveland Avenue Tour

photo of the endlessness of Mammoth Cave from the perspective of the Cleaveland Avenue tour

The Cleaveland Avenue Tour is one of the most underrated Mammoth Cave tours. If you’re visiting Mammoth Cave for the first time and want to get a feel for the length of Mammoth Cave without the stress of a large group size, this is the tour I’d recommend the most! Be warned: there are lots of steps up front and towards the end. But the path in-between is nice and gentle and compact . It’s a hike that’s strenuous in bursts, more tiring than difficult . And the reward is floral gypsum , white petals of calcium sulfate that choke cracks and crevices. You’ll amble and ramble and snap photos. And as you stroll through Cleaveland Avenue, your tour guide will introduce you to Mammoth Cave’s geology, topology, and history .

ESTIMATED TIME: 2 Hours STAIRS: 400 EFFORT: Moderate COST: $22.00 Per Adult PHOBIA WARNINGS: Nyctophobia, Claustrophobia, Agoraphobia

Grand Avenue Tour

tall, dark moody photo from one of the longest Mammoth Cave tours

The Grand Avenue Tour is intense. It’s stair after stair, incline after incline. You’ll trek through sparkling passageways and squeeze into slot canyons and amble past rich tapestries of flowstone. You’ll experience Mammoth Cave to the fullest – its highs and lows, its dimness and darkness, its emptiness and too-muchness. Grand Avenue’s variation alone it makes it one of the best mammoth cave tours, but it’s also one of the most difficult . The pace tends to be slow and unhurried ( there are even restroom breaks) to accommodate, but the length will absolutely test your legs. This tour is long. You’ll spend half-a-day in a cool, dark, seemingly endless underground . At times, the landscape will feel (and look) hellish. But if you love caves and enjoy Stairmaster challenges, you’ll feel right at home in this tour.

ESTIMATED TIME: 4 Hours (Allot 4.5) STAIRS: 1313 EFFORT: Strenuous COST: $35.00 Per Adult PHOBIA WARNINGS: Claustrophobia, Acrophobia, Arachnophobia, Nyctophobia, Agoraphobia

Violet City Lantern Tour

dramatic handheld light by a ranger's foot illustrating The Violet City lantern tour

Whilst at Mammoth Cave National Park, I tried asking as many park rangers as I could find what their favorite tour was. The overwhelming response? The Violet City Lantern Tour . This is one the most dramatic Mammoth Cave tours. Here’s what I love about it: Violet City swoops you back in time to an era of early exploration , an era where your eyes depended on the soft, intimate glow of lantern-light . So as you hold up your lantern to Mammoth Cave’s water-cut nooks and crannies, you’ll tap into the past. But you’ll also focus on the little details – the here-and-now, the what-was and what-could-be.

ESTIMATED TIME: 3 Hours STAIRS: 160 EFFORT: Moderate COST: $25.00 Per Adult PHOBIA WARNINGS: Claustrophobia, Acrophobia, Nyctophobia, Agoraphobia

Gothic Avenue Tour

monuments and shadow cast historical graffiti from one of my favorite mammoth cave tours, the Gothic Avenue Tour

One of my favorite Mammoth Cave tours was the Gothic Avenue Tour (which to me felt a lot like The Historic Tour without the severe claustrophobia moments). The Gothic Avenue tour is dark and moody . It’s theatrical in its form and shape. Spheres of light are cast onto historic graffiti burned into Mammoth Cave’s walls. Monuments (old Jenga-ed stacks of rocks) are strewn along the edge of the trails. You’ll see broody stalactites and stalagmites droop down below blackened shadows. You’ll crescent moon around a dramatic ring of formations (known as The Bridal Altar), which devilishly drips down to hard, compact ground. The atmosphere of Gothic Avenue is gloomy and eerie. Go in October if you can (this is the perfect tour to take during spooky season).

ESTIMATED TIME: 2 Hours STAIRS: 160 EFFORT: Easy COST: $19.00 Per adult PHOBIA WARNINGS: Nyctophobia, Agoraphobia

River Styx Tour

I was told by a park ranger that the River Styx Tour is often touted as one of the most underwhelming tours at Mammoth Cave. “It’s because people expect to go down to the water,” he said. And while you do see water on the River Styx tour , you see it from above . You catch a small glimpse of it (just a glimpse). Know that this is less of a river tour, and mostly a mashup of many other Mammoth Cave tours . The River Styx trek (which is slick and muddy and wet in some areas) covers the entire Historic Route (truth be told, I was not looking forward to walking through Fat Man’s Misery again). It also injects some elements of the Violet City Lantern Tour and the Mammoth Passage Tour.

ESTIMATED TIME: 2.5 Hours (Allot 3) STAIRS: 600 EFFORT: Moderately strenuous COST: $22.00 Per adult PHOBIA WARNINGS: Claustrophobia, Nyctophobia, Acrophobia, Agoraphobia

Domes & Dripstones Tour

Mammoth Cave's deepness captured at one of the stopping points along the Domes & Dripstones tour

Like Frozen Niagara, Domes & Dripstones walks you through some of the prettiest sections of Mammoth Cave. It’s a lot more strenuous than Frozen Niagara though (according to the ranger who led our tour, this is the hike he’s seen the most people end up in need of medical evacuation – eeeep ). And after negotiating the steps past the entrance, I could see why. On the Domes & Dripstones tour, you knock out 280 stairs in the initial descent . The steps get smaller and smaller as you go farther and farther down. At the choke points, my feet were barely covered by the stairs. But wow, oh wow, once the stairs taper off, you’ll see one of the most beautiful sides to Mammoth Cave. This portion of Mammoth Cave isn’t dry and clean-cut. It’s moist and layered and filled with formations .

Side Note: I definitely felt like I gained the most knowledge from this tour. There were two ranger-led “Ask Me Anything” moments where our group got an opportunity to sit down on a handful of benches (arranged classroom-style right in the cave) and shoot questions. Y’all, I learned so much from the open-ended style of these portions, so if you’re looking to grasp more of the history and geology of Mammoth Cave, I highly recommend this tour!

ESTIMATED TIME: 2 Hours (Allot 2.5) STAIRS: 500 EFFORT: Strenuous COST: $21.00 Per Adult PHOBIA WARNINGS: Claustrophobia, Nyctophobia, Acrophobia, Agoraphobia

Self-Guided Tour

mass of people walking in and out of the Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave along The Mammoth Passage Tour

For a quick in-then-out jaunt into Mammoth Cave, opt for the self-guided tour . You still need a ticket (first come, first served), but once you’ve strode down past the Historic Entrance, you can walk around and read the placards at your own pace . This is a popular option for those planning a last-minute stopover at Mammoth Cave.

The self-guided tour showcases a large , wide open, level snapshot of Mammoth Cave, making it more accessible to people who might experience claustrophobia, acrophobia, and agoraphobia. There is a guided version of this tour too ( The Mammoth Passage Tour ), but if you get a chance, try booking one of the other Mammoth Cave tours on this list instead (for a more in-depth Mammoth Cave experience)!

ESTIMATED TIME: 20-30 Minutes STAIRS: 130 COST: $8.00 Per Adult EFFORT: Easy

Wild Cave Tour

While I do not intend on going on any of the crawling tours at Mammoth Cave (I looked at one of the holes you have to squeeze whilst on another tour and no, just no), I do still want to mention one crawling tour in this guide. Here’s why: everyone I spoke to who has done the Wild Cave Tour in the past has absolutely loved it. Apparently, you crawl on your hands and knees and push your body through small gaps in the ground. You don’t just get to see Mammoth Cave, you get to feel it. The Wild Cave tour offers a tactile way to experience Mammoth Cave. It’s supposed to be fun and challenging and adventurous .

ESTIMATED TIME: 4 Hours EFFORT: Very Strenuous PHOBIA WARNINGS: Claustrophobia, Nyctophobia, ACROPHOBIA, Agoraphobia COST: $46.00 Per adult

sincerely anshula

Did you find this guide to the best Mammoth Cave tours helpful? Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments below! As always, I love hearing from you.

Pack With Me (WHAT I BROUGHT TO MAMMOTH CAVE)

  • 🥾 Merrell Moab 2 : these shoes got me through every tour in Mammoth Cave
  • 💧 Hydroflask : I brought this stainless steel water bottle (keep in mind, only clear water bottles are allowed on Mammoth Cave tours, but I didn’t feel like buying a new one and no one commented on my bottle being opaque ☺️).
  • 🥜 Sahale : since no food was allowed in the cave, I kept this nut mix in my car and snacked on it after each tour (Sahale’s pomegranate vanilla cashews have my heart and soul 😋)
  • 🧣 Light Sweater : Mammoth Cave tends to be a bit cold (in the mid 50s) so I opted for a light, long-sleeved, breathable sweater
  • 📷 Sony Alpha a6400 : this is the mirrorless camera I personally used to take photos and film videos (I love that it has a flip-out screen)
  • 🎒 Sling Backpack : this comfy little crossbody canvas rucksack was (and still is) my go-to day hiking bag

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Editor-In-Chief

Anshula grew up with a love of stories and places. Thirty-five states and 100 bookstores later, she's made her hobbit home in Middle Tennessee. Her Tookish side still takes over and leaves her chasing window seats, literary destinations, adventure books, sunrise coffee, and indie bookshops. She's appeared as a travel source on HuffPost, Reader's Digest, and MSN.

You describe places in a way that inspires me to travel and see the world. Thank you very much for that! Greetings from Canada.

Your firsthand info and perspective of each cave tour was very helpful, thanks!

Thank you so much for these reviews and assessments the physical demands of them. So very helpful!!!

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Beginning to form more than 10 million years ago, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world . There are more than 400 miles of caves running under Kentucky, and that is just what has been mapped.

Mammoth Cave is one of the Natural Wonders of the United States, alongside Niagara Falls, Hawaii Volcano Natural Park, Devil’s Tower, Old Faithful, Crater Lake, and Death Valley

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave was created by limestone erosion, also known as karst topography . During this process, rain and rivers dissolve and shape soft limestone, creating a vast system of caves.

Fun fact: Karst Aquifers like Mammoth Cave provide drinking water for about 40% of the entire U.S. population.

Ultimate Guide to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (Tours, Pricing, History, Map) article cover image with entrance to cave

How Big is Mammoth Cave?

While the surface of Mammoth Cave National Park covers nearly 80 square miles, no one knows how big the underside is. The cave system is five levels and more than 365 miles of it has been mapped, though new caves are always being discovered.

Mammoth Cave Tours

Over 2 million people visit Mammoth Cave National Park every year. About 1/4 of those people take a cave tour . 10 miles of passages are available for tours.

There are many different tour options to explore the caves at Mammoth Cave National Park, ranging in the time it takes (2-6 hours in length) as well as the difficulty of the tours. These tours are perfect to get out of the humid Kentucky heat. Park rangers lead these tours.

Ultimate Guide to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (Tours, Pricing, History, Map) frozen Niagara tour

Frozen Niagara Tour is not only the most popular, but is the perfect tour for those with trouble walking, or just don’t like having to hike to see the caves. 

The Frozen Niagara tour is a very steep walk up and down a paved road, but it’s only a quarter of a mile and there are several benches along the way.

Mammoth Cave Accessibility Tour is another cave tour perfect for those who cannot climb stairs, or have difficulty walking. Drive your car to the elevator entrance, and take the elevator down to the cave.

The paths are concrete and fairly level for wheelchairs and scooters. Bring your own flashlight, as the path isn’t very well lit. This is a two-hour tour with a maximum distance of a quarter of a mile. 

The only downfall to this tour is that it caps at 14 people, and can be canceled at any time if the elevator malfunctions, as this is the sole mode of transportation into the cave for those with wheelchairs.

Historic Tour is a two-hour, two-mile tour that dives deep within the caves to show the beauty behind this National Park. This tour is paved, and you don’t see as many formations as on the other tours.

Although this is a moderate hike, it is not for the faint of heart, as there are 540 stairs and only one way through. In addition, if you’re tall you will need to duck quite a bit, and some sections are so narrow your knees will touch as you squeeze through.

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Domes and Dripstones Tour is a route for the science lover. It goes down about 250 feet and is tight in some spots. At 2 hours and ¾ of a mile, this gives visitors the perfect opportunity to view stalactites and stalagmites. 

The only issue some may have with this route is the 540 stairs that it takes to get underground, but this tour is perfect in the summer, as it is cooler at this depth.

Violet City Lantern Tour is not for a family with children. This tour has an age restriction as it is longer, and more unsteady with no lights except the lanterns that are carried. 

The Violet City Lantern Tour is a 3 hour, 3-mile hike into a historical cave that has been around for centuries. Unfortunately, this cave does not have a restroom as it is still in its natural state, so go to the bathroom topside before you head down.

Great Onyx Lantern Tour, separate from the Violet City Lantern Tour, is a longer passage for the science lover as there are many unique rock formations in this cave. 

link to article on white nose disease in bats

This cave tour is less than 2 and a half hours long, and is only a mile long, but does have an age restriction of 6 years old. 

Gothic Avenue Tour is for the historian in the group. This tour has many beautiful formations in a museum-like area, with artifacts left behind from those who have once traveled through this area. The Gothic Avenue tour is 2 hours, and a mile and a half long.

River Styx Tour is perfect for those who want to see the formation of the cave, and who don’t mind getting their feet a bit wet. In this tour, you can observe the many years of wear on the walls, and see what’s left of the water still in the cave. The River Styx Tour is geared towards those who love natural history. This tour is 2 and a half hours, and 2 miles long.

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Mammoth Cave Tour Prices and Discounts  

Although the park itself is free to get into, there are many affordable tours to give a more in-depth look into the caves, as well as the opportunity to camp on site.

  • The Frozen Niagara Tour is $14 for adults and $10 for children or $7 for pass holders
  • The Historic Tour is $17 for adults and $12 for children or $8.50 for pass holders
  • The Domes and Dripstones Tour is $17 for adults and $12 for children for $8.50 for pass holders
  • The Gothic Avenue Tour is $15 for adults and $10 for children or $7.50 for pass holders.
  • The Great Onyx Lantern Tour is $20 for adults and $15 for children or $10 for pass holders
  • The Violet City Lantern Tour is $15 for adults and $10 for children or $10 for pass holders
  • The River Styx Tour is $18 for adults and $13 for children or $9 for pass holders

Is Mammoth Cave Cold?

It’s a cool (or cold, if you’re from Arizona) 54 degrees year-round inside the cave. In the “variable temperature zones” close to the entrances, wind chills in winter can dip below freezing, or temperatures can rise to around 60°.

Ultimate Guide to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (Tours, Pricing, History, Map) Mammoth cave tour

What to Wear

No matter which tour you take, be sure to wear hiking boots or good shoes with nonskid soles. Bring a jacket, because it’s chilly underground.

IMPORTANT: In an effort to prevent more deaths from White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), clothing, footwear, and handheld items that have previously been worn in caves or mines in certain areas may not be brought into Mammoth Cave .

White-Nose Syndrome is a disease in bats that is tragically killing bats by the millions. Read more about why bats are so vital to our lives here.

Mammoth Cave Hours

Hours vary by day and season; see a full list here . Reservations are strongly encouraged during the summer months and on holidays, including weekends in the Spring and Fall.

Mammoth Cave Kentucky is on Central time, so be sure to plan accordingly if you’re coming from another time zone!

What to do at Mammoth Cave (besides tours)

Don’t skip the tour, because you’ll definitely regret it, but there are other activities at Mammoth Cave National Park. You can hike and ride horses on more than 70 miles of trails. Much like at other National Parks, you can also fish, canoe, camp, and picnic.

Mammoth Cave Horse Riding

North of the Green River, you’ll find sixty miles of trails open for horseback riding. You may park your trailer at Lincoln Trailhead, Maple Springs Trailhead, or across the road from the Maple Springs Campground bulletin board. The trails at Mammoth Cave National Park are well-marked and well-maintained.

Download the free horseback riding trail map , courtesy of NPS.

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Mammoth Cave Camping

Most campsites at Mammoth Caves National Park are $20 a site, and the VIP campsites that are a lot nicer are $50. If you are planning to bring your horses along, you can get an equestrian campsite for $25.

To reserve a campsite, go online or call the National Park Reservation Service at (877)444-6777.

Ultimate Guide to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (Tours, Pricing, History, Map) Mammoth Cave Church

More to do at Mammoth Cave National Park

This beautiful park features more than 52,000 acres, meaning the possibilities are endless when finding things to do:

  • The Big Woods : get a glimpse of the uncut forest of Old Kentucky.
  • Turnhole Bend : the “turnhole”, once used by riverboat pilots to turn around in the narrow river.
  • Good Spring Church: A silent sanctuary that echoes memories of a past community.

No matter what you plan to do at Mammoth Cave, take a few days to explore… it’s worth it!

Best Time to Visit Mammoth Caves

The average temperature inside Mammoth Cave is 54 degrees year-round. Even with the air temps in Kentucky dropping into the lower 30’s during the winter, the temperatures in the cave only fluctuate slightly. This means that it is warmer in the cave than it is outside during the winter and cooler in the cave during the summer months.

Camping at Mammoth Caves National Park is open all year long. So plan your trip today and enjoy a tour of the most famous cave system in the world.

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How to Get to Mammoth Cave

The best way to describe how to get to Mammoth Cave is from their website .

From the North:  Take Interstate 65 to Exit 53 (Cave City Exit). Turn right onto KY-70. Follow 70/255 as it becomes the Mammoth Cave Parkway in the park. Follow the Mammoth Cave Parkway to the Visitor Center.

From the South:  Take Interstate 65 to Exit 48 (Park City Exit). Turn left onto KY-255 and follow 255 as it becomes the Park City Road into the park. Follow Park City Road until it joins the Mammoth Cave Parkway; turn left. Follow the Mammoth Cave Parkway to the Visitor Center.

Do not rely exclusively on your GPS or Google Maps™ to get you to the park Visitor Center in time for your Cave Tour. Follow the directions above.

Hotels Near Mammoth Cave

Not a fan of camping? There are several hotels within a short drive of Mammoth Cave.

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Places To Stay Nearby

History of mammoth cave.

The majority of the mapping at Mammoth Cave was done by slaves. Public tours of Mammoth Cave started in the early 1800s. Slaves led tours as early as 1830.

Stephen Bishop

Stephen Bishop, a freed slave, worked in Mammoth Cave from 1838 until 1856. Bishop crossed a frightening landmark now known as the Bottomless Pit , to discover unmapped areas of this cave system with nothing more than a flickering lard-oil lamp to guide his way.

During the War of 1812, slaves were used to mine saltpeter from the sediment in the cave. Saltpeter was used to create gunpowder.

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Stephen Bishop was unquestionably one of the greatest explorers Mammoth Cave has ever known. He was in his late teens when he was brought to Mammoth Cave in 1838. He learned the toured routes from white guides Joe Shackelford and Archibald Miller Jr. However, Stephen Bishop ventured beyond the toured areas and discovered many miles of the Mammoth Cave no eye had ever seen. The gateway for modern exploration of the cave could be attributed to Stephen’s crossing of a deep vertical shaft known as the Bottomless Pit. (Source)

Bishop, who took the name of his previous master, is buried near the cave entrance in the Old Guide’s Cemetery, along with several of his family members.

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Learn more: Journey to the Bottomless Pit, the Story of Stephen Bishop & Mammoth Cave

Underground Tuberculosis Hospital

The cemetery also holds the remains of several Tuberculosis patients that passed there. In the early 19th century, the owner of the cave, Dr. Croghan, established an underground tuberculosis hospital. He believed the steady temperature and humidity would heal their lungs. Patients lived in the small stone structures inside the cave, with canvas roofs.

Unfortunately, the experiment was a failure and that was evident within just a few months. A few years later, Dr. Croghan himself died of TB. You can view the structures where the patients lived if you take the Violet City Lantern Tour.

mammoth cave river styx tour

Stalactites  form when water containing dissolved calcium bicarbonate from the limestone rock drips from the ceiling of a cave. As the water comes into contact with the air, some of the calcium bicarbonate precipitates back into limestone to form a tiny ring, which gradually elongates to form a stalactite. (Source)

Geological Cave Formations in Mammoth Cave

There are several cave formations you will see when you visit this cave, most notably:

  • stalactites
  • stalagmites
  • travertine dams
  • gypsum formations

You could spend a week in Mammoth Cave National Park and see and learn more than you could ever imagine!

Wildlife in Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park is home to over 70 threatened or endangered species, including birds, crustaceans, fish, insects, mammals, mussels, reptiles, and plants.

More than 130 species of animals live in the Mammoth Cave system. Currently, 12 species of bats live within the caves. Bats species include the Indiana Bat and the Eastern Pipistrelle Bat, both of which are endangered.

Mammoth Caves National Park is home to the largest colony of bats in the United States , but unfortunately, the numbers have been dwindling. There is a disease called the white-nose disease which is a fungus that grows on the skin of bats and has wiped out 90% of the bats at Mammoth Caves.

Aside from bats, it is also home to fish that have adapted to being underground. Some of the unique fish species found in the cave are Indiana Eyeless Crayfish, Southern Cave Fish, and Albino Shrimp.

Due to the lack of light, many species of fish have developed a white color, and many are being bred without eyes as a form of evolution. Because these fish cannot see, they have adapted to utilize their sense of smell and hearing to survive, rendering their eyes useless.

The Mammoth Caves National Park is a great place to explore a natural exhibit, go camping, and enjoy the outdoors. It’s cheap and a great way to sneak away from work and life for a week with family and friends.

Download our FREE Mammoth Cave Guide (Unofficial)

Is mammoth cave haunted.

One of the most frequently asked questions about Mammoth Cave is if it’s haunted or not. Many deaths have happened in this cave system, though the exact number of deaths is unknown.

Mummified remains have been found in different areas of the cave, along with pottery, primitive tools, and other remnants of the past .

In 1925, Floyd Collins became trapped (and died) while mapping out a previously unexplored area of Mammoth Cave (the “lonely sandstone cave”). Several slaves and TB patients also died in this cave.

Mammoth Cave is considered one of the most haunted places in the world! Many have claimed they sense spirits when visiting.

Visiting Mammoth Cave

Still, need more information before visiting? Call (270)758-2180 or email the NPS for an information packet.

PIN IT FOR LATER!

Mammoth Cave Kentucky Tours Prices History

9 thoughts on “ Ultimate Guide to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (Tours, Pricing, History, Map) ”

[…] broken barbed wire, but you don’t even need to climb over it to get to the cave. There are no tours with this cave, as most likely there will be nobody in sight when you arrive. With that being said, if you do […]

[…] a week, the brewery is closed to allow for the owners to focus on the history of the caves, and give tours for $10 a person. Over the past 2 years, they have taken about 40,000 people on a […]

[…] it was not until a few years later that the cave was toured and discovered more in full. There was a newspaper ad searching for explorers, and five women […]

[…] process of the acid in the groundwater slowly breaking it down. We have talked about other Karst Caves like Mammoth Cave National Park, of […]

[…] Mammoth Cave […]

[…] is the historic candle-lit lantern tour through an undeveloped section of the cave on unpaved trails. If you are visually challenged, you need to know it might be too dim […]

[…] over 300 miles of underground trails, Mammoth Cave National Park is the longest cave system in the […]

This is a great guide! I’m from Kentucky and have been to Mammoth Cave a few times, but this will be my first time taking a tour. I’m excited to learn more!

Have fun! 🙂

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Alerts in effect, other cave tours.

There is a fee for this tour. When tickets are sold, the time on the tickets will be the last time you can enter the cave. This tour has designated multiple hours that you can enter the cave, between the time you bought the ticket and the last time being the one displayed on your ticket. Please do not wait until the last minute to use the ticket. Many people visiting Mammoth Cave ask, “May we visit the cave without a guided tour?” The answer is yes! This self-guided tour requires a ticket, and proceeds into the Historic Entrance. Focusing on early history and prehistory of the cave, this section of cave houses many great artifacts. This tour is ideal for people wanting to move at their own pace or are looking for a cave experience without much time commitment. This tour is the self-guided version of the guided Mammoth Passage Tour. Includes part of the Historic Tour and all of the Mammoth Passage Tour routes. Please Note: Advance tickets are not available. Duration: 0.5 hours Distance: 0.75 miles (1.2 km) Total Stairs: 135 Difficulty: Easy Ages: All ages. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: Unlimited Fees: $12 Adults, $9 Youth, $6 Senior Pass Holder, $6 Access Pass Holder.

Domes & Dripstones Tour

This classic tour visits areas of Mammoth Cave that have been used for nearly 100 years. This tour begins in a sinkhole, passes through huge domes, amazing breakdown, and ends in the dripstone section known as Frozen Niagara. Please note that this tour ascends and descends hundreds of stairs and several steep inclines, which can be difficult for many visitors, as there are no alternative routes. Focusing on the natural formation of the cave, this tour is ideal for people interested in science and wanting to see stalactites and stalagmites. This tour requires a short bus ride to and from the visitor center to the cave entrance. This tour includes the entire Frozen Niagara Tour route and a small portion of the Grand Avenue Tour route. Duration: 2 hours Distance: 0.75 miles (1.2 km) Total Stairs: 640 , including 280 on the initial staircase descent and an optional 96 Difficulty: Difficult Ages: All ages. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 110 Fees: $30 Adults, $25 Youth, $15 Senior Pass Holder, $15 Access Pass Holder.

Extended Historic Tour

This tour is not currently available. Enjoy this Historic Tour with a bonus side trip to one of the sites of the famous 1840s Mammoth Cave experiment to treat consumption. This tour is ideal for people who want a Historic Tour and have a little extra time to spend in the cave. Portions of this tour are also seen on the Violet City Lantern, Star Chamber and Gothic Avenue Tours. Duration: 2.25 hours Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) Total Stairs: 540, including 155 at Mammoth Dome Difficulty: Moderate Ages: All ages. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: Yes Tickets available for each tour time: 60 Fees: $27 Adults, $21 Youth, $13.50 Senior Pass Holder, $13.50 Access Pass Holder.

Focus on Frozen Niagara Photo Tour

This tour is not currently available. Want more time in the most photographed area of Mammoth Cave to get that perfect picture? If so, this is the tour for you. This tour is specifically designed to allow picture takers more amounts of time to capture images of this beautifully decorated area than they normally would during the other tours that traverse through this area. This tour occurs after the visitor center closes and no other tours will be utilizing this section of Mammoth Cave during this activity. Tripods are allowed on this activity! This section of cave is seen in its entirety on the Domes and Dripstones, New Entrance, Introduction to Caving and Wild Cave Tours. Duration: 1.5 hours Distance: 0.25 miles (0.4 km) Total Stairs: 12, plus an optional 98 Difficulty: Easy Ages: All ages. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 39 Fees: $16 Adults, $12 Youth, $8 Senior Pass Holder, $8 Access Pass Holder.

Frozen Niagara Tour

The naturally decorated Frozen Niagara section remains one of the most famous at Mammoth Cave, and serves as the last stop for a variety of cave tours. While many tours require long hikes and numerous stairs to reach this point, this short tour offers a chance to visit this area. This tour is ideal for anyone with difficulty walking long distances or negotiating stairs. This tour requires a short bus ride to and from the visitor center to the cave entrance. This section of cave is seen in its entirety on the Domes and Dripstones, Grand Avenue, Introduction to Caving and Wild Cave Tours. Duration: 1.25 hours Distance: 0.25 miles (0.4 km) Total Stairs: 64, plus an optional 98 Difficulty: Easy Ages: All ages. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 34 Fees: $26 Adults, $22 Youth, $13 Senior Pass Holder, $13 Access Pass Holder.

Gothic Avenue Tour

Gothic Avenue was named because of its unusual rock formations resembling Gothic architecture, and was the site of some of the earliest 19th century tourism. Early visitors left behind signatures, artifacts, and monuments in this area of the cave, which also features stalactites and stalagmites. This tour focuses on 1800s tourism and uses of Mammoth Cave, and is ideal for people with a high interest in history. Portions of this tour are also seen on the Star Chamber, Historic and Violet City Lantern Tours. Duration: 2 hours Distance: 1.7 miles (2.74 km) Total Stairs: 170 Difficulty: Moderate Ages: All ages. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 40 Fees: $23 Adults, $19 Youth, $11.50 Senior Pass Holder, $11.50 Access Pass Holder. Tickets: 40

Grand Avenue Tour

This tour is not currently available. At 4 hours long, this lengthy tour explores the geologic diversity of what Mammoth Cave has to offer. Going through slot canyons, tubular passageways, tall canyons, and tunnels sparkled with gypsum. This tour also encounters hundreds of steps and ascends and descends many tall, incredibly steep hills.  Covering a wide variety of the history and geology of Mammoth Cave, this tour is ideal for those wishing for a lengthy, half-day hike inside of the cave.  This tour requires a short bus ride to and from the visitor center to the cave entrance. This tour includes the entire Frozen Niagara Tour route and all of the Domes and Dripstones Tour except for the 280 stairs descending the vertical shafts at the entrance. Duration: 4 hours Distance: 4 miles (6.4 km) Total Stairs: 1521 pluse an optional 98 Difficulty: Strenuous Ages: 6 years and older. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: Yes Tickets available for each tour time: 78 Fees: $42 Adults, $34 Youth, $21 Senior Pass Holder, $21 Access Pass Holder.

Grand Historic Tour

This tour is not currently available. Experience the history of Mammoth Cave as never before! This four-hour tour will provide visitors the experience of traveling through the past as they learn about those who first discovered the cave, its first uses, early tourism, and the cave exploration that continues today. Visit some of the cave's most iconic landmarks such as Giant's Coffin, Bottomless Pit, Tuberculosis Huts, River Styx, and Mammoth Dome. It's an adventure thousands of years in the making!

Great Onyx Lantern Tour

This tour is not currently available. A beautiful cave in its own right, Great Onyx Cave houses an abundance of beautiful geologic formations that sparkle in the lantern light of this tour. Visitors on this tour can see many stalactites, stalagmites, gypsum crystals, and helictites. This cave was also the site of very important cultural history in the early days of Kentucky cave tourism. This tour is ideal for people with an interest in cave tourism history and unusual rock formations. Please note: this tour is in Great Onyx Cave, which is separate from Mammoth Cave.   This tour requires a short bus ride to and from the visitor center to the cave entrance. Please Note: This cave is toured within Mammoth Cave National Park, but is not known to connect with the Mammoth Cave System. Duration: 2.25 hours Distance: 1 miles (1.6 km) Total Stairs: 82 Difficulty: Moderate Ages: 6 years and older. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 38 Fees: $31 Adults, $26 Youth, $15.50 Senior Pass Holder, $15.50 Access Pass Holder.

Historic Tour

This classic Mammoth Cave Tour visits many of the historic areas that originally made Mammoth Cave famous. Going through tunnels that humans have used for thousands of years, this tour not only explores huge rooms that gave Mammoth Cave its name, but also descends to much tighter places deep inside the cave. Please note that this tour ascends and descends hundreds of stairs and several steep inclines, which can be difficult for many visitors, as there are no alternative routes. This tour is ideal for people with an interest in history and a sense of adventure.   Portions of this tour are also seen on the Violet City Lantern, Star Chamber and Gothic Avenue Tours. It is seen in its entirety on the River Styx Tour. Duration: 2 hours Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) Total Stairs: 540, including 155 at Mammoth Dome Difficulty: Moderate Ages: All ages. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: Yes Tickets available for each tour time: 110 Fees: $24 Adults, $18 Youth, $12 Senior Pass Holder, $12 Access Pass Holder.

Introduction to Caving Tour

This tour is not currently available. Offering an off-trail experience. This tour crawls and climbs through hard-to-reach areas for 3.5 hours. Focusing on learning safe caving techniques, this tour explores parts of the cave difficult to access. Please note that due to the tight nature of some of the areas visited, chest and hip measurements must not exceed 42 inches in circumference. Lengthy amounts of time will be spent in tight crawl spaces and difficult climbs, with no alternative routes available. Please note, at 3.5 hours, there are no restroom facilities available on this tour. This tour is ideal for people who wish to perform a wide variety of challenging physical obstacles in a unique environment.   Lace-up hiking boots that cover the ankle are required. Boots must have good tread. No slick-soled footwear is permitted. No tennis shoes allowed. You will not be allowed to participate in the tour if you are not wearing proper footwear - no exceptions. Please bring an extra pair of tennis shoes or sandals for use during boot cleaning at the end of the tour. Requires at least 2 participants. In order to minimize the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a bat disease caused by an invasive fungus, Mammoth Cave National Park has instituted strict cleaning procedures for all off-trail crawling tours. All equipment (coveralls, helmets, knee pads and head lamps) are provided by the park. Visitors must provide their own footwear. No personal caving equipment allowed. No exceptions. Shorts and a t-shirt recommended for wear under required coveralls.  This tour requires a short bus ride to and from the visitor center to the cave entrance. Duration: 3.5 hours Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km) Total Stairs: 280+ Difficulty: Strenuous Ages: 10 years and older. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 20 Fees: $49.00 Adults, $42.00 Youth, $24.50 Special Access

Mammoth Passage Tour

This tour is not always offered. Please call the visitor center at 270-758-2180 on the day of your visit to check its availability.

An introductory tour into the Historic Entrance, this section of cave houses many great artifacts left behind by historic and prehistoric people. Staying along broad walkways in some of the largest rooms in Mammoth Cave, this tour is ideal for those who do not like tight spaces, have small children, or anyone looking for a tour with limited steps. This tour is the guided version of the Self-Guided Discovery Tour. Includes part of the Historic Tour and all of the Discovery Tour routes. Includes a steep outdoor hillside trail to and from the cave’s natural entrance. This tour does not see dripstone formation areas. Duration: 1.25 hours Distance: 0.75 miles (1.2 km) Total Stairs: 135 Difficulty: Easy Ages: All ages. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 70 Fees: $15 Adults, $13 Youth, $7.50 Senior Pass Holder, $7.50 Access Pass Holder

River Styx Cave Tour

This tour is not currently available. Following along the Historic Tour Route, this tour focuses on the unique geologic and natural history of Mammoth Cave. Including a brief side trip to the underground water level, this tour takes an in-depth look at the millions of years of formation of Mammoth Cave. This tour is ideal for visitors with a high interest in geology.  Please use extra caution when visiting the river level. To access this section of the cave the tour leaves modern tour trail to uneven terrain that may be wet, muddy, and/or slick. The tour route travels next to bodies of water, some of which can be very deep depending on river levels. Viewing of this area will also be conducted with electric lanterns and not the modern lighting system on the rest of the route. This tour covers the entire Historic Tour route. Limited sections of the Star Chamber, Violet City Lantern and Mammoth Passage are also seen. Duration: 2.5 hours Distance: 2.5 miles (4 km) Total Stairs: Approximately 600, including 155 at Mammoth Dome. Difficulty: Moderate Ages: 6 year and older. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: Yes Tickets available for each tour time: 4 0 Fees: $26 Adults, $20 Youth, $13 Senior Pass Holder, $13 Access Pass Holder.

Star Chamber Lantern Tour

This tour is not currently available. An evening tour in Mammoth Cave by lantern light, this tour winds its way to historic Star Chamber. Described as more of an experience tour than a sightseeing tour, the Star Chamber Tour explores historic sections of the cave in the lighting of the earliest explorers, emerging from the cave in late evening. Focusing on early history of Mammoth Cave, this tour includes a trip into Gothic Avenue. This tour is ideal for visitors wanting a unique way to experience the cave and its history. Portions of this tour are also seen on the Historic, River Styx and Gothic Avenue Tours. Only visitors age 16 and over may carry lanterns. To preserve the nostalgic atmosphere of the activity, there is no flashlight use permitted on this tour. Duration: 2.5 hours Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) Total Stairs: 170 Difficulty: Moderate Ages: 6 years and older. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 40 Fees: $30 Adults, $25 Youth, $15 Senior Pass Holder, $15 Access Pass Holder.

This tour is not currently available. An exciting off-trail crawling adventure for kids aged 8-12! This tour features a one-of-a kind way to experience the cave up-close-and-personal. Entering in the Historic Entrance, this tour leaves the main trail to a network of tight crawlways with amazing historic artifacts. Climbing over boulders, sliding down smooth rocks, and belly-crawling through tight tunnels, this tour is ideal for any child looking for a more adventurous trip inside of Mammoth Cave.   Parents, guardians and/or chaperones must attend the first and last 30 minutes of the tour to assist children in "suiting up" at the tour's beginning and assist with White Nose Syndrome shoe cleaning protocol at the end of the tour. Sturdy, athletic style, closed toe shoes required. Please bring extra pair of tennis shoes or sandals for use during shoe cleaning at the end of the tour. The tour meets at the hotel dorms near the tennis courts. It is recommended that tickets are picked up 30 minutes before tour departure. Due to the amount of time required to assist at the beginning and end of the tour, adults do not have time to take a concurrent guided cave tour or Self Guided. Parent or guardian must be reachable for the entire Trog tour duration in case of emergency. Requires at least 2 participants. In order to minimize the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a bat disease caused by an invasive fungus, Mammoth Cave National Park has instituted strict cleaning procedures for all off-trail crawling tours. All equipment (coveralls, helmets, knee pads and head lamps) are provided by the park. Visitors must provide their own footwear. No personal caving equipment allowed. No exceptions. Shorts and a t-shirt recommended for wear under required coveralls.  Duration: 2.75 hours Distance: 1.5 miles (2.4 km) Total Stairs: 200 Difficulty: Moderate Ages: 8 to 12 years. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 12 Fees: $25 Youth, $12.50 Access Pass Holder.

Violet City Lantern Tour

This tour is not currently available. A truly historic way to experience Mammoth Cave, this tour travels exclusively by lantern light. At three hours long, this tour winds through the history and prehistory of Mammoth Cave as you wander through huge, broad tunnels. This tour climbs and descends many incredibly steep hills on historic dirt trails as you experience the cave in the light of the earliest explorers. This tour is ideal for visitors who like to hike and are wanting a unique way to experience the cave.   This tour requires a short bus ride back to the visitor center from the cave exit. Portions of this tour are also seen on the Historic, River Styx and Mammoth Passage Tours. Only visitors age 16 and over may carry lanterns. Be prepared, the rugged nature of this tour possesses steep hills, low lighting, uneven terrain and no handrail or electric lighting infrastructure. To preserve the nostalgic nature of this tour, the use of flashlights is prohibited. Duration: 3 hours Distance: 3 miles (4.8 km) Total Stairs: 200 and numerous hills with no handrails. Difficulty: Difficult Ages: 6 years and older. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 38 Fees: $32 Adults, $27 Youth, $16 Senior Pass Holder, $16 Access Pass Holder.

Hiking boot showing ankle height.

Wild Cave Tour

This tour is not currently available.

Wild Cave and Introduction to Caving Requirements .

For safety purposes, boot tread MUST be a minimum of 1/4 inch in depth. And boot height MUST cover the ankle bone completely. If not, YOU WILL NOT be able to participate.

The most extreme tour offered at Mammoth Cave, this crawling tour is an all-day adventure underground. Focusing on a wide variety of topics such as the history of Mammoth Cave exploration, this tour is very physically demanding. Lengthy amounts of time will be spent crawling through extremely tight crawl spaces and climbing through difficult areas. This tour is ideal for people who wish to spend the entire day performing a wide variety of extremely challenging physical obstacles in a unique environment.  An adult must accompany visitors under age 18. Organized youth groups must have at least two adult representatives accompanying minor children. Chest or hip measurement must not exceed 42 inches; if you are larger you may not physically pass through the crawlspaces. Sturdy, lace-up hiking boots that cover the ankle are required. Boots with zippers will not be admitted on the tour. Boots must have good aggressive tread. No slick-soled footwear is permitted. No tennis shoes allowed. You will not be allowed to participate in the tour if you are not wearing proper footwear - no exceptions. Please bring an extra pair of tennis shoes or sandals for use during boot cleaning at the end of the tour. There will be no food service in the Snowball Room. Visitors will need to bring their own lunch or snacks. A small fannypack is provided. Requires at least 2 participants. There will be no refund for showing up at the park with the wrong requirements. In order to minimize the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a bat disease caused by an invasive fungus, Mammoth Cave National Park has instituted strict cleaning procedures for all off-trail crawling tours. All equipment (coveralls, helmets, knee pads and head lamps) are provided by the park. Visitors must provide their own footwear. No personal caving equipment allowed. No exceptions. Shorts and a t-shirt recommended for wear under required coveralls.  This tour requires a short bus ride to and from the visitor center to the cave entrance. Duration: 6 hours Distance: 5 miles (8 km) Total Stairs: Approximately 500 Difficulty: Strenuous Ages: 16 years and older. Restrooms: Yes Tickets available for each tour time: 14 Fees: $79 Adults, N/A Youth, $39.5 Senior Pass Holder, $39.50 Access Pass Holder

Wondering Woods Tour

This tour is not currently available. Take a leisurely bus ride with a ranger across the park landscape and learn about the communities and people that were once here. After a short bus ride, enjoy a hike in the Tranquil Valley of Wondering Woods. At the end of the hike, a short cave tour awaits you where you'll be surrounded by beautiful cave formation! This tour requires a short bus ride to and from the visitor center to the cave entrance. Please Note: This cave is toured within Mammoth Cave National Park, but is not known to connect with the Mammoth Cave System. Duration: 1.5 hours Distance: 1 miles (1.6 km) Total Stairs: 194 includes 54 being optional Difficulty: Moderate Ages: All Ages Restrooms: No Tickets available for each tour time: 30 Fees: $26 Adults, $22 Youth, $13 Senior Pass Holder, $13 Access Pass Holder.

Last updated: March 14, 2024

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18 Best Things to Do in Mammoth Cave National Park | Our Top Recommendations

mammoth cave river styx tour

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Note: The Travel Awaits team regularly updates content to provide the latest, and most accurate information to our readers. The updated content in this article may not reflect the views or opinions of the original author.

Mammoth : Of enormous size, extent, or amount; huge. Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park lives up to its name.

It’s the world’s longest cave system. So far, explorers have mapped 412 miles of the cave, the distance from Boston to Baltimore. Explorers are still discovering new passages, and they say no end is in sight. Mammoth Cave hosts 130 animal species and thousands of years of human history.

But the park isn’t only about the cave. Explore the Green River and Nolin River valleys via the park’s numerous backcountry trails and waterways. The park is busiest in the summer. Winter offers fewer tours, but far fewer crowds.

UNESCO has recognized the area as a World Heritage Site and created the Mammoth Cave Biosphere Region.

The park entrance is near Interstate 65, 90 miles from Louisville and half an hour from Bowling Green. (We recommend Louisville as one of America’s most affordable cities to visit.)

Note: Do not trust navigation devices to take you to the park. Use the park’s directions.

A guided tour of Mammoth Cave National Park.

Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock

18 Best Things to Do in Mammoth Cave National Park

In Greek mythology, Hades was the god of the underworld, including all the wealth buried underground, such as minerals and fertile soil. When you’re under the ground in Mammoth Cave, you’ll feel the weight of the land above you. And, as in Hades’ realm, you’ll find numerous treasures waiting below the earth. Cave tours range from the fully-accessible, no-stairs Mammoth Cave Accessible Tour to the strenuous all-day Wild Cave Tour.

The surface is Demeter’s realm. She was the Greek goddess of fertility and agriculture. Explore her realm on foot, bike, or horseback through Kentucky’s lush landscape. Paddle the Green and Nolin rivers and catch fish.

Explore Hades’ Realm On A Cave Tour

Don’t expect massive displays of stalactites and stalagmites in Mammoth. Shale and sandstone caprock prevent dripping surface water from creating them. Instead, Mammoth’s marvel is the gargantuan size of the rooms within the cave. Tours often sell out. For peace of mind, make reservations . The cave’s temperature stays at 54 degrees. Bring a jacket.

Fun Fact : To distinguish between stalactites and stalagmites, remember this: Stalactites hold tightly to the ceiling, while stalagmites might reach the ceiling someday.

Mammoth offers 20 tours, although not all are offered every day.

1. Explore A Bottomless Pit Of History

Start your day with the 2.25-hour Extended Historic Tour. Be prepared for 2 miles of walking and 540 stairs. The rangers will share many fascinating stories during the historic tour, but Stephen Bishop’s story was our favorite.

Before the Civil War, enslaved guides led tours and explored many miles of the cave. Stephen Bishop was the first Mammoth guide, and he trained other guides. Among many exploits, he extended a ladder across the 105-foot-deep Bottomless Pit, held a lantern in his teeth, and crawled to the other side. His signature in candle smoke adorns many areas of the cave that frighten even modern cavers.

Fun Fact : Bishop is buried in the park’s Old Guide’s Cemetery, along with three tuberculosis patients who died in the cave. In 1842, tuberculosis patients lived in huts in the cave, part of an experimental treatment.

Frozen Niagara at Mammoth Cave National Park.

2. Domes And Dripstones: Where Niagara Is Frozen

In the afternoon, join the 2-hour Domes and Dripstones Tour for the cave’s best formations. The tour starts in a sinkhole, meanders through gigantic domes, ending at Frozen Niagara. The tour requires three-quarters of a mile of walking and includes 500 stairs, starting with 280 at the beginning.

3. Beauty And Commercial Warfare At Great Onyx Cave

Great Onyx Cave is not connected to Mammoth, but the park offers a one-mile lantern tour there with 40 stairs. Onyx is full of gorgeous formations, but the cave’s history is even more fascinating. During the Kentucky Cave Wars, Onyx, Mammoth, and many other caves’ owners engaged in cutthroat competition for tourist dollars. Onyx lay beneath two property owners’ land. The one without cave access successfully sued the other, determining property rights case law to this day.

Pro Tip : The cave offers a River Styx Tour, but flooding often renders it impassable. Instead, explore Mammoth’s River of the Underworld outside. From the historic cave entrance, walk toward the Green River. Look for the River Styx where it joins the Green, then follow it downhill to the cave. Continue on the 3.4-mile Echo River Trail, one of our recommended Kentucky hikes .

Fun Fact : The word styx means shuddering. The mythological river was the boundary between the lands of the living and of the dead.

Explore Demeter’s Realm On The Surface

The park offers more than 80 miles of backcountry trails. Sixty miles are available for horseback riding and 19 miles are for bikes. All the equestrian trails are north of the Green River. Observe safety principles.

Pro Tip : If you want to know where you are in relation to the cave system below, visit the Beneath Your Feet website or scan the QR code on a sign.

4. Follow The Mammoth Cave Railroad Route

A railroad reached the cave in 1886, but it closed in 1931. The Mammoth Cave Railroad Hike and Bike Trail mostly follows the railroad’s route, but unlike many former rail routes turned trails, this trail is not flat. It extends into neighboring Park City. Download a map (PDF).

5. Get In Sync On The Cedar Sink Trail

The park’s above-ground world syncs with its subterranean world on the one-mile-loop Cedar Sink Trail. The top is 300 feet above the sinkhole bottom. The sinkhole is often full of seasonal wildflowers. When the water table is high, the underground river rises into the sinkhole’s bottom. Visitors must descend stairs to enter the sinkhole and ascend another set of stairs to exit it.

Pro Tip : Hike the loop clockwise to walk down the longer staircase.

The Mammoth National Park entrance sign.

Roxie Yonkey

6. Remember A Kentucky Cave Wars Casualty At The Sand Cave Trail

Find the Sand Cave Trail next to the Mammoth National Park sign on Kentucky Highway 255. Accessible parking is available at the sign.

In 1925, Floyd Collins went searching for a new cave. His family’s Crystal Cave was losing in the Cave Wars, and he hoped to find a new attraction at Sand Cave. While he was in a tight passageway, a falling rock pinned his leg. Rescuers sought to extract Collins from the cave as his plight captured the nation’s attention. Tragically, every rescue attempt failed. After 18 days, Collins died of exposure. He is buried in the park at Mammoth Cave Baptist Church after a long, strange posthumous odyssey.

7. Experience Local Culture At Historic Churches And Cemeteries

Before Mammoth became a park, nearly 30 rural communities lived within park boundaries. When the land became a park, the residents left three churches and 70 cemeteries. The churches are open to guests. Search the cemetery database before you explore. Be respectful and leave no trace.

A guided tour of Mammoth Cave National Park.

8. Fish, No Fishing License Required

Fishing on the Green and Nolin rivers in the park is best in the spring and summer. Catch bass, perch, catfish, crappie, and bluegill, and other game fish. The park does not require any fishing licenses, but catch and creel regulations apply.

9. Paddle 30 River Miles

Four suggested river trips last from 1.5 to 6 hours of paddling time. Look for wildlife and riverside caves. Beware of downed trees and logjams. Always wear personal flotation devices and follow river safety guidelines .

Pro Tip : The park provides a list of canoe and kayak outfitters.

10. Catch A New Passion For Horses

Double J Stables offers guided horseback rides. The park’s equestrian options include everything from smooth paths to daring ridgeline trails. Park your horse trailer at one of five trailheads on the park’s north side.

A tent in Mammoth Cave National Park.

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Best Camping In Mammoth Cave National Park

Sleep in peace at various options within the park. Stay inside at The Lodge, pull up an RV, camp with your horse or on a riverbank. Reserve your spot and observe camping regulations.

11. Sleep Above The Cave In The Lodge At Mammoth Cave

We recommend The Lodge at Mammoth Cave as one of the best places to sleep above a cave . Dine at the lodge’s Green River Grill or Spelunkers Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor.

12. Authentic Meets Amenities At Mammoth Cave Campground

Only a quarter-mile from the Visitor Center, Mammoth Cave Campground offers 111 campsites. It has two accessible campsites and accessible restrooms on each loop. In season, the campground offers a store, dump station, potable water, and laundry facilities.

13. Groups And Horses Are Welcome At Maple Springs

Eight sites at Maple Springs Group Campground offer greater seclusion and are perfect springboards for backcountry exploration. Sites one through four are designed for people with horses.

14. Enjoy Peace And Quiet At Houchin Ferry

Houchin Ferry Campground is reserved for tents only. Drive up to one of 12 first-come, first-served campsites.

15. Rough It In The Backcountry

Thirteen backcountry sites are ready for those who like adventure. The campsites, accessible only to hikers and horseback riders, offer only fire rings and hitching posts. Boaters may camp on islands or floodplains along the Green and Nolin rivers. All backcountry and riverside campers must obtain permits. River campers should always check river levels and weather.

16. Sunset Point

Sunset Point is the endpoint of the Heritage Trail, located on the South Side of the Mammoth Cave National Park . Take an easy hike to Sunset Point to view the park-favorite panorama of the Green River Valley with its fresh spring foliage and vivid autumn colors. The viewpoint is only half a mile from the Mammoth Caves Visitor Center parking area.

17. Canoe and Kayak Tours in Mammoth Cave National Park 

The Green River and the Nolin River both flow through the park so consider spending some time there. Trips range from a few hours to daily tours and operate from April until October, depending on the weather. The river trips are Class I, suitable for families.

Pro Tip: For rental boats and float trips find authorized outfitters like Caveland Kayak and more. 

18. Eat at Mammoth Cave National Park

The Spelunkers Café provides counter service dining and food on the go like hamburgers, breakfast sandwiches, baked goods, hand-dipped ice cream, greek yogurt parfaits, and coffee drinks.  The Green River Grill’s menu features local favorites and offers fine dining and catering services for events.

However, both eateries are closed until January 2024 due to construction and remodeling so look for eateries near the national park.

Cell phone service is hard to come by in the park. Beware of poison ivy, poison oak, ticks, and mosquitoes. And if Mammoth Cave has given you the cave-explorers’ bug, check out these caves nearby.

Can I Explore the Mammoth Cave on My Own?

No. You must be on a Mammoth Cave tour to enter the cave in order to protect the cave environment and for your safety. Cave tours can be booked at the Visitor Center and are led by rangers, The tours are offered throughout the year and a short self-guided cave tour is offered seasonally. 

How Much Time Does It Take To See the Mammoth Cave?

Tours can range from easy to difficult and may be anywhere from one to six hours long with Wild Cave Tour lasting most of the day. With 11 miles of cave trails and walkways that may or may not have electric lights, it would be best to take two days to explore the cave completely.

How Many Campgrounds Are There in Mammoth Cave National Park?

Mammoth Cave National Park has two campgrounds, although only one of them is a fully developed traditional national park campground. The main campground is very busy being right next to the popular areas, while Houchin Ferry is the serene, more secluded option.

Where Can I Stay In or Near Mammoth Cave National Park?

There is a sole lodge inside the Mammoth Cave National Park, the Lodge at Mammoth Cave. Outside the park accommodation for the Mammoth Cave area is located in the aptly named Cave City.

Are There Any Kid-Friendly Tours in Mammoth Cave National Park?

Yes. Nature Tracks for Kids is designed for children to learn and explore more about Mammoth Cave National Park. Park rangers will help children discover more about the park’s ecosystem and cave formation through a variety of activities.

Image of Roxie Yonkey

Roxie Yonkey is an author and travel writer who specializes in road tripping. She wrote the Kansas ultimate bucket list book, 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die , and is a contributing author to the book Midwest Road Trip Adventures .

Before becoming a travel writer, Yonkey was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor, and a public relations manager for destination marketing organizations. She has won numerous awards, including Midwest Travel Network's Rising Star Award in 2020.

Yonkey loves to follow the open road wherever it takes her. Follow more of her adventures at RoxieontheRoad .

These Tours Of Kentucky's Mammoth Cave Are Worth Taking, Ranked By Difficulty

Mammoth Cave is home to one of the biggest cave systems in the world, and these tours take you through the best parts.

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These Tours Of Kentucky's Mammoth Cave Are Worth Taking, Ranked By Difficulty

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Frozen niagara tour, domes & dripstones tour: very easy to moderate, historic tour: easy, grand avenue tour: moderate to difficult, violet city tour & star chamber tour: moderate, river styx tour: moderate, wild cave tour: difficult, accessible cave tour.

Mammoth Cave is one of the most well-known landmark features in Kentucky. The cave has a long history within the state and has kept many travelers intrigued by its slightly unusual and captivating caverns, which span 400 miles underground. It's also known as the world's largest cave system , and this, alone, spurs a fascination that is rarely seen with other, smaller caves.

Related: Krubera Cave Is The World's Deepest, And Getting To The Bottom Isn't Even The Half Of It

What's perhaps even more peculiar about this cave system is that its above-ground surroundings are just as intriguing. Some tours allow visitors to wind their way through one of many hiking trails that wind through the woodland forests in the region, making for a very full-on adventure. Visitors must sign up for a tour in order to see the caves and trust us when we say it's worth it. Not only will guests be able to navigate the caverns with a pro leading the way, but they'll also gain an interesting insight into the history of Mammoth Cave.

UPDATE: 2022/05/26 12:21 EST BY LIANNA TEDESCO

Mammoth Cave continues to be one of the most fascinating underground cavern systems in the world. While tours are ongoing throughout the year and change according to cave conditions and availability, one thing remains the same: It's entirely worth visiting. We've updated this feature to include relevant information such as tour prices, detailed difficulty levels, walking distance, and any other details one might need to know prior to choosing one. The hope is that this will make planning a future trip easier, and will provide visitors with an idea of what to expect whenever they do.

Both of these tours are ranked as being fairly easy since they don't encompass as many steps as the others. The Frozen Niagara Tour is great for those who are still unsure about how deep they want to go into Mammoth Cave, and it's only a quarter-mile tour. Additionally, this tour is much shorter than the others, taking only about an hour and 15 minutes to complete. Visitors have the option to complete the full 98 steps but are only required to take 12. The shuttle bus takes roughly a half-hour to the site of the tour, and visitors have the chance to see formations in the Frozen Niagara section of the cave as well as the Drapery Room.

Similarly, Domes & Dripstones takes visitors on a limited tour, but this one goes a bit deeper, with a total length of three-quarters of a mile and a time span of two hours. Visitors will see the same cavern sections with the addition of unique formations they'll be walking past as opposed to taking the shuttle straight to Frozen Niagara.

Frozen Niagara Tour Details

  • Duration: 1.25 hours
  • Distance: 0.25 miles (0.4 km)
  • Total Stairs: 12, plus an optional 98
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Ages: All ages. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older.
  • Restrooms: No
  • Fees: $18 Adults, $14 Youth, $9 Senior Pass Holder, $9 Access Pass Holder.

Domes & Dripstones Tour Details

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Distance: 0.75 miles (1.2 km)
  • Total Stairs: 500, including 280 on the initial staircase descent
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Fees: $21 Adults, $16 Youth, $10.50 Senior Pass Holder, $10.50 Access Pass Holder.

When choosing any tour, one that includes a ton of history is always the best bet. The Mammoth Cave Historic Tour is by far the most popular and one of the mid-length tours (some take up to six hours!), with a length of two hours covering a span of two miles. This is a great tour for newcomers to cave systems as well as Mammoth Cave; starting at the main entrance of the cave, guests will take 440 steps down into the cave itself to explore several major features.

Included are stops at Mammoth Dome, Bottomless Pit, Fat Man's Misery (squeezing in tight spaces required), Tall Man's Misery (crouching required), and some saltpeter mines. A 200-year history will be discussed throughout the tour, and it's by far one of the most beginner-friendly treks offered by the cave.

The Grand Avenue Tour comes in at a moderate ranking because it is four hours long, and covers a distance of four miles. There are bathroom stops included on this tour, and, along the way, visitors will see Cleveland Avenue, Boone Avenue, Kentucky Avenue, and Mt. McKinley before ending in Frozen Niagara and the Drapery room. This is a great option for those who want to see the lesser-explored parts of the cave.

Grand Avenue Tour Details

  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Distance: 4 miles (6.4 km)
  • Total Stairs: 1313
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Ages: 6 years and older. Youth under the age of 16 years, must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older.
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Fees: $35 Adults, $27 Youth, $17.50 Senior Pass Holder, $17.50 Access Pass Holder.

The Violet City Tour takes travelers down into the cave by lantern light to see some of the most famous and notable signatures that have been left on the walls throughout history. Along the way, the tour overlaps parts of Gothic Avenue, the Historic Tour, Star Chamber, and Mammoth Passage Tours. The tour lasts about three hours over a span of three miles.

Alternatively, the Star Chamber Tour covers many of the same features, but it is shorter at a length of two and a half hours, covering a distance of one and a half miles.

Violet City Tour Details

  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Distance: 3 miles (4.8 km)
  • Total Stairs: 160 and numerous hills with no handrails.
  • Tickets available for each tour time: 38
  • Fees: $25 Adults, $20 Youth, $12.50 Senior Pass Holder, $12.50 Access Pass Holder.

Star Chamber Tour Details

  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km)
  • Total Stairs: 160
  • Tickets available for each tour time: 40

For anyone interested in the cave's water features, the River Styx Tour is the way to go. This tour takes two and a half hours, covering two and a half miles through the cavern's most impressive lakes and flowing waters.

The Dead Sea, Lake Lethe, and River Styx are all included.

River Styx Tour Details

  • Distance: 2.5 miles (4 km)
  • Total Stairs: Approximately 600, including 155 at Mammoth Dome.
  • Restrooms: No, restrooms are temporarily unavailable on this tour.
  • Tickets available for each tour time: 30
  • Fees: $22 Adults, $16 Youth, $11 Senior Pass Holder, $11 Access Pass Holder.

The longest and most strenuous hike is the Wild Cave Tour which takes visitors through the experience as though they were cave explorers, themselves.

The tour is six hours long and traverses a distance of six miles, feeling much more like an underground hike. Belly crawling, rock scrambling, climbing, and narrow passageways are all part of this tour for the truly adventurous. Visitors receive knee pads and a hard hat, and it should be booked in advance to avoid choosing a sold-out date.

This tour is open to anyone who has mobility issues and features elevators rather than stairs throughout the tour. Guests will see the Grand Avenue route of the cave over the span of two hours, covering a total distance of half a mile.

No matter which tour one chooses when visiting Kentucky's famous Mammoth Cave, it's certain to be an experience that they'll remember. As one of the most unique cave systems on earth, it's worth the price of a tour - and worth the effort it takes to get there.

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River Styx Tour - Mammoth Cave

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Spent a very enjoyable day at the park. Had pre-booked a morning Domes & Dripstones guided tour... read more

mammoth cave river styx tour

We took the Domes and Dripstones tour. The tour met at the visitor center and we proceeded to... read more

mammoth cave river styx tour

River Styx Tour

Took the River Styx tour which was definitely a long and interesting walk going down over 300 feet to the river. Just remember that what goes down, has to come up. No elevator here. Also, if you are looking for something with various colors and stalagmites and stalagtites, this is not the tour you want. If you want to see river geology, then this is for you. The ranger is very knowledgeable.

Last summer I went on the Grand Avenue tour. The tour was wonderful and the perfect amount of time (4.5 hours) and level of difficulty (its says strenuous but it really isn't). We were able to go through many different caves and see various formations. The caves were chilly (so bring a long sleeve shirt or zip-up) but very refreshing as it was 100+ degrees outside when I went. I recommend bringing your own sack lunch as there weren't many options in the snowball cafe. Also, there was indoor plumbing so the bathrooms were great! My friends and I are planning on making another trip to do the Wild Cave tour (we saw others doing it and it looked amazing!) Can't wait to go back!

mammoth cave river styx tour

We visited the new opening tour and had a great time. The tour guide was very informative and talked to us about the caves almost the entire time. He gave a lot of history and enough time to take pictures without complaint.

Take time to go on a couple of tours. One was just not enough for us! We went on the Frozen Niagra tour which was a very easy tour. I want to go back and take some of the longer tours.

mammoth cave river styx tour

The history of the cave network is fascinating. I think a more interactive tour would be better but those r sold out sometimes months in advance so plan ahead if u want to do a more intense one.

While this place is not easy to get to, this is one National Park no one should overlook. My 11 year old daughter (and I) were amazed at this cave site. The history and natural science lessons associated with this attraction and being in the actual classroom where it happened are beyond description. Amazing. This trip is well worth the time.

Historic Tour

Mammoth Cave National Park Tours

This classic Mammoth Cave Tour visits many of the historic areas that originally made Mammoth Cave famous. Going through tunnels that humans have used for thousands of years, this tour not only explores huge rooms that gave Mammoth Cave its name, but also descends to much tighter places deep inside the cave. Please note that this tour ascends and descends hundreds of stairs and several steep inclines, which can be difficult for many visitors, as there are no alternative routes. This tour is ideal for people with an interest in history and a sense of adventure. 

Select a date to see a list of times

Need to Know

All tours begin at the Visitor Center. Tickets must be picked up 30 minutes prior to tour time. No refunds for no shows or late arrivals.

Includes a steep outdoor hillside trail to and from the cave’s Historic Entrance. If you have a fear of heights or suffer from claustrophobia this tour is not recommended. Visitors with known heart or respiratory conditions, poor circulation, difficulty walking long distances, negotiating stairs, or walking in a crouched positioned should carefully consider their limitations. Evacuation from the cave to a hospital for medical attention could take several hours.

Mammoth Cave National Park is located in the central time zone and observes daylight savings time.

Note: Do not rely exclusively on your mobile GPS, Google Maps, or similar automated navigation systems to get to the park Visitor Center in time for your cave tour. Routes can be misleading and incorrect. Directions from the North: Take Interstate 65 to Exit 53 (Cave City Exit). Turn right onto KY-70. Follow 70/255 as it becomes the Mammoth Cave Parkway in the park. Follow the Mammoth Cave Parkway to the Visitor Center. Directions from the South: Take Interstate 65 to Exit 48 (Park City Exit). Turn left onto KY-255 and follow 255 as it becomes the Park City Road into the park. Follow Park City Road until it joins the Mammoth Cave Parkway; turn left. Follow the Mammoth Cave Parkway to the Visitor Center.

Children 5 and under do not require a reservation or ticket. Youth under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older on all tours. Interagency Senior and Interagency Access ticket pricing applies to Interagency Senior and Interagency Access Pass holders only. The Interagency Annual Pass is NOT accepted for tours or camping.

Photo Gallery

Tour group in the Rotunda.

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mammoth cave river styx tour

Epic Guide to Mammoth Cave National Park

E pic Guide to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky includes top things to do, history, camping, lodging, hiking, cave tours, and so much more! 

Mammoth Cave National Park

Located in South Central Kentucky is the oasis home to the world’s longest cave system, jagged mountains, sprawling green valleys, wildlife, and more.

Known as the Mammoth Cave National Park, it is spread across ​​52,830 acres and is believed to be an excellent national park to visit over the holidays. 

Named after one of the oldest tourist attractions in the country, the Mammoth Caves that go on for miles and miles, the park has so much more to offer, like the river valleys of the cascading Green and Nolin Rivers, distinctive wildlife, and unique topography. 

So what’re you waiting for? Keep scrolling to read more about the wonders of the Mammoth Caves, the history of the region, the best routes to get there, the activities to indulge in, and so much more! 

About Mammoth Cave National Park

Centered around the magnificent cave system, accompanied by the preservation of the Kentucky country hills and river valleys, the Mammoth Cave National Park is truly a sight to see. 

The region of South Central Kentucky was established as a national park by the NPS in 1941, while it is believed that the oldest parts of the Mammoth Cave are over 10 million years old! 

A naturally occurring cave system like no other, explorers have observed and quantified data about over 400 miles of the cave passages, which still isn’t all of it.

Scientists and cave explorers are constantly discovering newer routes and parts of the system and sometimes say that when it comes to mapping the entirety of the Mammoth Caves, “there is no end in sight.” 

The park offers a wide variety of tours to explore the caves and understand different things about them - their geology, history, place in past cultures, etc.

One of the most exciting tours that you’ll have the option to take is the River Styx tour (Until the 90s, you could have taken a boat through the underground rivers; however, the constant human interactions with nature were leading to its degradation, so now the tour will give you a look into the caves filled with underground rivers). 

Spread across 52,830 acres, at the park, you’ll find lush forests, vast backcountry (With up to 70 miles of trails that’ll challenge you but be completely worth the struggle), and river tributaries in which you can go boating or kayaking on a pleasant summer day. 

Though the structure of the park and density of forests definitely don’t leave much leeway for stunning overlooks like many of the other top national parks in the country, the views from the lookouts, like the Doyel Valley, Sunset Point, Turnhole Bend, and Green River, in the summer months are still worth the tiresome hikes. 

The beautiful Green River flows through the park, both in the caves and on the surface, and can be explored by taking a ferry across the river, going wishing on the riverbank, or canoeing when the weather allows. The Houchin Ferry campground (one of the three campgrounds in the park’s front country) is located right by this iconic river. 

At the park, you’ll spot several different birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, etc., including about 70 species that are either endangered or threatened.

In particular, with the caves come a wide variety of bats, each unique in their own way. Other species you’ll spot are the White-Tailed Deer, Coyote, American Black Bear (which has an interesting story concerning the park that you can learn more about in the history of the park), Black-Throated Green Warblers, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Wild Turkey, American Bullfrog, Cave Salamanders, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the list goes on. 

A region of pure natural beauty, the Mammoth Cave National Park is one of the lesser-known national parks in the system, though entirely worth a visit to explore the caves, traverse the riverside hikes, and spend a night under the starlight sky! 

Is Mammoth Cave National Park worth visiting?

Yes! The park offers not only the opportunity to take an epic cave tour but also camping, cabins, and so much to see and do.

This is a US National Park you can visit multiple times and see something different every time you visit. 

History of Mammoth Cave National Park

After years and years of mapping and surveying, explorers have come to believe that the oldest part of the entire Mammoth Cave system is over 10 billion years old.

Formed as a result of the natural process of limestone erosion in which rainwater mixes with the soil, collecting carbon dioxide, and creating soft limestone that gave way to this extensive system of caves. 

It was around 4000 BCE when Native Americans began settling in the area and scouring through the caves in search of minerals and other critical natural resources. 

It was first called the “Mammoth Cave” in a newspaper article in Richmond, Virginia, due to its colossal size and continued network that explorers continue to learn more about each day. 

The tale of the discovery of the caves dates back to the 1790s when supposedly a young explorer named John Houchin was out hunting and shooting a black bear.

The bear apparently went to save himself in the Mammoth Cave entrance (now called the Historic Entrance), and John went after it. As a result, John Houchin has been accredited for discovering the caves, though parts of the cave continue to be found even today. 

Several artifacts of the natives and other indigenous inhabitants were found in the cave in the early days, particularly in 1813; the remains of a Native American woman were excavated right by the Short Cave’s entrance. 

For a couple of years in the 1810s, mining in the region was permitted, with enslaved groups of people mining salt and other natural resources in which the caves were rich.

These operations were ultimately ceased, and Nahum Ward, a writer, and explorer wrote about the cave and its beauty, leading to its fame. 

Ownership of the cave and the land around it kept shifting amongst the rich and passing down generations as the decades passed. In 1842, a new map of the cave was drawn, and as more and more is understood about the region, newer diagrams were presented. 

Ultimately, in the 1920s, Congress passed an act to transfer the land’s ownership to the government and establish the region as a National Park in 1941. 

Ever since it has been given the title of a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve and continues to work towards preserving such a unique natural system and the hills and valleys surrounding it.

With an average of 2 million visitors a year, the Mammoth Cave National Park has come a long way from the days when solitary explorers went into the cave and discovered more and more caves and have, in fact, become a global phenomenon, definitely worth a weekend visit! 

Things to know before your visit to Mammoth Cave National Park

Entrance fee .

$0.00- There is no entrance fee to visit the park.

There is a fee for cave tours, campground stays, and to reserve a picnic shelter. 

Planning a National Park vacation? America the Beautiful/National Park Pass covers entrance fees for an entire year to all US National Park Sites and over 2,000 Federal Recreation Fee Sites.

The park pass covers everyone in the car for per-vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites.

Buy on  REI.com  and REI will donate 10% of pass proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation, and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.

Learn more about National Park Passes for parks that have an entrance fee.

Free Entrance Days  -Mark your calendars with the five free entrance days the National Park Service offers annually. 

Time Zone 

Central Time Zone

Pets are permitted within the National Park but must follow the guidelines mentioned below to ensure the safety of all visitors and the natural beauty of the park:

  • Pets are not allowed into the park buildings or caves
  • They must be on a leash (maximum 6 feet in length) at all times
  • Can be put into the kennel operated by the Lodge at Mammoth Cave while you explore areas that they cannot accompany you in

Cell Service

Your cell service within the park depends mainly on your carrier. It is reported that most visitors with Verizon have service in the region, though there are several zones in which it’ll fluctuate. 

The Mammoth Cave National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day, though the visitor center and cave tours have limited operating hours.

Some attractions may be subject to change depending on the weather, especially in case of a snowstorm in the winter months. 

Free Wi-Fi is available at the visitor center. 

Insect Repellent

Carrying and applying insect repellent is always an excellent idea when outdoors, especially if you are around any body of water and exploring the caves. We use permethrin Spray on our clothes before our park trips to keep us safe from mosquito bites. 

Water Bottle 

Make sure to bring your own water bottle and plenty of water with you as plastic water bottles are not sold in the park, and the weather (especially in the summer) can get hot pretty fast. 

There are parking spots at each campsite and significant attractions, with some spots outside the visitor center, etc. 

Food/Restaurants

 Green River Grill 

Though closed for 2022 due to the lodge undergoing renovation, the Green River Grill is one of the in-house dining options at the lodge and specializes in fine dining and catering services for events.

Spelunkers Café and Ice Cream Parlor

Again closed due to the renovation project at the lodge, the Spelunkers Café and Ice Cream Parlor is a great place to purchase food for on-the-go or quick dining options.  

Cavers Camp Store

Operating hours:

Sunday - Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Friday - Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

At Caver’s, you’ll find grab-and-go and counter-service dining options, perfect for a snack between a cave tour and hike, or vice versa.

Unfortunately, there are no gas stations located within the park boundary. The closest gas and service stations are in the nearby towns of Park City, Brownsville, and Cave City. 

Drones are not permitted within National Park Sites .

National Park Passport Stamps

National Park Passport stamps can be found in the visitor center.

Make sure to bring your National Park Passport Book with you or we like to pack these circle stickers so we don't have to bring our entire book with us. 

Mammoth Cave NP is part of the 1991 Passport Stamp Set . 

Electric Vehicle Charging

Unfortunately, there are no EV charging stations within the Mammoth Cave National Park; however, you’ll find EV stations in the nearby towns of Glasgow, Bowling Green, and Elizabethtown. 

Details about Mammoth Cave National Park

Size -  54,011 acres

Mammoth Cave NP is currently ranked 48 out of 63 National Parks by Size . 

Date Established  

July 1, 1941 - Established as a National Park

October 27, 1981 - Established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

September 26, 1990 - Established as an International Biosphere Reserve. 

Visitation  

In 2021, Mammoth Cave NP had 515,774 park visitors. 

In 2020, Mammoth Cave NP had 290,392 park visitors. 

In 2019, Mammoth Cave NP had 551,590 park visitors. 

Learn more about the most visited and least visited National Parks in the US

National Park Address

1 Visitor Center Parkway

Mammoth Cave, KY 42259-0007

United States

Mammoth Cave National Park Map

For a more detailed map we really like the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps available on Amazon .

Where is Mammoth Cave National Park?

The Mammoth Cave National Park is located in South Central Kentucky, 76 miles from Louisville.

 It is not a very far drive from southern  Indiana  or from Nashville, so it's a great place to visit if you live anywhere near it.

The area is home to the most comprehensive cave system in the entire world, along with rugged cliffs, bubbling rivers, unique wildlife, and other distinctive topographical features.

Estimated distance from major cities nearby

Louisville, Kentucky - 76 miles

Nashville, Tennessee - 80 miles

Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky - 107 miles

Cincinnati, Ohio - 158 miles

Indianapolis, Indiana - 177 miles

St. Louis, Missouri - 241 miles

Columbus, Ohio - 252 miles

Birmingham, Alabama - 257 miles

Memphis, Tennessee - 260 miles

Atlanta, Georgia - 260 miles

Estimated Distance from nearby National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 195 miles

The Gateway Arch National Park - 260 miles 

Hot Springs National Park - 483 miles

Congaree National Park - 472 miles

Shenandoah National Park - 533 miles

Indiana Dunes National Park - 358 miles

Cuyahoga Valley National Park - 422 miles

Where is the National Park Visitor Center?

Mammoth Cave Visitor Center

It is open year-round, with operational hours varying according to the seasons.

Operational hours:

Spring: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Summer: 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Fall: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Winter: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Mammoth Cave Visitor Center is located in the middle of the park and is the place to go to if you need some information, have a question for a park ranger, or need to get a permit to go boating in the river. 

It is located near the historical entrance to the caves, making it the departure point for all cave tours. The center also has a gift store, visitor amenities, informational exhibits, and washrooms for your convenience. 

Getting to Mammoth Cave National Park

International Airports

Louisville International Airport (SDF) - 88 miles

Nashville International Airport (BNA) - 101 miles

Regional Airports

Glasgow Municipal Airport (GLW) - 18 miles

Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport (BWG) - 35 miles

Elizabethtown Regional Airport (EKX) - 54 miles

Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport (OWB) - 87 miles

Evansville Regional Airport (EVV) - 129 miles

Driving Directions

From Louisville, Kentucky - 1 hour 22 minutes from Mammoth Cave National Park 

You’ll begin your journey in Louisville by getting on Interstate 65 South from W Liberty Street and follow along this road until you come across Exit 53 for Kentucky Route 70 towards Cave City.

After a couple of minutes of driving, you’ll continue straight onto Kentucky Route 255, which will lead you to the park’s entrance. 

From Nashville, Tennessee -   1 hour 25 minutes from Mammoth Cave National Park 

You’ll begin your road trip in Nashville by getting on Interstate 65 North towards Memphis/Louisville, which will lead you into the state of Kentucky and cover most of your miles.

You’ll proceed to take Exit 48 for Kentucky Route 255 towards Park City, leading you to the entrance to this magnificent park.

From Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky - 2 hours from Mammoth Cave National Park 

You’ll begin your trip to Mammoth Cave National Park using US Route 60 West to get on Blue Grass Parkway Ramp heading towards Lawrenceburg.

You’ll follow the road for over 70 miles before taking Exit 1B to merge with Interstate 65 South.

Ultimately, you’ll spot Exit 53 for Kentucky Route 70 heading towards Cave City. Promptly, you’ll drive straight onto Kentucky Route 255, which will take you to the park. 

Best time to visit Mammoth Cave National Park

The best time to visit the park is when you have time to explore. We have visited throughout the year and enjoyed every visit.

Weather and Seasons

The months of March, April, and May are definitely when the crowd starts picking up in the park, especially around long weekends or public holidays.

By springtime, the winter ice has disappeared, and all the campgrounds and trails open up, just as the wildflowers and ferns bloom.

The daytime temperature is pretty warm, fluctuating between the 60s to 70s, though in the earlier parts of spring, it drops to nearly zero after sunset. 

The cave tours at this time of year are pretty exciting, though they may be crowded. The River Styx cave tour isn’t available at this time due to the high water levels, so if you want to take that tour, visiting some other time is ideal. 

Usually, during the park’s busiest season due to great weather and summer holidays, visiting Mammoth Cave National Park in the summer is considered reasonably popular!

With fairly high temperatures that keep increasing as the months go on, coupled with high humidity, it can definitely be exhausting to explore and hike in the heat.

However, the temperature within the caves remains in the mid-50s, providing respite from the otherwise sweltering weather. 

All the campgrounds and trails are open for you to traverse, and you’ll also get a chance to go boating or canoeing on the Nolin or Green River, spot wildlife, or even take the River Styx tour to explore the underground rivers. 

The months of September, October, and November are a brilliant time to plan a trip to the Mammoth Cave National Park, as the park is clad with red, orange, and yellow foliage and even frost flowers!

The crowds in the park in the autumn are still packed, though slightly lesser than in the summer. 

The frequency of cave tours decreases, but with the temperatures in the first part of the season ranging in the 70s and then progressively reducing, it’s an excellent time to explore the park’s backcountry and trails and go kayaking in the river, and stargaze. 

Visiting in the winter is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, though the park covered in snow is indeed worth braving the cold.

With the daytime temperature averaging under 50°F and dropping to sub-zero at night, coupled with a snowstorm or two, the weather is undoubtedly not for everyone.

However, the wintertime brings solitude and tranquility to the park, devoid of crowds, and you’ll be able to explore the caves easily and at your own pace.  

You can spend some time in the backcountry, traversing up to 70 miles of trails that remain open all year, exploring the ranger programs, or biking through the thick wilderness around the caves. 

Best Things to do in Mammoth Cave National Park

We suggest planning a full day or two to explore Mammoth Cave NP!

While cave tours are the most popular thing to do in Mammoth Cave there is also an extensive trail system, horseback riding, a great picnic area, epic views of this part of the Green River Valley, and more in the Mammoth Cave area. 

Mammoth Cave Tours

The crown jewel of the Mammoth Cave National Park is undoubtedly the world’s longest cave system that the park houses.

Named the mammoth caves due to their colossal size, exploring the cave system is truly one of the best ways to spend your time at the park.

The caves are definitely the top attraction, especially in the late spring to early fall time of year, so be sure to book your tour in advance so that you have a chance to admire the beauty of the caves properly. 

The park offers several different kinds of tours, each more interesting than the next, though their availability is heavily dependent on the weather and season of your visit.

Some popular tours that you could explore are the River Styx Tour, Frozen Niagara Tour, Gothic Avenue Tour, Star Chamber Tour, Wild Cave Tour, and more.

Even though scientists and explorers have surveyed and explored up to 420 miles of the cave system, it is believed that there are lots more to go, and with geological structures like that, a tour of the Mammoth Cavs is bound to leave you awestruck. 

Make sure to confirm your tour times.  To go into the cave, you must purchase a tour ticket.

Unless otherwise noted, all visitors under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult aged 18 or over. For further cave, tour restrictions click here.

You will want to make sure you are aware of White-nose syndrome and don't wear shoes you have worn in any other caves.

Be prepared to walk across bio-security mats to help protect the bats. 

Each of the tours has a different difficulty level and experiences different portions of the cave.

We took a tour that did not have many steps due to my knee injury and it was great. There was one section of the Frozen Niagara Tour that included stairs but you can easily skip it if you don't want to deal with the stairs.

I highly suggest looking at the cave tours and making sure they are a fit for you physically and if you are not a fan of caves.

Some cave tours include upwards of 500 stairs! Be prepared!  

The variety of cave tours offered is seasonal so make sure to check the park's website for which tours will be offered during your visit. 

What can I bring with me into Mammoth Cave?

You can bring camera gear but no tripods into the cave. Flashlights are allowed but can not be used during tour stops. No weapons, strollers, backpacks child carriers are allowed in the cave.

What should I wear in Mammoth Cave?

Sturdy shoes or hiking boots are required. No sandals or bare feet are allowed in the caverns. Cave temperatures range from freezing to up to 60 degrees so a light jacket or cover is recommended.

Junior Ranger Program 

At the Mammoth Cave National Park, you can meet with a Park Ranger to receive your badge for this park.

Make sure you take your Junior Ranger Book with you and head to the visitor center if you have any queries. 

Ranger Led Programs

The Mammoth Cave National Park boasts an extensive list of ranger-led programs to help you discover more parts of the park and fully immerse yourself in the environment.

Since the ranger-led programs keep changing and may also be affected by adverse weather conditions, be sure to check the comprehensive list of programs being offered at the time of your visit to the Mammoth Cave Visitor Center. 

Some ranger-led programs you can choose from are the Echo River Spring Hike (A hike to the Echo River Spring along with you’ll learn more about the rich geological structures in the park), Wildflower Hike (A one and a half-hour-long hike chasing ferns, wildflowers, and other gorgeous plants), etc.  

Canoeing, Kayaking, Boating

Flowing through the park are over 30 miles of the Green and Nolin Rivers, where you can go canoeing, kayaking, and boating.

You’ll be able to enjoy a new look at the park as you boat through the gorgeous river surrounded by the rolling valleys of South Central Kentucky. 

Be sure to get a permit for all your water activities, always wear your life jacket, and plan your river trip well so as to prevent any mishaps or accidents. 

Hiking in Mammoth Cave National Park

With over 18 miles of accessible trails and nearly 70 miles of backcountry trails, hiking in the Mammoth Cave National Park is one of the best things to do while visiting the region.

Each trail varies in difficulty, has stunning views, and traverses through different parts of the park, ranging from trails with river views to those that go through ancient cemeteries.

No matter which trails you choose to go on, remember to always carry the ten essentials for outdoor survival when exploring. 

Some trails that you shouldn’t miss out on are the Dixon Cave Overlook Trail, Sunset Point Trail, Whites Cave Trail, Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike, and Hike Trail - Furlong, Cemetery Spur, etc. 

For some more rugged and primitive hikes, choose among the many backcountry trails like the Big Hollow Trail North Loop, Firs Creek Trail, White Oak Trail, Maple Springs Trail, and more. 

How to beat the crowds in Mammoth Cave National Park?

Garnering over 2 million visitors annually, the Mammoth Cave National Park is a fairly popular park, especially during particular seasons of the year.

During the peak tourist season - the summertime and the first part of autumn - the crowds are roaring due to the great weather and summer holidays.

Nearly 25% of visitors who visit the park choose to opt for a cave tour, making them rather crowded and slow to walk through with large crowds. 

Even though most cave tours (that you should book and plan out well in advance) take place in the summer, to truly admire the beauty of the caves, observe the hidden nooks and crannies of these stunning naturally occurring structures, and not be in a rush, visiting in the winter is recommended. 

Though two out of the three campgrounds are closed from November to February, you’ll be able to explore the caves without too many crowds.

Also, whichever time of year you end up booking your trip, try and take an early morning cave tour to avoid the long queues and crowded parking. 

Where to stay when visiting Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth cave lodge.

Situated just a stone’s throw from the park’s visitor center, the Mammoth Cave Lodge is believed to be one of the best accommodation options while visiting the park.

With comfortable and well-equipped rooms, along with several dining options and gift shops to spend time buying souvenirs, staying in the lodge while you explore the park is bound to be a great experience. 

Currently, the lodge building is undergoing an extensive renovation, as a result of which the gift shop, diners, and reception have been relocated to the area behind the campsite, near the Post Office. 

The Mammoth Cave hotel offers both hotel rooms and cabin rentals. 

Lodging near Mammoth Cave

Holiday Inn Express Horse Cave - At Holiday Inn Express Horse Cave, an IHG Hotel, you can look forward to a free breakfast buffet, a terrace, and a 24-hour gym. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a business center.

Hampton Inn Cave City - Hampton Inn offers an indoor pool, free parking, air conditioning, and more. 

Days Inn by Wyndham Glasgow - You can look forward to free to-go breakfast, a terrace, and dry cleaning/laundry services at Days Inn by Wyndham Glasgow. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a 24-hour business center.

The Hotel Sync - You can look forward to a coffee shop/café, laundry facilities, and a gym at The Hotel Sync. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a business center.

Courtyard Bowling Green - Take advantage of 18 holes of golf, a coffee shop/café, and a garden at Courtyard Bowling Green Convention Center. The onsite restaurant, The Bistro, features American cuisine. In addition to dry cleaning/laundry services and a bar, guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.

At the Mammoth Cave National Park, you’ll find three primary front country camping grounds, each located close to the park’s top attractions and well-equipped with basic amenities.

The park is also home to up to 13 backcountry camping spots if you’re looking for a more secluded and challenging core camping experience. 

For a fun adventure check out Escape Campervans . These campervans have built-in beds, kitchen areas with refrigerators, and more. You can have them fully set up with kitchen supplies, bedding, and other fun extras. They are painted with epic designs you can't miss! 

Escape Campervans has offices in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, New York, and Orlando

The front country camping grounds are as follows:

Mammoth Cave Campground 

Season: March to November, closed for the winter season

Campsites: 111 (RVs permitted, up to 38 feet in length)

Accessibility: Yes, two ADA sites are available 

A perfect mix of the excellent camping experience while still being equipped with all the necessities, the Mammoth Cave Campground is located within proximity of the park’s visitor center, Whites Cave Trail, and the Green River Ferry Road.

It requires a reservation and has flush toilets, potable water, firewood, ice, and other basic amenities and costs $25/night.

Maple Springs Group Campground

Campsites: 7 (RVs permitted, up to 40 feet in length)

Accessibility: No sites were designed as specific ADA campsites; however, all parts of the campground are leveled and paved

Located in the north part of the park, a couple of miles north of Green River Ferry is the Maple Springs Group Campground.

This campground, ideal for big groups looking for more isolated sites, is situated at the trailhead of over 70 miles of hikes in the park.

It requires a reservation and has potable water, a fire ring, and a picnic table available on-site, with other amenities being stripped back for the quintessential camping experience. It costs $50/night, with a maximum of 16 people per group, and also has equestrian-friendly sites available for the same cost. 

Houchin Ferry Campground

Season: Open year-round

Campsites: 12 (RVs not permitted)

Accessibility: No ADA sites available 

The ideal campground for a peaceful night in the forest, the Houchin Ferry Campground is located by the Green River, with each site enjoying a scenic river view.

Easy to drive up to, the site requires reservations, offers potable water, toilets, and a fire ring, and costs $20/night.

If you’re looking for a more primitive camping experience, be sure to explore the backcountry of Mammoth Cave National Park! 

Travel Tips

Have you visited the cave? What did you think?

Over 365 miles of caves have been surveyed within the Mammoth Cave National Park system. In order to experience as much as possible during a visit to Mammoth Cave, a tour is highly recommended.  There are a ton of activities above ground that can be enjoyed without having to go into the cave. If you have a fear of caves don't let it stop you from visiting this great park.

The visitor center has a ton of interpretive areas to learn more above the caves without going down in them.

The ice cream shop is well worth a visit just to try the local ice cream. You can also just sit and soak up the beautiful weather while looking for birds.

We took a lovely walk around a pond and saw baby geese and other wildlife.

Check out this post on Things to do in Mammoth Caves for more ideas on ways to explore this great park.

The cave is only one portion of this park and while it is the part that it is best known for there truly are so many other ways to explore the park.

We did not have cell phone service in most of the park. There is free Wi-Fi available at the visitor center.

If you are taking a tour make sure and use the restroom before you head to the cave. There are no restrooms within the cave and some of the tours take a couple of hours.

You can buy snacks, ice cream, and souvenirs at the visitor center. There are multiple gift stores selling a little bit of everything.

If you are taking a tour make sure you wear shoes that can get wet. When you exit the cave you will need to walk through a soapy water mixture with your shoes on.

This is to prevent the spread of a disease that can affect bats and other cave dwellers.  Tammilee had on her favorite Birkenstocks and they were a bit damp after walking through the water.

Bring a sweater or light cover for the cave. It can be a bit cool when you are on tour.

Be careful using GPS to reach the park. Make sure you follow the signs to reach the visitor center. Our GPS almost took us in completely the wrong direction.

Make sure and read the tour descriptions closely, especially if you have any mobility or physical concerns! Some of the tours include a lot of steps and are 3-4 hours long. There is no bathroom on the tour so make sure you are prepared. 

Mammoth Cave National Park Facts

130 forms of life can be found in the park!

Mammoth Cave is the most extensive cave system on Earth with over 365 miles of surveyed passageways.

Mammoth Cave was authorized as a national park in 1926 and fully established in 1941.

In 1981 Mammoth Cave was named a World Heritage Site.

Additional Resources

Mammoth Cave Curiosities: A Guide to Rockphobia, Dating, Saber-toothed Cats, and Other Subterranean Marvels

Parks Near Mammoth Cave National Park

Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park

Camp Nelson National Monument

Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

Check out all of the National Parks in Kentucky along with neighboring National Parks in Illinois , National Parks in Indiana , National Parks in Missouri , Ohio National Parks , Tennessee National Parks , Virginia National Parks , and National Parks in West Virginia

Epic Guide to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky includes top things to do, history, camping, lodging, hiking, cave

IMAGES

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    mammoth cave river styx tour

  2. River Styx Tour, Mammoth Cave National Park Tours

    mammoth cave river styx tour

  3. River Styx Tour

    mammoth cave river styx tour

  4. River Styx Tour

    mammoth cave river styx tour

  5. River Styx Tour

    mammoth cave river styx tour

  6. Hike the River Styx Spring Trail, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

    mammoth cave river styx tour

VIDEO

  1. The Adventure Explorers Visit Mammoth Caves National Park

  2. Styx in Concert

  3. STYX Backstage

  4. Mammoth Cave’s tight passages!

  5. Mammoth Cave Virtual Tour

  6. River Styx Spring in Mammoth Cave National Park (1080p)

COMMENTS

  1. River Styx Tour, Mammoth Cave National Park Tours

    Responsible Disclosure. Find out more details and check site availability for River Styx Tour in Mammoth Cave National Park Tours at Mammoth Cave National Park with Recreation.gov. <p>Following along the Historic Tour Route, this tour focuses on the unique geologic and natural history of Mammoth Cave. Including a brief side trip to the und.

  2. Cave Tours

    Focusing on early history of Mammoth Cave, this tour includes a trip into Gothic Avenue. This tour is ideal for visitors wanting a unique way to experience the cave and its history. Portions of this tour are also seen on the Historic, River Styx and Gothic Avenue Tours. Only visitors age 16 and over may carry lanterns.

  3. River Styx and the Old Mammoth Cave Underground River Boat Tour

    The Echo River boat tour of the River Styx was once one of Mammoth Cave National Park most popular attractions. It involved an underground boat tour through the cave system. Highlights of the tour was the ability to see the translucent blind fish and the Kentucky Cave Shrimp. However, the tour was stopped in the early 1990s because it was ...

  4. River Styx Tour

    River Styx. We have been accustomed to cave tours highlighting columns, stalactites, stalagmites, and other dramatic rock features such as Ruby Falls. But these are the product of vertical water flow, depositing minerals as the water travels down. As noted before, the sandstone cap over Mammoth Caves prevents water from entering above.

  5. Amazing River Styx Tour

    Mammoth Cave: Amazing River Styx Tour - See 4,252 traveler reviews, 3,118 candid photos, and great deals for Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, at Tripadvisor. Skip to main content. Discover. Trips. ... Fantastic River Styx 2.5 hour tour! Our guide was very knowledgeable & engaging. This tour was about geology but lots of historical information as ...

  6. Hike the River Styx Spring Trail, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

    The trail splits into two trails at the historic entrance. Take the wider trail on the left side which has a sign stating the River Styx Spring Trail. You will descend for 0.4 miles. When you level out near the Green River, take the boardwalk to your left to view the River Styx Spring, which is where groundwater is discharging from Mammoth Cave ...

  7. River Styx tour was awesome

    Mammoth Cave: River Styx tour was awesome - See 4,256 traveler reviews, 3,118 candid photos, and great deals for Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, at Tripadvisor. ... My friend and I took the River Styx tour, which is only offered some summer weekends and Labor Day weekend. It was a great tour, it goes deeper into the cave than any of the other ...

  8. River Styx Tour

    Mammoth Cave: River Styx Tour - See 4,251 traveler reviews, 3,118 candid photos, and great deals for Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, at Tripadvisor. Skip to main content. Discover. Trips. Review. ... We did the River Styx Tour which was a 2.5 hr tour to the river level of the cave. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the cave and its history ...

  9. Best Cave Tours of Mammoth Cave

    We spent two weeks in the Mammoth Cave area and got to go on many of the major tours. Historic Tour or River Styx Tour. I enjoyed the Historic Tour the most, out of all that we attended. We started at the Lodge Rotunda for a quick orientation before hiking down to the Historic Entrance. Our rangers guided us at an even pace, stopping every so ...

  10. How to Pick the Best Mammoth Cave Tour: from Families to Avid Adventurers

    Here are the most underrated Mammoth Cave tours that offer incredible sights you won't want to miss. 11. River Styx Tour. 🌟 Moderate ⏳ 2 1/2 Hours Includes Boat Ride, Ages 6+ The River Styx Tour may not be as well-known as some of the other tours, but it's definitely worth checking out.

  11. 10 Best Mammoth Cave Tours Worth Your Time

    Frozen Niagara Tour. Quick, short, and low-in-effort, The Frozen Niagara tour is hands-down the easiest tour offered at Mammoth Cave National Park. Don't be fooled by the sketchy looking entryway: this is one of the most beautiful sections of Mammoth Cave. Within a small, dark, fourth-of-a-mile stretch, you'll see wrangled beards of ...

  12. Ultimate Guide to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (Tours, Pricing, History, Map

    Most campsites at Mammoth Caves National Park are $20 a site, and the VIP campsites that are a lot nicer are $50. If you are planning to bring your horses along, you can get an equestrian campsite for $25. To reserve a campsite, go online or call the National Park Reservation Service at (877)444-6777.

  13. Other Cave Tours

    Focusing on early history of Mammoth Cave, this tour includes a trip into Gothic Avenue. This tour is ideal for visitors wanting a unique way to experience the cave and its history. Portions of this tour are also seen on the Historic, River Styx and Gothic Avenue Tours. Only visitors age 16 and over may carry lanterns.

  14. Impressive

    Mammoth Cave: Impressive - River Styx Tour - See 4,246 traveler reviews, 3,114 candid photos, and great deals for Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, at Tripadvisor. ... The River Styx tour is only offered once a day and for a few weeks of the year, so it was sold out by the time we arrived at 8:00 am for our 8:30 tour. The ranger, Sue was very ...

  15. 18 Best Things to Do in Mammoth Cave National Park

    Take an easy hike to Sunset Point to view the park-favorite panorama of the Green River Valley with its fresh spring foliage and vivid autumn colors. The viewpoint is only half a mile from the Mammoth Caves Visitor Center parking area. 17. Canoe and Kayak Tours in Mammoth Cave National Park.

  16. These Tours Of Kentucky's Mammoth Cave Are Worth Taking ...

    Mammoth Cave is home to one of the biggest cave systems in the world, and these tours take you through the best parts. ... River Styx Tour: Moderate For anyone interested in the cave's water features, the River Styx Tour is the way to go. This tour takes two and a half hours, covering two and a half miles through the cavern's most impressive ...

  17. SOLD OUT

    The River Styx Tour assembles at 3pm. If we arrive early, we will stop at the Visitor Center before proceeding to the trailhead. Tickets Due to high demand and the fact this tour often sells out, tickets were purchased for our group in advance. Note that due to the pre-purchasing of tickets, there can be no refunds. Cost: Cave tour tickets are $22.

  18. River Styx Tour

    Mammoth Cave: River Styx Tour - See 4,246 traveler reviews, 3,114 candid photos, and great deals for Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, at Tripadvisor. Skip to main content. ... Took the River Styx tour which was definitely a long and interesting walk going down over 300 feet to the river. Just remember that what goes down, has to come up.

  19. Historic Tour, Mammoth Cave National Park Tours

    Follow 70/255 as it becomes the Mammoth Cave Parkway in the park. Follow the Mammoth Cave Parkway to the Visitor Center. Directions from the South: Take Interstate 65 to Exit 48 (Park City Exit). Turn left onto KY-255 and follow 255 as it becomes the Park City Road into the park. Follow Park City Road until it joins the Mammoth Cave Parkway ...

  20. Mammoth Cave National Park

    Mammoth Cave National Park is a national park in south-central Kentucky, US. ... River Styx cave boat tour. ... River Styx, one of the cave's semi-subterranean waterways, emerges onto the surface in the park. During the 1960s, Cave Research Foundation (CRF) exploration and mapping teams had found passageways in the Flint Ridge Cave System that ...

  21. Epic Guide to Mammoth Cave National Park

    The River Styx cave tour isn't available at this time due to the high water levels, so if you want to take that tour, visiting some other time is ideal. ... Mammoth Cave Tours.