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.

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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 .

best mammoth cave tour reddit

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

best mammoth cave tour reddit

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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Mammoth Cave National Park – Which Tour Should You Do?

“My God… That’s spectacular.” On our final tour at Mammoth Cave National Park, the man directly in front of us said this exact line every single time we turned a corner. No, I’m not exaggerating. While I didn’t share his same enthusiasm, I will say that Mammoth Cave is pretty cool. Some of these rock formations are incredible and it’s worth a visit to tour this cave system.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Table of Contents

About Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the worlds largest cave system, with over 400 miles of cave discovered and mapped so far (and still many miles of cave that still need to be explored). The cave is massive and until you visit, it can be difficult to really understand how the true scale of these caves.

Mammoth Cave National Park is located in central Kentucky, just outside of Cave City. A visit here is a little different than most of your national park experiences. Rather than just jumping in your car and exploring on your own, you must sign up for guided tours of the cave. There is a self guided tour option for those who don’t like the idea of a group tour. However, a ranger led tour will give you so much more information about the area you’re exploring.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

We took three tours: The Star Chamber Tour, The Historic Tour, and the Domes and Dripstones Tour. All three were great and all taught us something new about the cave system. But there are still several others to choose from.

Mammoth Cave Tours

The star chamber tour.

This tour at Mammoth Cave is a bit different than most. The cave is filled with artificial lights which are turned on during most tours so everyone can see where they are going. But during this tour, these artificial lights are turned off. You follow your guide through the cave by oil lantern, just like the early tourists who visited here. Because of the limited light, it can be difficult to truly grasp how big the cave really is. Still, it is a great experience. You’ll travel down through the main entrance and down Gothic Avenue before reaching the Star Chamber, at which point you’ll turn around and retrace your steps.

If you’re going to do this tour, I recommend making this your first tour. It’s a great introduction to the cave. The cave feels big, but the lanterns don’t really let you see the true scale. The next day, when we took the Historic Tour, my mom and I were in awe of how big the cave really was. I don’t think you’ll get that same experience if you do the Star Chamber Tour at the end.

It’s such a unique experience that I have to recommend doing this tour.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Total Distance: 2 miles Length of Tour: 2.5 hours Number of Stairs: 160 Cost: $25 per adult

Historic Tour

This tour is a classic and leads you down into Mammoth Cave. You’ll enter through the main entrance and retrace some of the steps you made on the Star Chamber tour. However, now you have the artificial lights turned on and you can really get a sense for how massive this cave system is. It’s amazing how much different and bigger the cave feels with those artificial lights.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

There are two big things to be aware of before signing up for this tour. There can be low ceilings and narrow passage ways. At a few points in the tour, you may need to crouch down and walk along the passage way for an extended period. For reference, I’m 5 feet 4 inches and I occasionally had to crouch down, while my mom at 5 feet 7 inches had to duck more often.

My mom was a little nervous about this, but said that the rangers over exaggerated how bad it was going to be. Still, you know your limits. If you are concerned, talk to rangers before you book your tickets. They will also reiterate all of this information at the safety briefing before starting your tour.

Total Distance: 2 miles Length of Tour: 2 hours Number of Stairs: 540 Cost: $20 per adult

Domes and Dripstones

This is the tour that I think of when I think of Mammoth Cave. It was on this tour that we heard “My God… That’s incredible!” at least 25 times in the course of the two hour tour.

From the visitor center, you’ll board a bus and travel to another entrance to the cave. At this second entrance, you’ll descend a narrow staircase down into the cave. Once you’re down here, the rangers will lead you to some of the most incredible rock formations of the cave system. The highlight for me was the Frozen Niagra area toward the end of the tour.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

This tour had more narrow spaces than the Historic Tour, but I found myself having to duck less on this tour than on the Historic Tour. You will get a safety briefing before your tour that will outline exactly what you’re going to go through.

Total Distance: 1 miles Length of Tour: 2 hours Number of Stairs: 500 Cost: $21 per adult

More Tour Options

The above three tours are the tours that I have first hand experience with. But those aren’t the only tours available at Mammoth Cave.

Accessible Tour – For those with limited mobility, take a look at this tour. This is 2 hours, 0.5 miles, and has no stairs. Cost: $22 per adult.

Cleveland Avenue – This focuses on Cleveland Avenue and the Snowball Room and you’ll see unique passages and gypsum covered walls. This is 2 hours, 1 mile, and 200 stairs. Cost: $22 per adult.

Discovery (Self Guided) – This is the only self-guided option to explore Mammoth Cave. This is 1.25 hours, 0.75 miles, and 125 stairs. Cost: $8 per adult.

Extended Historic – Unsurprisingly, this the Historic Tour with an extension (to the 1840s Cave Experiment). This is 2.25 hours, 2 mile, and 540 stairs. Cost: $23 per adult.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Frozen Niagara – If you only want to see Frozen Niagara and skip the rest of the Domes and Dripstones tour, look at this tour. This is 1.25 hours, 0.25 mile, and 110 stairs (98 are optional). Cost: $18 per adult.

Gothic Avenue – This focuses on more in depth on Gothic Avenue, which is also seen on Star Chamber, Historic Tour, and Violet City Lantern Tour. This is 2 hours, 1 mile, and 160 stairs. Cost: $19 per adult.

Great Onyx Lantern Tour – This is another lantern tour, but it should be noted that this cave is not known to be part of the Mammoth Cave system. Remember that the cave system is still being mapped and explored, so one day, they may be able to connect it with the Mammoth Cave system. This is 2.25 hours, 1 mile, and 40 stairs. Cost: $23 per adult.

Grand Avenue – This is another in depth tour, but it does a deeper dive on the Domes and Dripstones tour. This is 4 hours, 4 mile, and 1313 stairs. Cost: $35 per adult.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Grand Historic – This is one of the most in depth tours and you’ll visit many of the iconic sites that are also seen on the Historic, Extended Historic, Gothic Avenue, Star Chamber, River Styx, Mammoth Passage, and Violet City tours. This is 4 hours, 4 mile, and 640 stairs. Cost: $35 per adult.

Mammoth Passage – This is an introduction to the Historic Tour and is a guided version of the Discovery (Self Guided tour). This is 1.25 hours, 0.75 mile, and 125 stairs. Cost: $11 per adult.

River Styx Lantern Tour – You’ll follow the Historic Tour, but also detour to the underground water level. This is 2.5 hours, 2.5 mile, and 600 stairs. Cost: $22 per adult.

Violet City Lantern Tour – This is another lantern tour option, but is slightly longer than the Star Chamber tour. This is 3 hours, 3 mile, and 160 stairs. Cost: $25 per adult.

Wondering Woods – This is more focusing on the surrounding forests, but does feature a short visit to the cave. This is 1.5 hours, 1 mile, and 194 stairs. Cost: $18 per adult.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Which Tour Should You Do?

The choice of tours is entirely up to you and you should take your own preferences into account, particularly if you love geology. But for the average person, I think the three tours I did (Star Chamber, Historic, and Domes and Dripstones) is a really good combination. Many tours overlap (at least partially) with another tour and I feel like we really got to see a lot of the cave.

On our trip, we arrived into Cave City at around 3:00pm. We got an early dinner in Cave City and then drove to Mammoth Cave National Park We took the Star Chamber Tour at 6:15 that evening. The next day we took the 10:00am Historic Tour and the 2:15 Domes and Dripstones Tour.

If you’re doing both the Historic Tour and Domes and Dripstones on the same day, I think this spacing (10am Historic and 2:15 Domes and Dripstones) works well. The Historic Tour finishes at 12:00, so you have plenty of time for lunch (there’s a Camp Store that serves sandwiches just down the road from the visitor center) and time to relax. If you take an earlier tour, you may be rushed during lunch.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Also note, that tour times change based on the season. We were here in early August when there were numerous tours available, but in winter fewer tours are offered. Always look ahead on the NPS website to see what tours are available for your dates.

It’s a good idea to book your tickets in advance. We booked our tours online approximately six weeks in advance for a visit in August. At that time, there were still plenty of tickets available. However, by the time we arrived in Cave City, nearly everything was sold out. If there’s a tour you really want to do, buy your ticket in advance.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Additional Helpful Tour Information

Each tour at Mammoth Cave (except the Accessible Tour) contains a lot of stairs. Both the Historic Tour and Domes and Dripstones state that you will do over 500 stairs. That said, the stairs are not all at once and are spread out throughout the tour, which is anywhere from .75 to 2 miles in length.

Tour groups can get big. The Star Chamber Tour has limited spots since they have limited lanterns. Our group for this tour had approximately 30 people. However, our groups for the Historic Tour and Domes and Dripstones were at least 100 people. To get the most out of your tour (and to maximize your time for photos), stick to the front of the group. We were at the back of the group for the Star Chamber Tour, but I don’t think we missed much. For the other two tours, had we stayed at the back, we would have gotten the essential information, but we would have missed some more of the “fun facts” and other random tidbits from our ranger. He’d typically give these facts to the front of the group while we waited for the back part of the group to file in.

There are no facilities on your tour. Use the bathroom before you depart and carry anything you might need (although you really shouldn’t need much as food and drinks other than water are not allowed in the cave).

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Getting to Mammoth Cave

Look at the map before you go. There is no service and the National Park Service strongly recommends avoiding Google Maps to navigate you to the visitor center. We used Google Maps and had no problems, but it’s something you should be aware of.

When to Visit Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave is 52 degrees all year round, so they can be visited at any point. The biggest thing to note is that tour offerings change throughout the year. Summer will have more tours offered than winter.

We visited in early August, so while it was hot and humid outside (with temperatures in the upper 80s), the inside of the cave was cool. I wore leggings and had a light sweatshirt (I only used my sweatshirt on two of the three tours).

Where to Stay

The nearest town to Mammoth Cave is Cave City. It’s a small town with not a lot of options, but you will find a few choices for hotels and restaurants.

Final Thoughts

I’ve visited other caves, but nothing was quite like Mammoth Cave. The sheer scale is hard to imagine and when you’re standing in the cave, you can really feel small. It’s definitely worth a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park just to experience it.

Continue Your Adventure

Similar National Parks : For a similar, but also different, cave experience, check out New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park .

Nearby National Parks : Nearby is relative, but if you’re chasing national parks, there’s a few to look into. You have Indiana Dunes National Park to the north, Gateway Arch National Park to the west, and New River Gorge National Park to the east. All are between a five to six hour drive from Mammoth Cave.

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Wild Cave Tour

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Wild Cave Tour - All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (2024)

Best Mammoth Cave Tour for Families

With so many cave tours to choose from, how do you know which one is best for your family we break it down in this article with our recommendations for the best mammoth cave tour for your family..

best mammoth cave tour reddit

On the road home from Mammoth Cave National Park, our grandsons were on the phone trying to talk their mom (who stayed home) into a second trip to the caves. Yes, they had that much fun! So we wanted to share the best Mammoth Cave tour for families with you. 

But we almost messed up. There are over a dozen cave tours, and we discovered that not all are kid-friendly or even interesting to kids. Based only on the description on the NPS website, our tour selection could have resulted in a boring trip for the boys (age 10 and 12). Due to a combination of luck and extensive research, we ended up with amazing tours they loved. 

Here are our thoughts on the best and the worst tours for families in Mammoth Cave National Park.

Best Mammoth Cave Tours Based on Your Family

Let’s be realistic; what works for a 2-year-old might not be the best cave tour for your teen. So we’ve broken the tours into categories based on age and mobility to help you choose the Mammoth Cave tours that are best for your family.

Best Overall Mammoth Cave Tour for Families: Domes and Dripstones

Our recommendation is the Domes and Dripstones Tour for a family tour. It’s an interesting tour that will entertain family members of all ages. Our family is still talking about this one.

About the Domes and Dripstones Tour

There are just enough tight squeezes between the rocks that our grandsons felt like they were on a big cave adventure. And the youngest (10)  was the only one to go through some tunnels without ducking.

The Domes and Dripstones Tour also features a collection of stalactites and stalagmites that we all found interesting. The most famous is the dripstone Frozen Niagra, which is stunning. You won’t find the extensive stalactites and stalagmites in Mammoth Caves that we saw in Carlsbad Caverns National Park .

The tour guides share a lot of history along this tour with stories that all ages will enjoy. These sections of Mammoth Cave have been a tourist destination for over 100 years. They also explain the science of the natural formation of the caves in a family-friendly way.

You will get a workout on the Domes and Dripstones Tour as you climb up and down 540 steps. The good news is that the 2-hour tour moves at a meandering pace so that you can take your time on the stairs

Large open cavern on the best mammoth cave tour for families - Domes and Dripstones

Domes and Dripstones might not be good for families with:

  • Independent toddlers who demand exploring on their own. (You know if this is your child.) The narrow passages, deep drops and hundreds of stairs require a tight rein on toddlers.
  • Anyone with health issues, those 540 stairs will give you a good workout. 
  • Someone with extreme claustrophobia might not enjoy it. The tight spaces are not extensive and usually open up to a larger area quickly, so most folks don’t even think about it. But they do exist and should be considered if you have concerns. 

Best Challenging Tour for Your Family: Grand Avenue Tour

The Grand Avenue Tour might be the best tour for your family if your kids are pre-teen to teen and love an adventure. On this 4-hour tour, you cover everything in the Domes and Dripstones Tour plus a lot more!

According to the NPS description : You’ll be “going through slot canyons, tubular passageways, tall canyons, and tunnels sparkled with gypsum”… and you’ll cover “a wide variety of the history and geology of Mammoth Cave”.

We did not take this extended tour because I was concerned the boys couldn’t stay engaged for 4 hours. In hindsight, that was a good call. A 2-hour tour was the limit for the 10-year-old. When evaluating if your kids could handle this 4-hour tour, remember that there is no free exploring; you must stay with and follow the ranger guide. It’s a bit like being in school for 4 hours without a recess, except maybe more interesting than learning how to conjugate verbs.

There is a minimum age of 6 for this tour because of its 4-hour length and the 1300 stairs you will climb. The park rangers have designated this a difficult hike because of all those stairs. However, the tour travels at a comfortable pace, so don’t be frightened by those stairs unless you have a health issue.

Best Easy and Short Tour: Frozen Niagara Tour

The highlight of the Domes and Dripstones Tour is the finale at the Frozen Niagara section of the cave. It’s a beautiful section discovered in 1923. The large draping flowstone appears as a frozen waterfall. This tour is the way to shortcut right to that fantastic site.

The Frozen Niagara Tour lasts a little over an hour, including the short bus ride to and from the entrance. You’ll descend into the cave with only 12 stair steps and a walking distance of ¼ mile.

Although the caving experience is minimal on the Frozen Niagara Tour, it is an easy way to see one of the most famous sites in Mammoth Cave National Park if you have an active toddler or health restrictions. 

Ranger standing outside Mammoth Cave Historic Tour with our grandsons. Boys have thumbs up

Ready for a Second Tour? Family Friendly Cave Tours that Round Out Your Visit

We’d encourage you to take a second tour with your kids while at Mammoth Cave to experience all the park offers. And the best second tour explores the original historical sections of the cave. You have several choices, listed from easiest to most challenging:

  • Easy: Discovery Self Guided Tour
  • Easy to Moderate: Gothic Avenue Tour
  • Moderate: Historic Tour
  • Moderate with extra features: Extended Historic Tour

All of these tours focus on the history of Mammoth Cave. The most impressive part of the tour is the massive open rooms that gave the caves their name. Did you think the caves were named after the animal? Nope… they were named because the early explored sections of the cave were “Mammothly” big.

The tours explore periods when the caves were mined for saltpeter, which was used in gunpowder. Much of the mining equipment was abandoned in the cave. The guides also have abundant stories to tell about early explorers and the first tourists.

The biggest difference between these 4 tours is primarily in how far they travel into the cave system. I recommend only planning to take one tour from this group, choosing the level best suited for your family.

Best History Tour of Mammoth Cave for Families: The Historic Tour

Want to walk through the tunnels that “humans have used for thousands of years”? Then the Historic Tour is for you as you tour many of the originally opened sections of Mammoth Cave. Your guide will regal you with past stories, talking about early explorers and visitors plus the mining operations.

The 2-hour tour travels about 2 miles, first through the large open rooms that made the cave famous. And then you’ll explore deeper into the cave, including tighter spaces. Some might find the steeper inclines and the 540 steps a bit challenging on this tour. But just like our favorite Domes and Dripstones Tour above, it moves at a slow enough pace that visitors in good health should be able to keep up.

We wish we had been able to get tickets for this very popular tour instead of the Gothic Avenue Tour listed below. I think we all would have really enjoyed walking through the deeper caverns.

Best Cave Tour for History Buffs: Extended Historic Tour

For a little more historical information, grab a ticket for the extended Historic Tour, which is the same tour as above with a bonus side trip “to one of the sites of the famous 1840s Mammoth Cave experiment to treat consumption”. 

If you have a few history buffs in your family, it’s worth adding this extra 15 minutes to your tour. But our grandkids would have been happy to skip this section. Know your audience.

Best Quick Tour: Discovery Self-Guided Tour

The Self Guided Tour is only offered when the park is super busy. It’s the option for many people who didn’t realize you needed to order your tour tickets online and in advance. So on busy days, the park opens up the Self Guided Tour with same-day ticket sales only.

Although I think it’s very thoughtful that the park has this overflow option for visitors, I also think the 30-minute Self-Guided Tour is a great option for people who can’t easily participate in a two-hour tour. For that reason, I wish they offered it all the time.

The Self-Guided Tour focuses on the history of the cave. You’ll find signage throughout the trail explaining the artifacts and geology of the cave. You can move at your own pace, but most people complete the tour in less than ½ hour. Rangers are available to answer questions as you travel along the ¾-mile trail. Although rated an easy trail, keep in mind there are 125 stair steps required, and the walk back to the visitor center is a fairly steep graded walkway.

2 boys standing next to cave structure that looks like a throne. From the Gothic Avenue Tour at Mammoth Cave National Park

Best Easy Guided Tour: Gothic Avenue Tour

We embarked on the Gothic Avenue Tour on our second morning at Mammoth Cave National Park. The size of the rooms is astounding. The large open rooms just keep going in this section of the cave. No wonder early visitors were impressed.

The guides shared many stories about the early visitors, explaining the historical graffiti and the early mining operations in great detail. Overall it was an interesting experience.

In hindsight, I would choose the Historic or Extended Historic Tour for our family’s tour. The Gothic Avenue Tour moved too slow for two energetic boys, and they were ready to move on after the first hour. 

Gothic Avenue Tour is Good for:

  • Families with small children because the walkways are wide and there are no steep drops. They can easily walk holding hands with their parents. 
  • Family members who wanted to move at a slower pace. 
  • People with claustrophobia might be able to handle this tour since this cave section is very open. 

Best Mammoth Cave Tours for the Adventurous Family

These 4 tours are restricted to children at least 6 years old. The tours are a bit more challenging and your kids need to be able to listen to and follow instructions for their safety. 

These tours are smaller groups and have a very limited schedule, so make sure you order your tickets as soon as possible. When we ordered our tickets, about 2 weeks prior to our visit to Mammoth Cave, all these were sold out. The information I’m sharing is from the NPS website and Facebook Page since we didn’t have an opportunity to try any of them.

All except the Great Onyx Lantern Tour cover a lot of the sections included in the historic tours so would be a great substitute for families with older children.

Great Onyx Lantern Tour

Great Onyx Cave is not believed to be connected to the Mammoth Cave system, it sits in an area of the park by itself. But because it is unique, tours are offered with only a short bus ride from the visitor’s center. You’ll tour the cave by lamplight, recreating the experience of early visitors.

According to the NPS website description : “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.”

Tour walkway along the underground river styx.

River Styx Tour

The River Styx Tour is the same as the Historic Tour with a really cool side trip down to the underground water level. The tour is 2 ½ hours long, covering 2.5 miles.

River Styx flows through and under the Mammoth Cave system, eventually emptying into the Green River. Early visitors to the cave were able to tour this section in a small boat. Because human interaction was affecting the little creatures that live in the river, you can now only walk along the river on a raised platform.

Family climbing out of the Mammoth Cave Tour from the Star Chamber tour. Large flight of stairs leading out into dusk.

Star Chamber Tour

The rangers describe the Star Chamber Tour as an experience rather than site seeing. It’s “an evening tour in Mammoth Cave by lantern light, this winding its way to historic Star Chamber.” The tour is by lantern light to get the feel of what it felt like to be an early explorer walking through the caverns.

The 2 ½ hour tour travels through some of the same areas as the Gothic Avenue and Historic Tour and is only offered in the evening. 

Ranger Guide telling story to children on the Violet City Lantern Tour at Mammoth Cave National Park

Violet City Lantern Tour

“A truly historic way to experience Mammoth Cave, this tour travels exclusively by lantern light.”

For a longer, 3-hour and 3-mile exploration by lantern light, the Violet City Lantern Tour is quite the experience. Although there are only 160 steps, you’ll find several steep walking grades that make this a difficult tour.

Best Mammoth Cave Tour for Families by Age

Here’s a quick recap of which tours are probably best for families of different age groups. Of course, you know your kids best so take into account their unique abilities when selecting your tour.

Best Tour for Families with Babies

Since babies are allowed on most tours if you carry them on your chest, you are then only limited by your own level of fitness. If you can carry your baby for 2 hours going up and down stairs, then the Domes and Dripstones Tour is our top choice.

It’s important to know that the only way to include a baby on a Mammoth Cave NP tour is to carry the baby in a chest harness or chest carrier. Strollers and backpack carriers are not allowed on the tours. Babies are also not allowed on the tours with a 6+ age restriction.

Check the list below for the number of steps and the difficulty level to help you choose.

Best Tour for Families with Toddlers

Families with toddlers have a unique buddle of energy to accommodate. The basic Historic Tour is a good choice. The wider walkways will allow your toddler to walk holding hands with you. The tour often stops at benches for stories which will give you a break.

Be prepared to carry your toddler for some of this tour, 2 hours of walking is a lot for many little ones.

Best Tour for Families with Grade Schoolers

The best tour for school-aged kids is the Domes and Dripstones Tour, which is also our top recommendation for families. The tour has enough variety that kids will love exploring the cave.

Best Tour for Families with Pre-Teens and Teens

Teens will also love the Domes and Dripstones Tour. However, try to add in a second tour for them from the Lanterns tours that take them into parts of Mammoth Cave that few visitors see. They will appreciate the extra side trips that make those tours unique.

List of Mammoth Cave Tours at a Glance

The tours offered at Mammoth Cave can vary based on the season and demand. This is the current list of offerings. Tours may vary seasonally.

Why You Should Trust Us When Planning your Mammoth Cave Trip

Brad and I are on a mission to explore all of the US National Parks. Mammoth Cave National Park was the 33rd park we’ve visited! Before visiting a park like Mammoth Cave, we research like crazy to ensure we are ready to explore, have fun and create great memories. Then we go and do!

This article summarizes our personal experiences in the park, additional research, and all of our pre-visit research. 

The advice you read here is exactly what we’d tell our best friends if they plan a trip to Mammoth Cave! We hope you enjoy your visit to Mammoth Cave National Park.

About Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park is in rural Southern Kentucky. Rolling green hills, dotted with farms and ranches, define the landscape. The aptly named Green River cuts through the park. 

Underneath all of this serene beauty, there is a whole other world of caves. The Mammoth Cave system runs over 450 miles. That makes it the world’s longest cave. The cave is a collection of caverns and tunnels connected by passageways. Over thousands of years, underground rivers and seeping rain have eroded the limestone creating the cave.

It’s estimated that Mammoth Cave might be over 600 miles long, with new passageways yet to be discovered. To be considered part of the same cave, a passageway must exist that a human can pass through. The most recent 50-mile addition was found when water levels dropped in one of the caverns exposing an opening that led to more miles of the cave. Rangers shared that they often join together to explore more of the cave system on their day off… that’s their entertainment!

Boy in cave tunnel in the Mammoth Cave Museum, demonstrates size of some connecting tunnels between caves.

Arrive Early to Explore the Museum

The museum in the Mammoth Cave National Park visitor center is extremely well designed to engage visitors of all ages. Our youngest (10) climbed through the mock cave tunnel repeatedly while our older grandson (12) explored independently. There are many hands-on activities to engage your kids while teaching them about the science and history of the caves.

As always, we had to drag Grandpa Brad out of the museum because he loved the abundance of explainer displays and videos. Mammoth Cave’s museum is one of the best we’ve experienced during our National Park Adventures.

Junior Ranger Program

When we picked up our Junior Ranger booklets in the gift shop, the clerk gave us a tip that all the answers could be found in the museum. Of course, that encourages your kids to search through all the displays. 

I’d suggest you spend 30 minutes in the Museum before your tour to plant a few seeds of knowledge about caves with your kids. Then another 30 minutes after your tour explore and finish their Jr Ranger books.

What to Expect Inside Mammoth Cave

Temperatures.

The temperature in the caves is a constant 54 degrees so you might want to bring along a light jacket. Temperatures on the top will vary with the season from cold winters to hot summers.

Formations in the Caves

Stalactites and Stalagmites make their home in many caves. These are the formations you anticipate seeing in caves that result from water dripping over limestone. However, most of the cave is open caverns. You won’t find as many of the beautiful cave structures as you can experience in the caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Size of Tour Groups

Tour size varies from a couple of dozen to over 100 people. The more popular tours will have bigger groups. However, even though our Domes and Dripstones tour comprised of about 110 visitors, we surprisingly didn’t feel crowded.

Bathrooms on Mammoth Cave Tours

Bathrooms on the tours are non-existent. You’ll find beautiful bathrooms at the visitor center so go before you head out. 

Tour Guides

The tour guides are excellent. They come prepared with a variety of stories to tell to illustrate the history and geography of the caves. Our first guide was a college student and our second guide was a retired teacher. Both exhibited a passion for the caves during the tours.

There is no free exploring. You must stay on the paths following the tour guides. They will remind you to not touch the rocks. Some additional rules for your cave tours:

  • Photography is encouraged although you can’t use a flash. Tripods and monopods are not allowed as they will slow up the tour. If you are a professional photographer, you can apply for a special tour, although not many are granted.
  • Child backpack carriers and strollers are not allowed. Feel free to use a front pack for babies.
  • Large backpacks are not allowed. They defined that as “Metal framed backpacks and backpacks that are higher than the shoulder or that are of a length that extends below the hips”
  • Firearms or other weapons
  • Pets (You can kennel for a small fee nearby.)

What to Bring on Your Cave Tour

  • Light Jacket
  • Bottle of water
  • Small snacks are allowed, especially for longer hikes or if you have health concerns.
  • A camera that can be used without flash
  • Closed-toed shoes are best for the metal stairs and extensive walking.
  • Your tickets – they will be checked as you board the buses or enter the caves.

More Information for Planning Your Family’s Mammoth Cave Tours

How to get tickets for your mammoth cave tour.

While tour tickets are available at the visitor center, it is better to purchase your tickets in advance online through Recreation.gov . During our visit, tickets for almost all tours were sold out for same-day purchase. So waiting means you may not get in.

You should order your tickets as soon as you are confident in your tour dates. Two weeks prior to our visit there were a lot of tours available, but by the week of our trip, the selection was limited.

How Many Mammoth Cave Tours Should You Plan to Take?

If you can fit it into your schedule, I’d recommend you take at least 2 tours that explore a different section of Mammoth Cave. We scheduled one each morning and then left our afternoon free to explore outside the caves. 

How to Mix and Match Your Cave Tours

There are over a dozen different cave tours. Most tours are not completely unique, many overlap with the ground covered by other tours to capture the highlights of Mammoth Cave. For example, the Gothic Avenue Tour is primarily a subset of the Historic Tour. And the Frozen Niagara Tour is a short tour of the ending point for the Domes and Dripstones Tour.

Is There an Accessible Tour of Mammoth Cave?

Currently, the accessible tour is unavailable due to elevator issues and there is no clear date on when it will be reopened. 

What’s the Best Time of Day to Take a Cave Tour?

The biggest consideration in planning your family trip into the caves is that you and your kids will be a captive audience for the length of the tour. There are no bathrooms and there is no exit mid-tour. Once you start, you have to finish along with the rest of the group.

So the best time to take your tour will be different for every family. Consider when your kids are most able to focus. For example, your 4-year-old that takes afternoon naps is probably better on a morning tour. While a 15-year-old who sleeps in during the summer months might be more engaged right after lunch.

Pets in Mammoth Cave National Park

We were excited to learn that pets are welcome on the outdoor hiking trails in Mammoth Cave National Park. Most National Parks severely restrict pet access. So we originally planned to bring Charlie along on our trip. However, temperatures soared into the high 90s the week of our road trip so we left her with a friend to enjoy the air conditioning. That dog just plain hates hot weather!

While dogs are not allowed on the cave tours, you’ll find shaded outdoor kennels available for your use at the Mammoth Cave Kennels just a short walk from the visitor’s center for a very low fee. There are some restrictions so make sure you read about pets in Mammoth Cave NP before you head out on your road trip.

Where to Stay When Visiting Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. You’ll want a lodging plan before you head that way. Luckily there are great options for both camping and hotels.

Hotels, Motels and More

Inside the park, you can relax at the historic Lodge at Mammoth Cave . It is located directly next to the visitor center and features a mix of modern hotel rooms as well as historic cottages nestled in a woodland setting. All are within walking distance of cave tours and park trails.

Cave City is the nearest town, only about a 15 minute drive. You’ll find a variety of more traditional motels here. You can check Cave City motel availability here.

Campgrounds in Mammoth Cave National Park and Nearby

There are 3 beautiful campgrounds in Mammoth Cave National Park. We camped in the main campground and loved the large well shaded campsite. Make sure you get camping reservations because this park can fill up fast.

Re-capping the Best Mammoth Cave Tour for Families

The best Mammoth Cave tour for families is the Domes and Dripstones tour. We recommend that you combine this tour with one of the historical tours for a fully rounded trip to Mammoth Cave National Park. We’ve also included tips to adjust your tour plans based on your unique family. I hope you have a great time!

Planning to visit all National Parks? Here’s other Trips You Might Want to Read:

  • Colorado National Park Road Trip
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  • West Texas and New Mexico National Park Road Trip

Ladona Stork

The Authors: Hey, we are Ladona and Brad, avid campers and hikers. We are crazy about getting outdoors at every possible moment and have decades of experience exploring nature. Our current goal is to visit all 63 US National Parks and just completed #42. WooHoo! Our mission is to help you plan your own adventures and create memories beyond your imagination!

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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Rocky mountain national park: old fall river road, cave country rv campground: cave city, ky, white sands national monument.

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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Top ten tips for visiting mammoth cave national park.

Planning a visit to Mammoth Cave? GREAT! Here are some tips that will help you have a fun and memorable visit to the longest cave system in the world.

A group of people walk in a dark cave while holding lanterns.

NPS Photo/ Kait Evensen

1. Get Your Cave Tour Tickets and Campground Reservations in Advance

Cave tours are our most popular activity and often sell out. By purchasing your tickets ahead of time through Recreation.gov , it will ensure you can get the tour you want, on the day you want, at the time you want. It is a win-win-win! And don’t miss your chance to roast s’mores around the campfire, make your campsite reservation in advance for one of our three campgrounds . Reservations can be made through Recreation.gov .

2. Pick the Right Tour

Mammoth Cave offers a variety of cave tours for visitors of all abilities an interest. This allows you to select the adventure that best fits your group’s needs. From a 2.5-mile, 2.5-hour dirt trail hike to an underground river, to a .25-mile, 1.25-hour walk to see hundreds of dripstone formations, there is a tour here that is right for you. Check out all our tour descriptions to learn about all our tour options.

Two people hiking on a trail.

NPS Photo/ Nathaniel Leies

3. Get Out Early to Enjoy the Sunnier Side of the Park

Mammoth Cave is known for its extensive labyrinth of underground cave passages, but did you know the park has over 85 miles of hiking , biking , and equestrian trails? Get out on the trails early in the day to view wildlife, wildflowers, and the park’s scenic views along the forested rolling hills before the rest of the world has even rolled out of bed for their morning breakfast.

4. Hang Out With a Ranger

If you are looking for something to do other than visit a dark hole in the ground, join one of our guides for a free Ranger-led Program . These walks and talks take place throughout the day and offer a great way to learn about the park. They are the perfect activity to complement your cave tour.

People sitting in red kayaks on a river.

NPS Photo/ Kevin Howard

5. Paddle Away on a Weekday

Not all the water at Mammoth Cave is hidden at the bottom of a cave. The park is home to over 30 miles of the Green and Nolin Rivers which are perfect for paddling or fishing . The river can get very busy over the weekends, though, so plan your trip along the scenic waterways on weekdays to avoid congestion at the river access points. Several canoe and kayak outfitters are happy to set you up for your trip down the river.

6. Remember Your Jacket

The sultry summer heat and humidity can make us sweat, but the cave’s temperature averages a cool 54 degrees year-round. Be prepared for your tour by bringing an extra clothing layer to keep you comfortable while inside the cave. Find out what else you need to Know Before You Go .

Groups of people line up to get on two green buses.

7. Don’t Be Scared. Be Prepared!

Mammoth Cave is a place for fun, not folly! At the end of the day, we want both you and the park to be in a better condition than when you first found each other. Learn more about how to keep yourself and the park safe during your visit.

8. Tick-Tock…Watch the Clock

Mammoth Cave National Park sits on the far eastern side of the Central Time Zone (GMT-5). This can be confusing to visitors traveling from the north and Eastern Time Zone who are trying to plan their cave tour schedule. We don’t want you to be too late or too early for your tour.

A car is transported across the river on a ferry.

NPS Photo/ Molly Schroer

9. Don’t Let Technology Lead You Astray

GPS and electronic navigations are handy for guiding us around, but they don’t always lead you on the best path to the park. Check your route and review our directions to the park before you set out on your journey. Also know that public Wi-Fi is available at the park visitor center but cell service throughout the park can be spotty.

10. See What South-Central Kentucky is All About

Feel like you are cramming a lot of Mammoth Cave into one day trip? Stay around and avoid the rush! There are several lodging and camping options inside the park as well as within our neighboring communities . You might even check another National Park Service site off your list by visiting Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgensville, KY which is right up the road.

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Mammoth Cave National Park

Last updated: February 1, 2022

TWO WORLDS TREASURES

Explore Texas & beyond from Dallas/Ft. Worth

Should You Take Domes and Dripstones Tour at Mammoth Cave National Park?

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Of all the cave tours offered by Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, we decided to do the Domes and Dripstones Tour on our visit there during Thanksgiving Break. 

First, the Domes and Dripstones Tour got good reviews and recommendations from the park and previous visitors. Many said it is one of the best Mammoth Cave tours. 

Then, the cave tour ends in the dripstone section known as Frozen Niagara. It is the only section in the park that has stalactites and stalagmites. These formations always amazed me.

Lastly, we didn’t have plenty of time to spend at Mammoth Cave NP. We were on our way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to celebrate Thanksgiving with family. 

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission from the discount codes used or when a link/ad is clicked. All purchases made will come at no extra cost to you. Also, Two Worlds Treasures participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Again, there’s no extra cost to you.

After spending a night in Bowling Green, Kentucky , it seemed like the Domes and Dripstones Tour was the right choice before we drove straight to Steel City.

Little did I know that Thanksgiving Break is also one of the Mammoth Cave NP’s busiest times of year. I thought it’s only busy, but not that busy. Well, I was wrong. 

When I visited the park’s website, they strongly recommended visitors book the cave tour ticket online . Popular cave tour tickets like Domes and Dripstones are gone fast.

Since I wasn’t sure what time we would arrive there, I didn’t book the ticket right away. I waited until we arrived in Bowling Green the night before we visited. Of course, their online ticket reservation system was down. Great! 

Fortunately, when we got to Mammoth Cave National Park the next morning, they still had room for our family of 3. 

When you go there during the busy season, I strongly recommend you book the tour ticket online. Don’t make the same mistake as us.

What Is a Domes and Dripstones Tour at Mammoth Cave National Park?

Here’s what they said on their website.

The Domes and Dripstones Tour is a classic tour that visits areas of Mammoth Cave that have been used for nearly 100 years.

It begins in a sinkhole, passes through huge domes, and amazing breaks, and ends in the dripstones section known as Frozen Niagara.

The tour involves ascending and descending hundreds of stairs and several steep inclines. If you are not physically fit for this situation, don’t take this tour as there are no alternative routes. You will walk from the moment you enter the sinkhole to the Frozen Niagara section.

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.

Restroom: no

Tickets available for each tour time: 110

Fees: $30 adults, $25 youth, $15 Senior Pass holder, $15 Access Pass holder.

Domes and Dripstones Tour at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. (Two Worlds Treasures)

Our experience on the Domes and Dripstones Tour

When we bought the tickets and learned that it would be a big group – 131 people – we didn’t like it. But we were there already and we didn’t know when we could make a stop at the park in the future.

(Note: The park has changed number of people for this tour to 110. I still think it’s too big for a tour.)

We still had several minutes left before the tour started, so we walked around the exhibits. I encourage you to do this to learn about Mammoth Cave National Park’s fascinating cave system. 

From the visitor center, they bused us to the cave entrance. The drive took around 10 minutes, and the gray, dreary morning made the drive like I was in a movie scene.   

After we arrived at the entrance area, the tour guide explained the physical condition of the tour. Then we followed him down to the door of the sinkhole. The door is surrounded by dirt and trees. 

We decided to follow at the very back because people were already lined up behind the guide. A few people had the same thought as us and they managed to walk behind us. 

Seeing the guide followed by others entering the metal door one by one was like watching an armageddon movie. It’s like a group of people finding a safe place to keep them from disasters without knowing what’s behind the door. And I was part of it. Except in this case, our guide knew well what was behind the door.

Once we got through the door, we started walking on 280 steps and descended to the bottom of the cave. It’s slippery so we watched our steps carefully. 

A family walked in front of us. Their daughter, who appeared to be around 11, was a bit hysterical. She didn’t want to move, she thought she couldn’t make it. It’s dark and humid there. The mother tried to encourage her and the girl finally gained her bravery. 

But I couldn’t take good pictures since the people behind us weren’t patient enough. They just wanted to move fast and I thought, you shouldn’t be at the very end.

Finally, we arrived at the bottom. At the same time, the tour guide was done with his explanation and started to move. Excuse me?

It was like that the whole time. Either the tour guide started to move by the time we entered one room, or we couldn’t hear what he said at every stop. It’s just too crowded for one tour guide. Yes! 1 tour guide for 131 people.

So, we just enjoyed the cave ourselves. I don’t recall seeing stalactites or stalagmites until we got to the Frozen Niagara section. Maybe because it’s too dark inside?

I told my husband that walking in the cave was like underground hiking.

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My husband and son weren’t impressed with the stalactites and stalagmites at the Frozen Niagara. They said Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico which we visited a few years back was way better. I think part of it was because they were upset with the tour. We couldn’t hear anything that the tour guide talked about.

As for me, I was impressed with the Frozen Niagara because I hadn’t seen frozen stalactites and stalagmites before.

Once we got to the surface of the earth, buses were waiting for us. In about 10 minutes we arrived back at the Visitor Center.

All participants of the tour walked on bio-security mats immediately after we left the bus. It’s to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome is a fatal disease in bats caused by the fungus. It kills bats in North America, and we, humans, potentially help the spread of the fungus.    

From here we walked back towards the Visitor Center, passing the Green River Grill and Spelunkers Cafe & Ice Cream Parlor before crossing the footbridge.

Bio-security mats at Mammoth Cave National Park. (Two Worlds Treasures)

Our takes on the Domes & Dripstones Tour

From our experience, we didn’t think the Domes and Dripstones Tour was one of the best cave tours in Mammoth Cave National Park. It was probably a different experience if there weren’t too many people in the group though.

If you want to do this tour, do it during the low season or weekdays.

Or, call ahead of time because schools around the area have field trips here. I don’t think you want to be put in the same group with the school’s field trip.

If it’s a big group, make sure you walk behind the tour guide.

And if you want to see the stalactites and stalagmites only, go with the Frozen Niagara Tour. This tour will take you straight to the section with only 12 stairs. It’s faster, has fewer miles, and easy.

How to get to Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave is huge with a size near 35,000 acres. It is divided by the Green River that flows from east to west through the center of the park.

The visitor center and cave tours are found on the south side of the river, while backcountry camping, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking opportunities are on the north side of the river.

Here’s a few options on directions to the park:

– By Car

Most visitors to the park arrive by car, just like us. The park is located not too far from I-65, the major highway that connects Nashville in Tennessee to Louisville in Kentucky. It’s around 30 miles to the north (40 minutes drive) from where we stayed in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

– By Air

The closest major airports are in Louisville, Kentucky (89 miles from Park Headquarters) and Nashville, Tennessee (99 miles). You can find car rentals at both airports . 

– By RV, Trailers, or Buses

There are no restrictions on the size of RVs, trailers, or buses in the park. Note that you might find difficulties when crossing the Green River with a ferry or traveling on the park’s secondary road.

– By Ferry

There are no bridges connecting the south and north sides of the park. Visitors can take the Green River Ferry as an alternative to the major highways. Ferry operations are subject to closures due to fluctuating water levels. Call (270) 758-2166 before your visit.

Parking spaces by the Visitor Center are spacious. Besides special parking spots for disabled visitors, Mammoth Cave National Park also provides special spots for visitors driving their alternative fuel vehicles. We felt like a royal when we got out of our Prius. Hehe..

Special parking for alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles only at Mammoth Cave National Park. (Two Worlds Treasures)

Basic info to know before your trip to Mammoth Cave National Park

– Flash photography is not allowed during tours. No tripods or monopods as well.

– No walking sticks, strollers, firearms, or other weapons.

– Child backpack carriers are not permitted. Use the front packs.

– No metal framed backpacks and backpacks that are higher than the shoulder or that extend below the hips.

– Deep cave temperature is 54⁰F (12⁰C) while temperatures near cave entrances can vary widely, depending on the season.

– Review the cave tour descriptions to find one that suits you.

– For members of the deaf and hard of hearing community, assisted listening devices and sign language interpreter services are available with advanced arrangements.

– Spring and Fall are popular times for school trips and other parties. Therefore, your tour may include another group (s) of various ages.

Visiting Mammoth Cave with a dog?

Unfortunately, dogs are not permitted in caves or park buildings. Fortunately, there’s a day-boarding facility at the Mammoth Cave Kennels . 

But you must know that Mammoth Cave NP has a presence of ticks and other insects. You are advised to talk with your vet before your trip to the park.

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Thank you for sharing this:

Umiko Buhl is a travel blogger and the founder of Two Worlds Treasures. She travels around Texas to neighboring states and around the country with her family and dog from their family home in the south of Dallas/Fort Worth. Originally from Indonesia, she tries to go home every 2-3 years to spend time with her families and friends while exploring Indonesia. Her mission is to share her honest reviews of places she visited.

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33 Comments

I want to take the Domes and Dripstones Tour at Mammoth Cave National Park, as I haven’t this park yet. It’s on my bucket list. I visited Carlsbad Caverns NP in New Mexico, but I want to visit Mammoth Cave as well, as I love caves. And I like to photograph stalactites and stalagmites. Well, I’m not too fond of a massive group of people when visiting, but I think I would choose the offseason for my visit. Great tips about the park!

Yeah. Visit during low season where you can be the only or a few visitors in the tour. It will be wonderful!

I have been wanting to visit Mammoth Caves, so it was nice to get an honest take on the tour. That many people seem like way too much for one tour, especially into caves like this where I’m sure the space isn’t that large. I am the same way as you, I prefer to stay in the back ad actually did this when I toured Howe Caverns in NY. It definitely makes for better photo ops (a must for me) and less crowds. I will keep in mind to visit in the off season for sure!

National Park tours can be a bit hit and miss in my experience so it is good that you have done the hard work for visitors ahead of their visit.

one tour guide for 131 people sounds quite miserable. No wonder the tour wasn’t enjoyable.

I would feel a bit claustrophobic as well with so many people in such close quarters.

That’s too bad that you had a bad experience. I am not afraid of caves, generally, but can’t imagine being in one with so many people. That would freak me out. Carlsbad Caverns is high on my bucket list. I go into caves whenever I can.

I will definitely go in off season or a small group next time we go to Mammoth Cave.

We definitely want to plan a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park. How fun that there are different cave tours. It sounds like the Domes and Dripstones Tour is one of the best with lots of variety in the things to see. Luckily we are fit enough to do the stairs and inclines. Although a really big tour group might not be my favourite so I would visit in off season for sure.

I would think it will be better to do it off season for sure.

I think I would have also skipped the tour if I had known ahead of time that it would be over 100 people, but what are you going to do when you already have the tickets? It’s too bad that you couldn’t hear the guide or was too late to hear the guide by the time you got to a specific spot. They should invest in those audio tours for people who are in the back of the crowd. At least you got to enjoy the views some 🙂

Yes! They should thinking about investing in audio tours for their large group tour.

The tour appeals to me but that many people on a tour is ridiculous. Especially in current climes. 20 in a group maximum and even then I think its too many. Would definitely choose off season. I hope you complained at the end.

I was grateful for your honest review. I’m not sure this is a tour I would enjoy and I appreciate the heads up. Especially if the tours are always this crowded!

I love visiting caves, but as you wrote 130 people in a group is too much! I always try to visit places with limited space, be it museums or caves, not during public holidays. I know that I do not enjoy the sights very much, if it is too crowded. Thanks for your honest review!

I’m normally the one who does like Going on big tours but as you get to know all the ins and outs but maybe skip this one … but definitely add the amazing park to my bucket list

Thanks for your honest take on it. I’m not a fan of large groups so would try and avoid those peak times. The tour with only 12 steps sounds a good option for me.

Thank you for your honesty and candidness on this! I definitely will be skipping this tour when I go!

I loved that you shared the tip about booking online. It’s unfortunate that the group size is so large, i can see how it takes away from the experience. Thanks for sharing your real experience and perspective for others who are interested in going.

I’m not a huge fan of large group tours either. It always takes something away from the experience. It’s shame for such a unique place. Thanks for the review..it’s nice to know these things before buying a ticket.

I still read review from others who went there recently that the number of people in this particular tour was still big.

I appreciate your honest thoughts on the tour. 131 people is a big group and I can imagine it wasn’t easy trying to get good pictures. I never knew about the bats and fungus, that sounds quite scary!

I heard about the bats and fungus the first time we went to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. We couldn’t wear the same shoes from the last visit to other cave within certain times.

That’s a lot of people in one cave–131! I did caving in Meghalaya and only 20 people are allowed inside at one time as it could potentially harm the place. You are right, caving does need some physical stamina and fitness. Sometimes, I wonder how the men of yore lived in these caves.

The cave is really huge, but still, that’s too many people in one tour.

I know a lot of people who have visited Mammoth Caves, but none have been on this tour! I love seeing stalactites and stalagmites too – it’s such a fascinating process by which they are made.

I find that when there are larger groups it always makes the experience a bit more disappointing which is a shame. These caves look really interesting to visit though!

Agreed. When we go there again, I will choose another tour that is more strenuous, so not too many people interested in it. Hehe..

I really appreciate this honest review! I also find that I don’t enjoy tours when they are too full or busy. It’s impossible to see well, or hear your tour guide. Hopefully this particular tour hears some of this feedback and makes some changes, cause I’m sure the tour would be great with less people!

I hope so, too.

Ugh that is WAY too many people for one tour guide. I don’t even like it when there are 20 people to 1 guide on those free tours, much less a tour you’d paid for.

Agreed! They should at least put 4 or 5 more tour guides in this tour.

I have a national park pass and have been visiting as many as I can this year. Mammoth Cave wasn’t on my radar and I have not spent time in Kentucky so you got my attention right away. ‘Frozen Niagara’ is such a great name, I’m surprised it was a disappointment. Good to know the steps are slippery and good soled shoes are important.

It’s the number of visitors in the group that played a big impact in disappointment. There’s no way you can enjoy a tour with more than 100 people in the group with only 1 tour guide.

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Guide to visiting mammoth cave & wild cave tour review.

I had never been down into a cave system before, let alone the lonest cave system in the world (with new areas still being discovered), and it was absolutely amazing! While Mammoth Cave itself is pretty cool (and there are lots of types of tours available), the thing that was really amazing about this experience was the the Wild Cave Tour.

mammoth-cave-tour

You will literally be army-crawling through tunnels and “cave rolling” through passageways and walking along rock ledges while straddling caverns. It’s pretty intense and strenuous – be prepared for a full body work out! I can’t recommend this tour enough. Out of a 3,000 mile road trip visiting 10 national parks, this was my favorite thing that we did for the entire trip. It’s like nothing else you’ll ever experience and very well worth it!

Table of Contents

Directions to Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave is located in Kentucky right in the middle of Louisville and Nashville TN. It’s about 1.5hrs from either city.

From Louisville, KY : Take 65 South to Exit 53 for Cave City/Glasgow. Turn right onto Rte. 70 (you’ll pass by Dinosaur World which is pretty awesome) and continue straight to Mammoth Cave National Park.

From Nashville, TN : Take 65 North to Exit 48 for Park City/ Brownsville. Turn left onto Rte. 255. Follow Park City Road until it joins the Mammoth Cave Parkway and turn left. This will put you right into Mammoth Cave National Park.

There’s lots of signs and the visitors center is easy to find once your in the park.

Camping & Accommodations

There’s campground right inside of the park 1/4 mi from the visitor’s center. This was what we did when visiting the cave, since they you’re super close to your meeting place for the tour. The campground has 53 sites and wasn’t packed when we visited. There are spots available for both tents and RVs.

  • Single Site: $20 Per-night, per-site. Limit 8 persons per site.
  • Group Site: $25 Per-night, per-site. No discount is offered on group camping. Limit 16 persons per site.
  • RV Site: $50 RV sites with full water, sewer and electric hookups. Limit eight persons per night per site.
Reserve A Camp Site Here

There is also a lodge within the park if you prefer not to camp. Find out more about the lodge here .

Tickets & Reservations

Tickets are required to go into the cave regardless of the type of tour you are taking. While you aren’t required to make a reservation, it’s strongly recommended as the tours do sell out and there are rarely spots left for walk-ins. Also, you can’t make a reservation the same day as the tour (it needs to be made in advance). So you can’t decide that morning to reserve a spot on a tour in the afternoon. Make sure to plan ahead and get your tickets early!

There are a variety of available tours for every age and ability level. Everything from a short 1/2 mile walk to longer 4 mile explorations. If you’re nervous about trying The Wild Cave Tour and want to do one of these tamer tours, you can find more information about them and how to register here .

For my fellow adventurers who want to see the best of what this planet has to offer, the Wild Cave Tour is for you!

The Wild Cave Tour lasts 6 hours & costs $55

Wild Cave Tour Reservations Here

Wild Cave Tour Requirements

If you haven’t gotten the idea already, the Wild Cave Tour is pretty intense and awesome, but it’s not for everyone. There are several requirements you have to follow if you’re going to do this tour. These are for your safety and for the safety of the cave and the environment. They won’t let you on the tour unless you follow these requirements:

  • Age Requirement : Anyone under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Boot Requirements : Must have over-the-ankle laced boots with aggressive tread. No zip-up boots, no tennis shoes.
  • No Personal Caving Equipment : You will be provided with everything you need (including: overalls, gloves, helmet, kneepads, and a headlamp) that you will give back at the end of the tour. This is to minimize the spread of White Nose Syndrome, which is a fungus that has killed millions of bats.
  • Minimum : 2 visitors – make sure to bring a friend as awesome as you!
  • Chest or Hip Size : Must be 42 inches or less. You will not fit through crawl spaces is you are bigger than this. LITERALLY.

Wild Cave Tour Review: What To Expect

  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Difficulty: Hard & Strenuous
  • Crowd Factor: 14 People Per tour
  • Time: 6 hours

I absolutely love this tour and would do it over and over again. That being said, it is difficult – even if you fit all of the above requirements and can deal with all of the fears, I wouldn’t recommend this tour if you aren’t that fit or physically able. Crawling through the cave is grueling and very tiring. It’s an amazing workout even if you’re in good shape!

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When you get to the visitor’s center, you’ll be given all the gear you need for the tour including a jumpsuit, kneepads (very handy!), gloves, helmet, and a headlamp. You’ll also have the option of a small fannypack, which I recommend for any personal items you’re bringing.

Pro Tip: Please bring an extra pair of tennis shoes or sandals for use during boot cleaning at the end of the tour. You can leave them in the bin with the rest of your belongings.

Once you’re geared up, you will load onto a school bus which will take you to the entrance of the cave, which is down a long staircase. You enter just like a bunch of the other tours, to a large dome cavern. Unlike the other tours, you quickly branch off into the hard to reach areas of the cave.

The cave is a little chilly at first (no sunlight afterall), but you’ll get warmed up real quick as soon once you start crawling through those tight spaces.

best mammoth cave tour reddit

They don’t throw you into the deep end right away. The first tunnels and pathways are crawl-able on your knees just to give you an idea of what you’re in for. Shortly there after, you’ll be put to the test and will be twisting and squeezing your body through small spaces you never thought you could fit. Such as Bare Hole, which got it’s name because it’s so tight that people have lost their clothes when wriggling through it. I’m not sure if that’s true or not since you’re wearing a jumpsuit and all, but it is a good introduction to what lies further ahead.

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It’s a great team building experience as everyone on the tour helps each other to fit through a lot of these small spaces by either pushing from behind or lending a hand and pulling you up in the front.

From here, I can’t necessarily comment on what your experience will be as the tour guides customize the tour to the ability of those in your group (hence the easier “tests” early on). I can tell you that you will have a guide in front and behind you at all times, your headlamp is more than enough light to see where you need to go, and it will be a hell of a lot of fun!

best mammoth cave tour reddit

Every tight passageway ends in a much more comfortable cavern where you can stand and collect yourself for a bit before moving onto the next one. You won’t be stick in small spaces for the entire tour.

Pro Tip: Bring a snack! There will be a break in the Snowball Dome room (a giant cavern) for bathrooms and snacks. When I visited, there was a concession stand where you could buy food, however their website currently says that is not available (possibly due to seasonality?).

After the break, the real fun beings. Now you’re going to head into some of the smallest and hardest to get to parts of the cave. The most fun moments are when you are literally army crawling through incredible small spaces where you have to turn your head sideways to even fit (mostly because of the helmet). You’ll get dirty and wet and will probably see a few cave crickets scurrying around.

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My favorite section was “Christine’s”. Our tour guide was sitting on a rock and told us a story about another guide named Christine who had taken a wrong turn at one point during a tour and had to create a new tunnel, pushing ahead through the rocks in order to get her tour through (since you can’t ever turn around). From there, our guide bent down and disappeared under the rock she had just been sitting on. Our entire tour looked at each other like “are we supposed to follow her?” Well, yes we were, and we did. That was the smallest and most challenging section of the tour and also the most fun.

Pro Tip: Cave roll! Save your energy in some of the medium-sized spaces where it’s too low to crawl on your knees and you’re tired of army-crawling. Roll sideways instead – like kids do down the side of a hill. There’s plenty of space to the sides to allow you to roll and as long as you don’t get too dizzy it’ll give your arms and legs a break for a bit.

In the last hour or so, you’ll get a break from all of the small spaces and will get to challenge your fear of heights instead. Some of the final parts of the tour took us through caverns that were very tall with deep ravines. We had one foot on either side of the ledge as we moved along. I personally never felt any real danger here as it would be difficult to fall down the ravine, but if you did, you would probably be lost forever because of how far it goes.

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Overall, this tour is amazing, especially for the price. It delivers everything that you want and more. I would do it again in a heartbeat and highly recommend it to anyone who has an adventurous spirit!

Travel Vlog

A Note About Fears

Claustrophobia.

If you’re at all claustrophobic, that last requirement of a 42″ chest or hip probably freaked you out a bit. While there are lots of very small tight spaces in this tour, you’ll never feel like you are completely trapped. The vast majority of these tight spaces are only tight vertically, not horizontally. So while you might only be able to army crawl and not be able to fully lift your head, there will be lots of space on the sides of you, which helps to reduce the claustrophobia if that’s an issue for you. Never during this tour was I ever in a tight tunnel and unable to move.

Also, I have a feeling that if you couldn’t deal with it, that the tour guides would be able to remove you from the tour. One of our guides kept disappearing and then popping back up later, so I think there are multiple and easier ways into each of the “trails” than what everyone else is taking, so if you’re too stressed, I think they would probably be able to remove you and take you another way out.

Fear of Heights

The majority of the tour is in tight spaces with no fear of falling. There was one section where we looked over a ledge, and then only one other section where we were walking with one foot on a ledge on either side of a chasm that goes straight down. The space between these ledges was very small. While not impossible, you would have to try to fall down between them. And if that still freaks you out, you don’t have to look. Keep your head up and since you only have the light from your headlamp, you literally won’t see what’s below you.

Fear of The Dark

While there’s no natural light in the cave, you do have your own personal headlamp with you at all times. Everyone else in the group also has a headlamp, which makes it surprisingly bright while you’re going through the cave. There will only be one moment when everyone is safe on a secure platform, when you will all be instructed to turn out your lights and experience true darkness.

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3 Best Hikes in Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth cave national park overview.

Below you will find the 3 best hikes in Mammoth Cave National Park ! Although every visitor to this national park comes to take a tour of the longest cave system in the world, there are still several decent hiking trails in the area to check out before or after your tour. Very few actually take advantage of the hiking here which makes for a more personal experience compared to many national parks out there.

Click here for more National Park or National Forest hikes! You can also view some of our most popular Gear Recommendations here!

Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Mammoth Cave National Park

Green river bluffs trail.

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The trail begins near the River Styx Trail (see below) and winds its way along the Green River with some great views as you get to the riverside bluffs. The trailhead is located at the end of the 0.6 mile River Styx Trail near the Visitor Center.

  • 1.3 mile loop
  • 400′ elevation gain

Cedar Sink Trail

Cedar Sink

Fun, short trail that leads south to a sinkhole. The trailhead is located on Cedar Sink Road just south of Brownsville Road.

  • 1.0 miles out and back
  • No elevation gain

River Styx / Echo River Spring Trail 

Hikes in Mammoth Cave National Park

This trail takes you from the Visitor Center to Green River and then south. Combine this trail with Green River Bluffs Trail if you have enough time. The trailhead is located right next to the Historic Entrance.

  • 1.7 miles out and back
  • 500′ elevation gain

Featured Image: Mammoth Cave, Photo by Margaret River

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Best Mammoth Cave Tour for Kids

W hat’s the best Mammoth Cave tour for kids? It’s hard to pick one of the many cave tours at Mammoth Cave National Park, especially if you’ve got kids along for the experience.

In this article, you’ll learn why the Historic Tour at Mammoth Cave is the best tour for kids, how families can prepare for this experience, and what to expect while you’re underground.

When my kids and I visited Mammoth Cave National Park, we knew that a cave tour HAD to be on our list of things to do there, and we were so excited with what we learned and saw on the Historic Tour.

Let’s see what wonders await us under the rolling hills of Kentucky!

Is Mammoth Cave Kid Friendly?

Yes, Mammoth Cave is very kid friendly!

If your children are anything like mine, they’ll be intrigued at the chance to explore one of the largest and longest cave systems in North America.

While there are stairs inside the cave that are utilized by all of the tours, the path leading to the cave entrance and throughout the cave is paved and smooth.

This means that your family won’t be worried about tripping or falling while trying to enjoy your cave tour.

The cave is well lit on the footpaths, further ensuring that your kids stay safe in the cave.

Your kids will love seeing the huge rooms and comparing them to the smaller paths you’ll walk.

There’s a Bottomless Pit, mining equipment, a river, and so much more to discover along the way.

Mammoth Cave truly is an awe-inspiring experience for the entire family.

Why the Historic Tour is the Best Option for Families

When you’re visiting Mammoth Cave National Park, you must do a cave tour, even if that’s the only thing you do while at the park.

(It shouldn’t be though—the entire property, above and below ground, is fascinating!)

That being said, it can be overwhelming to look at the 19 tours offered throughout the year at Mammoth Cave and try to pick one that would be good for your entire family.

When my family visited this national park, we were traveling with my close friend and her 2 children, so we knew we needed to find something appropriate for our 4 kids.

Our kids were between 4 and 9 at the time of our visit, so the tour needed to be kid friendly, educational, and entertaining.

After much deliberation, we settled on the Historic Tour as it provided access to the huge chambers that the cave is known for as well as access to smaller, less traveled areas.

Plus, the tour promised some family friendly educational content, which was a big selling point for my friend and I, both of whom worked as teachers for years.

Ultimately, the Historic Tour is the best Mammoth Cave tour for kids thanks to the variety of cave areas visited, the engaging ranger guides, and the overall length of the tour.

At 2 hours, the tour is long enough to get families in many nooks and crannies of Mammoth Cave, but not so long as to cause kids to get antsy or bored.

In fact, all 4 of our young children had so much fun climbing stairs, squeezing through passages, and listening to the ranger that not one of them asked when the tour would be over.

Historic Tour vs. Grand Historic Tour vs. Extended Historic Tour

Keep in mind that the Grand Historic Tour and the Historic Tour are 2 different options. You’ll want the Historic Tour, which runs 2 hours and spans 2 miles, instead of the much more in-depth Grand Historic Tour, which runs 4 hours and spans 4 miles.

Confusingly, the national park also offers the Extended Historic Tour, which is the regular Historic Tour with a 1/4 mile add on to the tuberculosis huts in the cave.

If you can’t nab Historic Tour tickets, try for the slightly longer (2.25 miles and 2.25 hours) Extended Historic Tour. This tour is also kid-friendly and covers all of the elements listed below.

What’s the best Mammoth Cave tour for toddlers?

If you think your toddler would enjoy walking through the cave and can be somewhat attentive for the duration of the Historic Tour, take that.

However, I know that little ones can be wiggly, talkative, and not at all interested in cool geological formations.

If you don’t think that your toddler can handle a 2 hour tour, opt for the self-guided Discovery Tour instead.

The Discovery Tour only cover about 3/4 of a mile into the cave, and it’s completely self-led, so you can spend as much or as little time as your toddler allows.

While there is a small fee for this tour, it’s much cheaper than the Historic Tour (which is $12-20 per person).

The Discovery Tour isn’t always offered, but they do sell nearly unlimited tickets each day it is offered. Ask at the front desk of the visitors center about this tour or call the office ahead of time.

How to Get Tickets for the Historic Tour

As this tour is one of the most popular, you’ll want to book up ahead of time.

You can make online reservations for the cave tours, but the reservation system only opens a month or 2 ahead of time.

Start checking the Mammoth Cave National Park website regularly 3 months before your trip so that you’ll have first pick at the time and day of your desired visit.

During the summer months, the Historic Tour will be held 5-6 times a day, while the offerings drop to just twice a day from October to April.

If you don’t secure a ticket online, you can always ask at the front desk of the visitors center if there were any last minute cancellations.

There’s also the chance that the park holds back a few tickets to be sold on a first come, first served basis.

This is how we nabbed the elusive Carlsbad Caverns King’s Palace tour tickets in New Mexico!

However, these in-person scenarios aren’t guaranteed, and it’s highly recommend to have your tour date and time booked before you arrive.

What to Expect on the Tour

In 2 hours, your family will discover so much about this unique cave system!

The tour meets at the covered pavilion behind the visitors center, and this is where you’ll be introduced to your ranger guide.

You’ll also get safety tips for the cave tour, and a final reminder to nab that sweatshirt from the car.

This is a great time to let your ranger guide know if your kids are completing their Junior Ranger program as the ranger will help tailor the walk to be even more kid-friendly.

All kids aiming for a Junior Ranger badge have to complete at least one ranger-led program, and the Historic Tour is a great option!

One thing to keep in mind about Mammoth Cave is that it is a dry cave, so you won’t see any waterfalls or many of the formations that you find in an actively wet cave.

The way that Mammoth Cave was formed is much different than the way that Carlsbad Caverns was formed, so each caving experience will be unique.

Entering the Cave

Once the group is ready to go, you’ll walk roughly 1/4 of a mile down a paved path to the cave entrance.

While the entrance isn’t quite as dramatic as the one we experienced on our Carlsbad Caverns itinerary —the other famous cave system in the National Parks service—Mammoth Cave still offers up a bit of eerie drama.

While that first part of the tour is stroller friendly, you can’t take any strollers into the cave.

You’ll instead need to baby wear (using a front carrier only) or carry young children in the cave.

Because of this, I think that the tour is best for kids who are already mobile and can walk most of the 2 mile loop on their own.

First Stops

As you head into the cave, your first stop will be in the Rotunda, where you’ll see why Mammoth Cave has its name.

It seems impossible that such a large space could exist underneath the surface!

My kids were amazed to be standing in an area of a cave that is bigger than several houses put together.

You’ll also hear about the beginnings of the human usage of this cave, which dates back to prehistoric times.

The cave was used in the years leading up to the Civil War as a saltpeter mine, which meant that enslaved people worked long hours in near darkness as they excavated pits of this material.

The cave turned into a tourist attraction in the post-Civil War years, and several brave locals began mapping out the cave.

One of the most fun parts of the tour is when the ranger guide turns off the electric lights and uses a small oil lamp to illustrate what it looked like in those early days of exploration.

Your ranger might even “accidentally” drop the lantern, causing you to be plunged into total darkness!

If your kids are afraid of the dark, this part only lasts a few moments, and it is telegraphed well in advance so you can prepare your children.

Fat Man’s Misery

Another high point of the tour is Fat Man’s Misery, which is also the tightest squeeze of the entire cave tour.

I’m hideously claustrophobic, and I was dreading this part of the tour, but I didn’t want to miss out on the overall experience.

I’m 5’7” and I had to bend nearly in half to get through this short, tight space.

My kids, however, had the best time, as they were so short that they walked right through!

If you’re like me and don’t like small spaces, I’m here to tell you that you can do it!

The tour guide told us to hang back so we could take our time getting through the squeeze, and that was helpful.

We were also moving slowly because my friend had just broken her toe before the trip, but even she managed to navigate the area.

After you get through this area—which is only a couple of hundred feet—you’ll get to rest for a bit at the underground ampitheatre.

Here, the guide will tell you about the underground river in the cave called the River Styx.

Heading Back to the Surface

As you get to the end of the tour, you’ll get to walk over a metal grated bridge for a glimpse at the Bottomless Pit.

It truly does look as if it keeps on going forever into the darkness!

Save a burst of energy for the last part of the tour as you’ll need to ascend 300 steps to get back to the surface.

Again, I suggest waiting to go at the end of the tour group so your kids won’t be rushed up the stairs.

While the staircase was a lot for my then 4 year old, he was a champ—slowly but surely, we made it to the top.

How to Dress Your Kids for the Tour

Regardless of the surface temperature, the cave stays at a steady 55 degrees year round.

We’re from coastal South Carolina, where 55 degrees is practically the dead of winter for us, so we bundled the kids up in t-shirts, long pants, jackets, and beanies.

We didn’t end up needing the extra sweatshirts that we’d packed, and the kids stayed comfortable throughout the hike with their 2 layers on.

Layers were helpful as we visited in late summer, so the surface temperatures were around 30 degrees warmer than what we found in the cave!

Most of the tour group had on similar attire, though some people also opted to wear gloves.

Since the cave tour is active, you’ll want to ensure that everyone has on closed toe shoes with good traction, too.

Final Thoughts on the Historic Tour

Plan ahead to ensure that you get those tickets, and the historic tour will be the cornerstone of your experience in the park.

Keep in mind that the cave can be cool, and wear layers.

Opt for the ranger-led Historic Tour over the self-guided Discovery Tour (which is offered at fewer times than the Historic Tour).

Finally, be prepared for your kids to be amazed at this natural wonder and World Heritage Site!

If you’re looking for a unique place to stay near Mammoth Cave, read our full review of the Historic Wigwam Village in Cave City, Kentucky !

Best Mammoth Cave Tour for Kids

IMAGES

  1. 10 Best Mammoth Cave Tours Worth Your Time

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  2. 10 Best Mammoth Cave Tours Worth Your Time

    best mammoth cave tour reddit

  3. Extended Historic Tour (Self Guided) Mammoth Cave

    best mammoth cave tour reddit

  4. Extended Historic Tour (Self Guided) Mammoth Cave

    best mammoth cave tour reddit

  5. Mammoth Cave offers vacation 10 million years in the making

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  6. Extended Historic Tour (Self Guided) Mammoth Cave

    best mammoth cave tour reddit

VIDEO

  1. Inside Mammoth Cave!

  2. Mammoth Cave Discovery Tour, aka Self Tour.(1)

  3. Mammoth Cave

  4. Mammoth Cave National Park was such a beautiful place! WE WILL BE BACK!! #travel #nationalpark

  5. At Mammoth Cave National Park: home to the longest cave system in the world!

  6. Mammoth Cave Wild Tour

COMMENTS

  1. Cave tour recommendations for Mammoth Cave? : r/NationalPark

    Wild Cave tour if they still do it. Lantern tour. We did the Violet City lantern tour this summer, 3 hours with lantern highly recommend if you enjoy caves. Historic tour and Domes & Dripstones tour are both really cool. Remember to book your tickets at least a week or so in advance through recreation.gov.

  2. Mammoth cave tours? : r/nationalparks

    It's four hours and touches upon a lot of what the other tours also touch upon. If you can't get into that one though, I would do the historic as a baseline and if you want to see more, the Gothic Avenue Tour and/or the Violet City Lantern Tour were my favourite parts of the Grand Historic. 1. Reply. true.

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

    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.

  4. Which tour to pick!

    Mammoth Cave: Which tour to pick! - See 4,263 traveler reviews, 3,131 candid photos, and great deals for Mammoth Cave National Park, KY, at Tripadvisor.

  5. Cave Tours

    Cave tours often sell out during the summer and early fall seasons, and reservations are strongly recommended. Reservations are the only way to ensure a spot on a tour is available for your party. Please plan accordingly by visiting Recreation.gov or calling 877-444-6777 to secure your tickets in advance.

  6. 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 ...

  7. Mammoth Cave National Park

    Mammoth Passage - This is an introduction to the Historic Tour and is a guided version of the Discovery (Self Guided tour). This is 1.25 hours, 0.75 mile, and 125 stairs. Cost: $11 per adult. River Styx Lantern Tour - You'll follow the Historic Tour, but also detour to the underground water level.

  8. THE BEST Mammoth Cave National Park Tours & Excursions

    THE BEST Mammoth Cave National Park Tours & Excursions. 1. Wild Cave Tour. Absolutely amazing the guides were great and my group was ready to take on this challenging tour. 2. Gothic Avenue Tour. My husband and I did the Gothic Avenue Modified Tour while visiting Mammoth Caves and we really enjoyed it. 3.

  9. Wild Cave Tour

    5 stars, this is a once in a lifetime experience that was scary and fun and a great workout. No turning back. The best way to describe this is a long obstacle course that you cannot back out of. The sights inside are worth it. Thanks for the workout, mammoth cave! One of the best things I've ever done and I probably will never do it again.

  10. Best Mammoth Cave Tour for Families

    River Styx Tour. The River Styx Tour is the same as the Historic Tour with a really cool side trip down to the underground water level. The tour is 2 ½ hours long, covering 2.5 miles. River Styx flows through and under the Mammoth Cave system, eventually emptying into the Green River.

  11. Best Cave Tours of Mammoth Cave

    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.

  12. Top Ten Tips for Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park

    Pick the Right Tour . Mammoth Cave offers a variety of cave tours for visitors of all abilities an interest. This allows you to select the adventure that best fits your group's needs. From a 2.5-mile, 2.5-hour dirt trail hike to an underground river, to a .25-mile, 1.25-hour walk to see hundreds of dripstone formations, there is a tour here ...

  13. Should You Take Domes and Dripstones Tour at Mammoth Cave National Park

    The Domes and Dripstones Tour is a classic tour that visits areas of Mammoth Cave that have been used for nearly 100 years. It begins in a sinkhole, passes through huge domes, and amazing breaks, and ends in the dripstones section known as Frozen Niagara. The tour involves ascending and descending hundreds of stairs and several steep inclines.

  14. Guide to Visiting Mammoth Cave & Wild Cave Tour Review

    It's about 1.5hrs from either city. From Louisville, KY: Take 65 South to Exit 53 for Cave City/Glasgow. Turn right onto Rte. 70 (you'll pass by Dinosaur World which is pretty awesome) and continue straight to Mammoth Cave National Park. From Nashville, TN: Take 65 North to Exit 48 for Park City/ Brownsville.

  15. 3 Best Hikes in Mammoth Cave National Park

    Green River Bluffs Trail. Green River, Photo by Chris Haffler. The trail begins near the River Styx Trail (see below) and winds its way along the Green River with some great views as you get to the riverside bluffs. The trailhead is located at the end of the 0.6 mile River Styx Trail near the Visitor Center. 1.3 mile loop.

  16. Best Mammoth Cave Tour for Kids

    Ultimately, the Historic Tour is the best Mammoth Cave tour for kids thanks to the variety of cave areas visited, the engaging ranger guides, and the overall length of the tour.