This last weekend took us back up to Kentucky where we decided to spend a day enjoying Mammoth Cave National Park. But instead of venturing down into the caves as we have before, we remained above ground and walked along the old rail trail.
Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest cave system making up 420 miles of underground caves. The first recorded account of the caves dates back to 1797 when two brothers were out hunting and followed a bear into the cave. But the actual history of the caves stretches back over 5,000 years where the discovery of buried remains showed it as being used as a refuge and burial place for the native peoples that were living here at the time. The caves have continued to serve as shelters, armory storage, military forts, and hospitals ever since.
Many doctors during the 1840’s believed that the damp cave air would be a cure for tuberculosis. They turned the cave into a hospital for the afflicted. They built a number of small huts there in the caves and brought in doctors to help treat the patients. The rail line brought hundreds of visitors to come and be healed by the cave air. Sadly, it was later discovered that it was not a cure and the hospitals were ended.
The caves would then continue to be a major tourist attraction and the rail line that had brought afflicted patients then became the line for the thousands of tourists that were coming to see the caves. The rail line began in Nashville and ended right before the entrance to the caves. But as the popularity of the caves grew and the rail system became outdated, soon the line was disbanded.
Visitors to the park today can still enjoy the path that the train would have taken to bring visitors to the caves. With signs a long the way that talks about the history of the rail trail and why it was so popular for visitors. And at the end of the trail there is a sign marking the end of the line. .
From this point you can see the official Mammoth Cave train that found it’s permanent home near the visitor center. The train is as much a part of Mammoth Cave as the caves themselves in the part it played in making the caves such a popular destination.
Even though we didn’t go down into the caves on this visit, we really loved walking along the old rail trail. Dogs are welcome on all the trails in the park. They are not allowed down in the caves, but they do offer a kennel service for you to drop off your pup while you are in the caves. With the color of fall around us and a lovely trail to walk along we just couldn’t be tempted to go down below into the caves. (If you would like to read more about the tour through the caves we took last year then check out the link below)
Thanks for coming along on a walk on the rail trail at Mammoth Cave today. I hope these autumn days find you happy and healthy. 🙂
For more on other favorite caves and rail trails you can read: