It was a perfect day with blue skies and mild temperatures. But instead of spending the day outdoors, we decided to go underground with a tour of Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest cave system stretching over nearly 53,000 acres of land. Mammoth Cave became a national park in July 1941. Then in October of 1981 it joined the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s titles also include being an International Biosphere Reserve and an International Dark Sky Park.
The history of Mammoth Cave spans across 5,000 years. Several sets of Native American remains have been uncovered in the cave and archeologists believe they are examples of pre-Columbus funeral sites. However the first written account of this cave system came from two men who pursued a wounded bear in the main entrance of the cave in 1797. A year later the entrance was surveyed and officially registered. Since then it has served as a military artillery and a hospital before offering tours through the cave.
There are a variety of tours into the cave accommodating different levels of skill and experience. Different seasons also bring different available tours depending on the access to parts of the cave due to weather. Visitors can get tour tickets when you arrive, but it is recommended to reserve the tickets beforehand because they sell out. We opted for the Domes and Dripstones Tour, a 2 hour tour that would take us down into the depths of the cave. We arrived at the Shelter B area a few minutes before our tour time started then after a brief talk from the park ranger we climbed aboard the waiting green buses that would take us to the entrance.
We drove up through the park and then were dropped off at the entrance. This entrance was a metal door at the bottom of a little valley. The ranger explained that we were standing in a sinkhole and that we would be taking 288 steps further down into the sinkhole and one of the deepest parts of the cave. The stairs took us through rock slot canyons as we made our way down into the belly of the park. Some parts were cramped and you would need to duck your head or maneuver past an encroaching piece of rock.
At the bottom we came together in the first of the domed spaces that they have called Grand Central Station. Benches had been set out for people to sit for a few minutes while the ranger gave some history on the cave. She talked about the early explorers of the cave and how they found their way to the bottom of the sinkhole with a long piece of strong rope and a torch. She briefly turned out the lights in the cave and we were surrounded by complete darkness. There was a great relief when the lights went back on.
We carried on the path through a series of smaller caves. Someone asked about what happens if an earthquake happens while you are in the cave. The ranger calmly replied that you won’t feel the shock waves at all when you are this far below the surface. The shock waves will go through the caves and bounce off the walls. Fortunately we would not have to find out for ourselves as earthquakes here are rare.
After going through the smaller caves we came to the part of the tour dedicated to the interesting formations. Stalactites and Stalagmites covered the area along with rock that looked like drapes and others that looked like popcorn. While the smaller caves were amazing to behold, the rock formations is really the winning point of the tour. Everyone you look you come face to face with an intricate formation where water has carved its way through the limestone rock leaving behind a wonderous sight.
There is an optional part of the tour that takes you down another 25 stairs which takes you behind what is called Frozen Niagara. This rock really looks like a mighty waterfall frozen in time. Opposite from the waterfall is what they call the Draperies which did give the feel of a stuffy old house with thick drapes hanging everywhere. It was well worth the extra stairs to get so close to these amazing formations.
Just past Frozen Niagara was an Mirror Lake. Visitors can peer down through the rock and see a small pool of water below. One of the more experienced skill required tours take visitors down to the waters edge and through the watery passages further down into the cave. But I was fine with just seeing the water from above.
The trail began to to slope upwards towards the surface. But they saved the best formations for last. Caverns of formations pointing downward seemed otherworldly and absolutely mesmerizing. It really is amazing what a little water dripping off the rocks can do.
We loved taking this deeper dive into Mammoth Cave. Our first time here a couple of years ago we did the Historic Tour through the large spacious caverns which was really interesting. And now to add another perspective of the cave and see another piece that makes it such an interesting place was fantastic. There is no end to what you will discover in Mammoth Cave, every visit brings something new.
If you enjoyed this cave tour then you may be interested in these other caves:
Thanks for coming along through the Domes and Dripstones Tour of Mammoth Cave National Park. May your light be strong and guide you through the darkness.