During the last weekend of August, we took off on a quick weekend trip to Louisville and to Mammoth Cave National Park. It was one week after the grand North American eclipse (Kentucky was in the path of totality) and the weekend before Labor Day, so it was great timing to get a decent place to stay at the national park and a reservation for a Wild Cave tour.
We were able to score an early direct flight to Louisville on Saturday morning and immediately jumped in the car to head south to Mammoth Cave. The goal was to make it there in time for the Historic Tour that afternoon. The drive was fairly straightforward and takes about an hour and a half with no stops.
However, we did stop for lunch in Glendale, KY at a restaurant called The Whistle Stop. The restaurant was a short hop off of the highway and it is known for home cooking (like this pot roast that I ordered) and its famous pies! We absolutely could not and would not leave until we tried the pie.
This mile-high chocolate cream pie was pretty spectacular, although it was sweet enough to make your teeth hurt.
With full bellies, we hopped back on the road and headed toward Mammoth Cave. we were lucky enough to get a reservation for one of the ten historic cottages on the property – booked via the Lodge at Mammoth Cave. These cottages are fully furnished, air conditioned, and are within short walking distance to the Lodge and to the cave entrances.
The first tour of the weekend was a two-hour, two mile Historic Tour. The group meets near the Visitors Center and enters the cave system through the Historic Entrance.
Sturdy shoes are best since you are on your feet for a few hours, but it is not a difficult walk other than a few sets of stairs. If you are short on time, then the Historic Tour gives a nice highlight reel of the history of the cave system and its place in the surrounding area and in history.
However, the crown jewel of our weekend trip was the Wild Cave tour that was happening the next day. This six-hour, six mile tour is not for the faint of heart. We met our two Wild Cave tour guides and about ten other cavers (Wild Cave tours are capped at 14 people total) at the front of the Visitors Center. Once the guides checked our footwear – only “real” hiking boots are allowed, something with good tread and good ankle stability – then we were loaded onto the bus to get outfitted for the tour.
Here we are on the bus on the way to get outfitted for the tour. One of our guides is seen here with some of the gear – a head wrap and a jumpsuit. The jumpsuit keeps you as clean as possible as you are crawling through dirt and fine silt in the cave system. The head wrap keeps the sweat off your face and serves as a cushion for the helmet and head lamp combo on your head.
Once we were outfitted, we got back on the bus to get to the cave entrance. We were advised to leave our electronics behind since the fine silt in the caves will wreak havoc, plus we would be crawling through some very, VERY tight spaces and that even the thickness of a phone would make a difference. Of course, I thought this was an exaggeration but it was not.
All I can say is that the description of the Wild Cave tour offered by the National Park Service is correct: “Hand and knee crawling [and] belly crawls as tight as 9″ through small cave passages off traditional walking tour routes. Visitors are required to perform several freehold climbs up or down ten-foot cave walls.” There was also one spot where you had to haul yourself up through a vertical hole with only a few hand- or footholds to help you. There is also one spot where the passage is so low that you can’t lift your head; you must turn your neck sideways to see what is ahead of you.
All in all, I highly recommend the Wild Cave tour at Mammoth Cave. It will scare you and challenge you, and will make for some great vacation memories.
To see our photos from the trip, go to the album now.