Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the world’s longest cave system, with more than 400 miles explored, and one of the oldest tour attractions in North America.

June 6 – 7 2022

The caves were formed by the dissolution of limestone by water, a continuing process; their natural temperature is 54 °F with a relative humidity of a high 87 percent. They contain underground lakes and rivers and unique geologic formations, including stalactites and stalagmites, to which descriptive names, such as Pillars of Hercules or Frozen Niagara, have been given. There is also parts of the Green River valley and the rolling hills of south central Kentucky to check out. So even though it’s what’s beneath the surface that’s the main attraction, there are also miles of trails in the area ready to be explored when visiting Mammoth Cave.

Mammoth Cave is Unique

When most people picture a cave, they see dripping stalactites, growing stalagmites, and slick water-covered surfaces everywhere, you will see these formations, like Frozen Niagara, but not many. Mammoth Cave is different because the cave system is roofed by sandstone and shale, acting as a gigantic umbrella diverting water away from the cave, keeping the subterranean rooms and tunnels dry while preserving what they contain. So whatever was left behind from previous explorations going back 5,000 years when Native Americans sought refuge here – is forever frozen in time.

The park was established in 1941 and became a World Heritage Site in 1981. Although these events took place in the 20th century, the cave has been in use for thousands of years. Leading anthropologists estimate that Native Americans discovered the cave as long as 4000 years ago.

The History Tour – The first tour we took. starts at the main entrance of the cave, you take 440 steps down into the cave itself to explore several major features.  Included are stops at Mammoth Dome, Bottomless Pit, Fat Man’s Misery (squeezing in tight spaces required), Tall Man’s Misery (crouching required), and saltpeter mines ands different huge areas of the cave.

The cave enterance

Going down the stairs into The Rotunda which is 70ft high and seems to keep going forever.

We kept going further down going past The Bottomless Pit.

   Fat Mans Misery & Tall Man’s Misery – We had to duck low or walk sideways to get through some of the sections of the cave.

This writing was done with the flame from candles and is all pre-1940s, when they declared Mammoth Cave as a national park.

We learned all kinds of history while touring this cave system, from the different geological formations to how humans used the cave. Our tour guide Eric told us stories of slaves who led guided tours during the 1800s, extracting part of the rocks to make gunpowder during times of war, and how all they had was candlelight to guide them underground, a mid-19th century stone built hut used for treating tuberculosis. A few years back there was also a restaurant inside called “The Snowball.”

On August 30, 1922, as part of the American Legion Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, a monument was placed inside Mammoth Cave to honor the fallen of the Great War. Inside the monument, 35 states each placed a list of the fallen soldiers from their respective states. In 1929, a second monument was placed by the America War Mothers to also honor the fallen of the Great War.

There is in a huge concert hall in Mammoth Cave

Imagine hearing music reverberating through caves or echoing across mountains. That has to sound incredible!

Our next tour -The Great Onyx Cave Lantern Tour, is in a remote area of the cave system on Flint Ridge and one that is not known to be connected to Mammoth Cave yet.  Our guide Ranger Rick, told us by next year  it would be connected .  We took a 20 minute bus ride to get there. This cave has all the cave formations and such.

Cave Entrance

The story of this cave is a bit lengthy so I’ll try to be brief. It was rediscovered in 1797 after being forgotten for a long while.  Mammoth Cave passed through a series of owners each of whom had his own vision for what to do with and in the cave.  From the early days, the residents of central and southern Kentucky used the caves for a wide variety of purposes. They provided shelter from storms, preserved their milk, canned food and even served as hiding places for moonshiners and their stills. But as the turn of the last century approached, it was becoming obvious that Mammoth Cave was a huge commercial success  so residents wanted to use the caves to draw tourists.

Since a family controlled most of the land on the ridge where Mammoth Cave was located, the exploration began to focus on neighboring Flint Ridge, which was separated from the Mammoth Cave The locals desperately wanted to get into the cave business and to start promoting their own caves as competition for well-known Mammoth Cave.  Eventually Edmund Turner  bought  “The Great Onyx Cave.” In 1915 he named the place, helped to build the entrance and developed the trails. He later passed it to his daughter Lucy Cox.

Great Onyx was opened to the public in 1916 as a direct competitor to Mammoth Cave. During this time,  Great Onyx Cave became one of the most successful of the caves on Flint Ridge.  There was even a successful  “ Great Onyx Hotel at the cave, which offered overnight accommodations and delicious meals.   The Great Onyx Cave is in pristine condition, preserved by virtue of it being privately owned for so long, by its not seeing the volume of visitors who’vepassed  through the caves at Mammoth over the past 200 years.  Lucy Cox finally sold to the National Park Service and became a part of the National Park in January 1961.

This cave has no artificial lights so our guides gave some of us lanterns to use, there were  40 of us and ten lanterns.  Dave was lucky?, he got to carry one. Seeing the cave by lantern makes you  feel like you are in one of the original tours and seeing it just as they did.   The only person allowed to have a flash light is the ranger who uses it to point out things for us to see.

old picture of Great Onyx Cave

Down in we go. … It takes a bit for your  eyes a to adjust to the steps going down into the darkness, but the lantern light is enough.

Our guide told us people came from all over in the 1800s to see The Virgin Mary fossil in the picture above.

At one point on the tour our guide took all the lanterns and walked away, this is what we saw.

Trails we took above Mammoth Cave

We enjoyed these trails.

I found Mammoth Cave to be amazing, how can anything that big be under ground? I also found it to be kind of eerie, damp but also very alluring. I asked Dave what he thought and he said it was G R E A T! If your ever in Kentucky don’t hesitate to go.

2 thoughts on “Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the world’s longest cave system, with more than 400 miles explored, and one of the oldest tour attractions in North America.

  1. Sandy

    Sounds like you chose some great tours! Next time we go, I’d like to explore the above ground part of the park too. Have a safe journey!

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