Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259
Mammoth Cave National Park lies in south-central Kentucky’s scenic hill country, about 35 miles northeast of Bowling Green and 10 miles west of Cave City ((800) 346-8908).
Interstate 65 (exit at Cave City or Park City) passes within a few miles east of the entrance. Cross the river by car ferry and park at the Good Spring Church parking lot.
Summer weather tends toward the warm and humid side. Late winter, spring, and fall are quite pleasant. Cave temperatures are about 54 degrees F.
Visitation is highest in June, July, and August and lowest in January.
The forests are home to a variety of wildlife.
Eastern white-tailed deer are frequently seen browsing along roadsides, and flocks of wild turkey are not an uncommon sight in the park. While walking on some of the 73 miles of trails in the park, you may be rewarded with the sights and sounds of squirrels, chipmunks, and raccoons.
Within just the first hour there’s a good chance you’ll also see whitetail deer, a woodchuck, a pileated woodpecker, a red-shouldered hawk, and dozens of songbirds.
The Green River contains 82 fish species. Gravel bars of the upper Green are critical habitat for freshwater mussels, one of the most endangered groups of animals in the United States. The river banks abound in wildlife, including wood ducks, turtles, kingfishers, and great blue herons.
Many cave creatures – such as the eyeless fish and cave crayfish – who live in darkness are eyeless and have no coloring pigments.
The park has a high tick and chigger population during the warm months.
Predominantly wooded, the park features mostly second-growth forests. Small areas of relatively undisturbed old-growth forests, rare in Kentucky, can also be found.
Beech trees dominate the ravine flats, joined by tulip poplar and sugar maple on lower and middle slopes. White and black oaks, along with three species of hickory, define upper slope forests.
And the backcountry has surprises other than cold-water springs and wispy waterfalls. The spring-green hillsides are tinged with the light purple of red buds and the smudgy white of dogwoods.
Small ponds and stream banks provide wetland refuges for at least one rare sedge, several rushes, bladderwort, arrowroot, and the lance-leaved violet. Native grassland species, once characteristic of much of western and central Kentucky, can be found in isolated patches and along park roadsides.
Sandstone gorges containing hemlock, yellow birch, umbrella magnolia, and holly are found in the northern part of the park.
By permit and reservation, backcountry camping is allowed at 12 designated sites along the trails, and along the banks of the Green and Nolin rivers within the floodplain.
Three park campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis with a 14-day camping limit. They may be closed December through February. Headquarters, Houchins Ferry, and Dennisons Ferry campgrounds offer toilets, grills, and tables. All but Dennison Ferry have water.
Maple Springs Campground accommodates groups and horses.
No information available.
Free backcountry use permits (available at the visitor center) are needed. Recreational permits are needed to enter Ganter Cave, open to the experienced. Hikers and horseback riders must sign in at trailhead registers.
Cave tours have varying fees, and reservations are strongly recommended.
Do not enter caves unless accompanied by a tour guide.
- Most campsites are located near springs, but treat before drinking.
- Watch out for snakes — especially the poisonous timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead.
Leave No Trace:
All LNT guidelines apply.
- Exploring on Top of Mammoth Cave is targeted toward hikers.
- A Guide to the Surface Trails of Mammoth Cave National Park by Stanley D. Sides is also a good source.
Other Trip Options:
- The American Cave Museum ((502) 786-1466) is just 15 miles away.
- The Corvette Museum is 30 miles away.
- And Nolin State Park is just to the north.