Department of Tourism
Mammoth Cave Chosen One of Top 20 Vacation Spots
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Since it was first promoted as a tourist attraction in 1816 – preceded only by Niagara Falls in the U.S. – Mammoth Cave has garnered designations as a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.
U.S. News & World Report magazine recently added to Mammoth Cave’s laurels by selecting it as one of America’s 20 best vacation destinations. The magazine’s editors included Mammoth Cave National Park, with its 53,000 acres and 360 miles of underground passageways – the word’s longest surveyed cave system – on a list that also includes such famous destinations as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Hawaii’s Big Island and New York City, San Francisco and New Orleans.
The magazine notes that the park, located mostly in Edmondson County northeast of Bowling Green, is very accessible, within an hour-and-a-half drive of Louisville and Nashville. It’s near I-65 exits 48 (Park City) and 53 (Cave City).
Even for visitors who have been to Mammoth Cave before, its many guided tours of varying lengths offer visitors a range of choices in terms of physical challenges and scenic interest.
Two new tours – the Star Chamber Tour and Focus on Mammoth – are proving very popular, said Vickie Carson, the park’s spokeswoman.
The Star Chamber Tour, offered nightly through Labor Day, is a mile-and-a-half walk along the cave’s most famous passageways to the Star Chamber. The chamber gets its name from the illusion of twinkling stars in the ceiling in lantern light.
This tour, which begins at 6:30 p.m., lasts two-and-a-half hours and is limited to 40 people. “It’s sold out every night,” Carson said.
“The guides tell cave lore and cave jokes, and when they come out it’s dark and they do a little astronomy,” she said. “It’s very dark out here since we’re a long way from city lights so the stars are quite bright.”
The Focus on Mammoth Tour is geared to photographers. The tour provides more time at various key spots so that photographers can get better exposure for their shots, Carson said.
July and August are the park’s busiest months, with as many as 3,000 to 4,000 visitors on holidays such as July 4, she said. The cave’s temperature stays in the mid-50 degrees year-round, offering a respite from hot temperatures in summer and from cold during winter months. The park offers tours every day except Christmas.
Mammoth Cave is undergoing extensive improvements to enhance visitors’ experience of the park, said spokesman Jim Carroll. One major project is replacing old 7,200-volt fluorescent lighting with a more modern 420-volt system. The $6.6 million, two-year project will replace six miles of lighting throughout the cave, Carroll said. “It will be better, safer and won’t use as much electricity,” he said.
Visitors to the cave often return at several stages of their lives, Carson said. “Folks come as children, and then as parents bring their kids, and as grandparents bring their grandchildren,” she said.
The cave region of south central Kentucky includes several other popular attractions besides Mammoth Cave. The American Cave Museum & Hidden River Cave, Diamond Caverns, Kentucky Caverns at Kentucky Down Under and Lost River Cave and Valley also attract many visitors each year. All are easily accessible from I-65.
National Park Service Photo
These attractions participate in a cross-selling venture, which discounts cave tour tickets purchased at other participating destinations an average of $2.00 per ticket. For more information about the cavelands, visit www.mammothcave.com.
The Kentucky Department of Tourism, an agency of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet, exists to promote The Commonwealth as a travel destination, generate revenue and create jobs for Kentucky’s economy.