One morning I woke-up and thought “You know what we should do today? Go spelunking for six hours on the Mammoth Cave wild cave tour.”
OK, it didn’t go down quite like that. But six hours of spelunking through Mammoth Cave National Park is what ended up happening.
Mammoth Cave National Park is the closest National Park to our current home, so of course we have been there several times. It’s also where I bought my cancelation stamp book and got my first stamps. (You want to be obsessed with this, too. Go here to learn about it.)
The park, which has no entry fee, spans over 52,000 acres. Above ground that means some really pretty central Kentucky hiking. Below ground that means more than 82 square miles of pitch black winding cave passages filled with bats, cave crickets and other critters of darkness. The National Park makes up on a small portion of what is generally considered to be the longest cave system in the world. And thanks to the park you can go in there.
Sounds fun, huh?
Mammoth’s visitor center recently received quite the little upgrade, and now has a gorgeous, interactive exhibit for the cave curious.
But the real treat of this park is in the cave tours, most of which must be booked months in advance if you want to make sure have a spot.
You can see a list of all the different tour options over here, many of which are not appropriate for small children (especially since no strollers or framed child carriers are permitted) so read carefully if you’re going as a family.
The only tour that you don’t really need to plan ahead for is the self-guided one. And while it’s good for a quick taste of what the cave is like, it will leave you disappointed and wanting to go deeper.
Like, really deep.
Which is why you should plan ahead, buy some tickets, and take the Mammoth Cave wild cave tour like we did.
Like most of the tours, this six hour (yes, six hour) tour takes some serious planning ahead. To get the date you want, you’ll need to book the tickets fairly far in advance. Only 14 people are permitted on each tour, and the tour is only done on the weekends starting at 9 a.m. Ticket cost is $50 per person.
The website’s description of this tour doesn’t really do it justice in my opinion. “Climb, crawl, squeeze, hike and canyon walk in the realms of Mammoth Cave. See places no other tour encounters and feel the thrill of exploration.”
What it doesn’t mention are the really tights spots, the extreme darkness of the cave or what felt like hours we spent shimmying on our stomachs through areas no bigger than I am.
The site warns that you if you are bigger than 42 inches on your chest or hips you will likely not fit through the spaces at all. That’s not an empty threat. During our tour about half of the people quit midway through. They either didn’t fit through the spaces or couldn’t handle the darkness.
Even if you are in truly fantastic shape, the tour will challenge you. Our guide, who was in her 60s, made my kills-his-Army-PT-test husband feel like he was going to get left behind. You will get scraped, bumped, bruised and the next day you’ll be sore.
During the tour you will think “how in the world did I get in this small, dark space and how in the world do I get out of it?!”
And after the tour you will have some epic bragging rights and have seen parts of the cave few other people get to see.
Worth it? I’d say so.
Here are a few tips if you’re planning to go on the Mammoth Cave wild cave tour:
– Make sure you take the shoe requirements seriously. When they say you need boots that go over your ankles with deep tread, they mean it. Luke wore his combat boots, but they were a little worn on the bottom. The guide almost didn’t let him go — and there are no refunds if you’re dumped from the tour because your shoes are bad.
– Be on time. The tours start promptly so don’t be late!
– Bring a snack. A few hours into the tour you have a bathroom break and snack opportunity. You’ve got to haul the food yourself, so bring something that can be stashed in a fanny pack they provide.
– Remember that this is FUN and will not last forever. It’s easy to get pretty freaked out by the tight spots. You aren’t going to stay there forever, power through. If you get stuck, they’ll pull you out. I promise.
Overall, we really enjoyed our Mammoth Cave wild cave tour. It was a challenging, fun adventure. If you aren’t afraid of the dark, are up for a physical challenge and want to be able to say you’ve done something few others have — this is for you.
Have you been to Mammoth Cave National Park or done the Mammoth Cave wild cave tour? Tell us in the comments what you thought about it!