I had never been down into a cave system before, let alone the lonest cave system in the world (with new areas still being discovered), and it was absolutely amazing! While Mammoth Cave itself is pretty cool (and there are lots of types of tours available), the thing that was really amazing about this experience was the the Wild Cave Tour.
You will literally be army-crawling through tunnels and “cave rolling” through passageways and walking along rock ledges while straddling caverns. It’s pretty intense and strenuous – be prepared for a full body work out! I can’t recommend this tour enough. Out of a 3,000 mile road trip visiting 10 national parks, this was my favorite thing that we did for the entire trip. It’s like nothing else you’ll ever experience and very well worth it!
Directions to Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave is located in Kentucky right in the middle of Louisville and Nashville TN. It’s about 1.5hrs from either city.
From Louisville, KY: Take 65 South to Exit 53 for Cave City/Glasgow. Turn right onto Rte. 70 (you’ll pass by Dinosaur World which is pretty awesome) and continue straight to Mammoth Cave National Park.
From Nashville, TN: Take 65 North to Exit 48 for Park City/ Brownsville. Turn left onto Rte. 255. Follow Park City Road until it joins the Mammoth Cave Parkway and turn left. This will put you right into Mammoth Cave National Park.
There’s lots of signs and the visitors center is easy to find once your in the park.
Cell service is a bit spotty, so keep the above directions in mind, but you can also use this marker:
Camping & Accommodations
There’s campground right inside of the park 1/4 mi from the visitor’s center. This was what we did when visiting the cave, since they you’re super close to your meeting place for the tour. The campground has 53 sites and wasn’t packed when we visited. There are spots available for both tents and RVs.
- Single Site: $20 Per-night, per-site. Limit 8 persons per site.
- Group Site: $25 Per-night, per-site. No discount is offered on group camping. Limit 16 persons per site.
- RV Site: $50 RV sites with full water, sewer and electric hookups. Limit eight persons per night per site.
There is also a lodge within the park if you prefer not to camp. Find out more about the lodge here.
Tickets & Reservations
Tickets are required to go into the cave regardless of the type of tour you are taking. While you aren’t required to make a reservation, it’s strongly recommended as the tours do sell out and there are rarely spots left for walk-ins. Also, you can’t make a reservation the same day as the tour (it needs to be made in advance). So you can’t decide that morning to reserve a spot on a tour in the afternoon. Make sure to plan ahead and get your tickets early!
There are a variety of available tours for every age and ability level. Everything from a short 1/2 mile walk to longer 4 mile explorations. If you’re nervous about trying The Wild Cave Tour and want to do one of these tamer tours, you can find more information about them and how to register here.
For my fellow adventurers who want to see the best of what this planet has to offer, the Wild Cave Tour is for you!
The Wild Cave Tour lasts 6 hours & costs $55
Wild Cave Tour Requirements
If you haven’t gotten the idea already, the Wild Cave Tour is pretty intense and awesome, but it’s not for everyone. There are several requirements you have to follow if you’re going to do this tour. These are for your safety and for the safety of the cave and the environment. They won’t let you on the tour unless you follow these requirements:
- Age Requirement: Anyone under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
- Boot Requirements: Must have over-the-ankle laced boots with aggressive tread. No zip-up boots, no tennis shoes.
- No Personal Caving Equipment: You will be provided with everything you need (including: overalls, gloves, helmet, kneepads, and a headlamp) that you will give back at the end of the tour. This is to minimize the spread of White Nose Syndrome, which is a fungus that has killed millions of bats.
- Minimum: 2 visitors – make sure to bring a friend as awesome as you!
- Chest or Hip Size: Must be 42 inches or less. You will not fit through crawl spaces is you are bigger than this. LITERALLY.
Wild Cave Tour Review: What To Expect
- Distance: 6 miles
- Difficulty: Hard & Strenuous
- Crowd Factor: 14 People Per tour
- Time: 6 hours
I absolutely love this tour and would do it over and over again. That being said, it is difficult – even if you fit all of the above requirements and can deal with all of the fears, I wouldn’t recommend this tour if you aren’t that fit or physically able. Crawling through the cave is grueling and very tiring. It’s an amazing workout even if you’re in good shape!
When you get to the visitor’s center, you’ll be given all the gear you need for the tour including a jumpsuit, kneepads (very handy!), gloves, helmet, and a headlamp. You’ll also have the option of a small fannypack, which I recommend for any personal items you’re bringing.
Pro Tip: Please bring an extra pair of tennis shoes or sandals for use during boot cleaning at the end of the tour. You can leave them in the bin with the rest of your belongings.
Once you’re geared up, you will load onto a school bus which will take you to the entrance of the cave, which is down a long staircase. You enter just like a bunch of the other tours, to a large dome cavern. Unlike the other tours, you quickly branch off into the hard to reach areas of the cave.
The cave is a little chilly at first (no sunlight afterall), but you’ll get warmed up real quick as soon once you start crawling through those tight spaces.
They don’t throw you into the deep end right away. The first tunnels and pathways are crawl-able on your knees just to give you an idea of what you’re in for. Shortly there after, you’ll be put to the test and will be twisting and squeezing your body through small spaces you never thought you could fit. Such as Bare Hole, which got it’s name because it’s so tight that people have lost their clothes when wriggling through it. I’m not sure if that’s true or not since you’re wearing a jumpsuit and all, but it is a good introduction to what lies further ahead.
It’s a great team building experience as everyone on the tour helps each other to fit through a lot of these small spaces by either pushing from behind or lending a hand and pulling you up in the front.
From here, I can’t necessarily comment on what your experience will be as the tour guides customize the tour to the ability of those in your group (hence the easier “tests” early on). I can tell you that you will have a guide in front and behind you at all times, your headlamp is more than enough light to see where you need to go, and it will be a hell of a lot of fun!
Every tight passageway ends in a much more comfortable cavern where you can stand and collect yourself for a bit before moving onto the next one. You won’t be stick in small spaces for the entire tour.
Pro Tip: Bring a snack! There will be a break in the Snowball Dome room (a giant cavern) for bathrooms and snacks. When I visited, there was a concession stand where you could buy food, however their website currently says that is not available (possibly due to seasonality?).
After the break, the real fun beings. Now you’re going to head into some of the smallest and hardest to get to parts of the cave. The most fun moments are when you are literally army crawling through incredible small spaces where you have to turn your head sideways to even fit (mostly because of the helmet). You’ll get dirty and wet and will probably see a few cave crickets scurrying around.
My favorite section was “Christine’s”. Our tour guide was sitting on a rock and told us a story about another guide named Christine who had taken a wrong turn at one point during a tour and had to create a new tunnel, pushing ahead through the rocks in order to get her tour through (since you can’t ever turn around). From there, our guide bent down and disappeared under the rock she had just been sitting on. Our entire tour looked at each other like “are we supposed to follow her?” Well, yes we were, and we did. That was the smallest and most challenging section of the tour and also the most fun.
Pro Tip: Cave roll! Save your energy in some of the medium-sized spaces where it’s too low to crawl on your knees and you’re tired of army-crawling. Roll sideways instead – like kids do down the side of a hill. There’s plenty of space to the sides to allow you to roll and as long as you don’t get too dizzy it’ll give your arms and legs a break for a bit.
In the last hour or so, you’ll get a break from all of the small spaces and will get to challenge your fear of heights instead. Some of the final parts of the tour took us through caverns that were very tall with deep ravines. We had one foot on either side of the ledge as we moved along. I personally never felt any real danger here as it would be difficult to fall down the ravine, but if you did, you would probably be lost forever because of how far it goes.
Overall, this tour is amazing, especially for the price. It delivers everything that you want and more. I would do it again in a heartbeat and highly recommend it to anyone who has an adventurous spirit!
A Note About Fears
If you’re at all claustrophobic, that last requirement of a 42″ chest or hip probably freaked you out a bit. While there are lots of very small tight spaces in this tour, you’ll never feel like you are completely trapped. The vast majority of these tight spaces are only tight vertically, not horizontally. So while you might only be able to army crawl and not be able to fully lift your head, there will be lots of space on the sides of you, which helps to reduce the claustrophobia if that’s an issue for you. Never during this tour was I ever in a tight tunnel and unable to move.
Also, I have a feeling that if you couldn’t deal with it, that the tour guides would be able to remove you from the tour. One of our guides kept disappearing and then popping back up later, so I think there are multiple and easier ways into each of the “trails” than what everyone else is taking, so if you’re too stressed, I think they would probably be able to remove you and take you another way out.
Fear of Heights
The majority of the tour is in tight spaces with no fear of falling. There was one section where we looked over a ledge, and then only one other section where we were walking with one foot on a ledge on either side of a chasm that goes straight down. The space between these ledges was very small. While not impossible, you would have to try to fall down between them. And if that still freaks you out, you don’t have to look. Keep your head up and since you only have the light from your headlamp, you literally won’t see what’s below you.
Fear of The Dark
While there’s no natural light in the cave, you do have your own personal headlamp with you at all times. Everyone else in the group also has a headlamp, which makes it surprisingly bright while you’re going through the cave. There will only be one moment when everyone is safe on a secure platform, when you will all be instructed to turn out your lights and experience true darkness.