Mammoth Caves National Park: Dos and Don’ts with Kids

by | Mar 7, 2024

Hi Friends! Last month, 3 daughters headed to Louisville for a dance competition. It was 2 full days of hair, makeup, costumes, and of course dance dance dance. I wanted to see a little bit more of Kentucky than just downtown Louisville so decided to add a day to our trip to head down to Mammoth Caves. I had visited the caves once before as a kid and remembered loving the dark, cool, creepy experience. My husband had never toured a cave so we figured lets check off another National Park for him and the girls!

Quincy Market

Mammoth Caves is located in Kentucky an hour south of Louisville and is the largest cave system in the world with over 400 miles of currently mapped connected caves. Modern americans have been touring Mammoth Caves since 1816 (by candlelight!) and explorers are still unearthing new arteries of Mammoth Caves. It is definitely a different type of National Park!

Visiting now as an adult, I definitely have some dos and don’ts I wish I would have known before I went. Let me know what you would add!

Don’t Tour “Domes and Dripstones” First

The only way to see inside Mammoth Caves is with a Park Ranger led tour guide. Since we were driving straight from the Louisville airport, we signed up for the afternoon tour of “Domes and Dripstones”. It is one of the harder tours because it includes 100s of steep stairs with no alternative route. I would not recommend this tour with young children or elder family members but it was perfect for my healthy 3 girls. 

The highlight of the tour is ending at “Frozen Niagara” which you can visit without the steps as it’s own tour.

We loved this tour! My girls saw first hand tons of stalactite and stalagmite formations with fantastic story telling by Park Rangers.

The reason I do not recommend doing this tour first is that it does not enter through the historic entrance but instead through a sink hole side door. Because of this, you do not get that initial grand reveal of mammoth caves that visitors have been seeing for thousands of years.

Quincy Market
Plimoth Plantation img1

Do a Potty Break before you Tour “Gothic Avenue”

So what tour would I recommend first? Definitely Gothic Avenue. This tour is the traditional route that been used for literally hundreds of years. Check out the “graffiti” done below dating back to the 1800s. It was made on the ceiling using a candle!

One important note is both the Gothic Avenue Tour and the Domes and Dripstones tour are both 2 hours long. There are no rest stops along the way. No hidden portapotties. No bushes your kid can hide and pee in. Once you enter the cave, you are on the tour until it is over. It is led through the dark by

 

Boston lunch with family
Boston lunch with family 2
Boston lunch with family
Boston lunch with family 2

Do Check Out the Free Museum Before Your Tour

While you are waiting for your tour to start, check out the free museum at Mammoth Caves. It is an interactive museum that shares the history of tours in the cave and how it was geologically formed. It’s also a great place to escape the cold Kentucky Winter!

Quincy Market

Do Not Stay at the Lodge at Mammoth Caves

When we visit National Parks, we always try to stay inside the park. We have done this at Zion as well as the Grand Canyon. It is super convenient for hopping on and off bus tours and early morning access.

I however would not recommend staying inside the Park at Mammoth Caves. Below is a very cleaned up image of what the accommodations include; Motel style rooms that have not been updated since the 90s. When we were there during the winter, none of the restautants were open and the only meal option was a run down snack shack.

We ended up leaving the grounds twice for food, traveling 15 minutes to Cave City. The food options in cave city were also limited, we ended up with a Mexican dinner and a Cracker Barrel breakfast. But since we were driving anways, we may as well have stayed at the local Hampton Inn.

The one benefit of staying inside the parks is the walking trails. While the caves are underground “duh” there are miles of trails, sinkholes, and Green River views to enjoy above ground.

 

Union Square Donuts

Do Visit in Winter

We visited Mammoth Caves in February when the weather is generally between 29 and 51 degrees F. This is super cold for my Florida girls but pretty moderate for most.

The caves generally stay around 50 degrees so visiting in Winter means you wont forget your coat. Getting my girls to bring a coat on a 90 degree summer day would be a huge task.

Also, there are generally less crowds in Winter. We did not need to sign up in advance for our cave tours and they were only half full.

Union Square Donuts
Kane's Donuts

We had such a great time checking off another National Park by visiting Mammoth Caves. Let me know in the comments which park we should visit next. On to the next trip!

Best, Melissa and Girls

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Melissa Moyles

Hi! I'm Melissa

In the borders of being a full time Marketing VP and a full time wife and mom, I strive to build a beautiful home for my family… 1 DIY Project at a time. Join us on this journey!