Best Time To Visit Mammoth Cave & Visiting Tour Guide

Visiting the national parks in North America has become a favorite part of our Airstream travels. So when we traveled through central Kentucky, I knew we wanted to stop at Mammoth Cave National Park. We unfortunately made the mistake of not booking our tours in advance and therefore we were only able to book one tour. So to help you not make the the same mistake we did, below is everything you should know to have a great time, including the best time to visit Mammoth Cave National Park.

When is the best time to Visit Mammoth Cave National Park?

For the least amount of crowds, the best time to visit Mammoth Cave National Park are winter months between November and February. I think fall has the best weather and its really pretty when all the leaves are changing colors. However there are fewer tours available at those times. Summer is peak season and offers the most variety of cave tours and times but also has the most crowds.

How much time should you spend at Mammoth Cave National Park?

Depending on the season, with one to two days at the park, you can go on multiple cave tours and also hike the trails.

What time zone is Mammoth Cave?

Mammoth Cave is in the Central Time Zone. So if you purchased cave tour tickets in advance, make sure you confirm your tour time.

Is there a fee to enter Mammoth Cave National Park?

No. Unlike other national parks, there is not an entry fee to enter into the park. There is however a fee for each cave tour and the National Park Pass is not valid for cave tours.

When is Mammoth Cave National Park open?

The park is open year-round, with the exception of Christmas Day. This is the one day of the yer the park is closed. Cave tours are NOT available on Christmas Day.

Can you see the caves without a tour?

No. You must be on a cave tour to enter the cave. There is a self-guided tour that is sometimes available however the remaining Mammoth Cave tours are guided. The costs range from $6 to $60 for a cave tour.

Is it cold inside Mammoth Cave?

Mammoth Cave stays a consistent temperature of 54ºF year round.

What should you wear at Mammoth Cave?

Plan to bring layers especially if you get cold easily. I wore a headband because my ears always get cold. Keep in mind, if you are visiting in the summer months, it is very warm outside and will be cold in the cave. And in the winter it can freezing outside and slightly warmer in the cave. Also plan to wear good walking shoes.

Is the park pet-friendly?

Yes. Pets are permitted on trails, multi-use paths and park roads. They must be kept on a leash. Pets are not permitted in buildings and on cave tours.

Is there cell service at Mammoth Cave?

That depends on your carrier, so it is a maybe. At the visitor center we had service with T-Mobile. In the campground, our phones did not get service but our Verizon hot spot worked well.

Your Guide to Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park

A Little History Of Mammoth Cave National Park

The history of Mammoth Cave dates back to thousand of years. It is the world’s longest cave system with over 400 miles of documented passageways and 5 levels of caves. Mammoth Cave became part of the National Park system in 1941, an Unesco World Heritage Site in 1981 and an International Dark Sky Park in 2021.

For more information on the history of Mammoth Cave:

Mammoth Cave Visitor Center

The park’s visitor center is the heart of the park. Here you will find information about the park, cave tour tickets, the Historic Cave entrance, the gift shop, restrooms, exhibits and cave tour meeting points. The Lodge at Mammoth Cave is also located just across the walking bridge.

This is a great starting point for your Mammoth Cave experience. And if you haven’t already purchased your cave tour tickets, which is highly recommended, then you should get them as soon as possible online at https://www.recreation.gov/ or at the visitor center. You can explore the exhibits at the visitor center before your cave tour. And also grab a hiking map, if you plan to hike in Mammoth Cave.

Cave Tours At Mammoth Cave

The most exciting part about Mammoth Cave National Park are the guided cave tours. So make sure to plan in advance and try to make your tour reservations before your arrival. You can decide which caves you want to visit and what tour and times are available.

Here is some guidance around the different tours, from levels of difficulty, amount of stairs to climb and cave entrances. Some caves tours do overlap, so if you want to explore different parts of the cave then this guide will help.

The Historic Entrance for caves with departure Point A
Looking out from within the cave from the Historic entrance

Easy Cave Tours From Departure Point A Which Uses The Historic Entrance

Discovery Tour (self-guided tour)

Duration: 30 minutes

Distance: 3/4 mile

Stairs: 130

Advance tickets are not available for this tour and it is not always offered. It is a self-guided short tour using the Historic Entrance. This tour is good for someone who prefers not to commit to a guided tour or has fear of caves or claustrophobia. Because you can go at your own pace and turn around at any time.

The Discovery Tour and end of the Historic Tour

Mammoth Passage Tour

Duration: 1.25 hours

Distance: 3/4 mile

Stairs: 130

This tour is a guided tour of the Discovery Tour that also includes parts of the Historic Tour.

NOTE: This tour is added as needed

Easy Caves Tours From Departure Point B Which Uses The Other Cave Entrance And Is Short Bus Ride To The Cave

Accessible Tour (Uses the Elevator Entrance)

Duration: 2 hours

Distance: 1/2 mile

Stairs: none

This tour is designed for those with mobility issues. The tour starts at the Snowball Room and continues through the Cleaveland Avenue Tour. This tour is ideal for those who wish to see the cave but are unable to climb stairs.

NOTE: Due to mechanical elevator issues, this tour is not currently available

Frozen Niagara Tour

Duration: 1.25 hours

Distance: 1/4 mile

Stairs: 12 with the option of 98

This tour is the most popular option for cave tours. It is a short tour with minimal stairs. And also the last stop for other cave tours and you will see this entire tour as part of the Domes and Dripstones Tour.

Moderate Caves From Departure Point A

View of the Historic Tour in Mammoth Cave National Park
View of the Historic Tour in Mammoth Cave National Park
Fat Man’s Misery sign as you enter into narrow passages

Historic Tour

Duration: 2 hours

Distance: 2 miles

Stairs: 540

This tour is great for those with an interest in history and adventure. The tour ranges from huge rooms to narrow passage ways with tight spaces and a bottomless pit among other things. You will also see this entire tour on the River Styx Cave Tour.

Extended Historic

Duration: 2.25 hours

Distance: 2 miles

Stairs: 540

It is just as the name suggest. The Historic Tour with a little more. Portions of this tour will be seen on the Violet City Lantern, Star Chamber and Gothic Avenue Tours.

Gothic Avenue Tour

Duration: 2 hours

Distance: 1 mile

Stairs: 160

This tour is known for its rock formation resembling gothic architecture and focuses on early tourism of Mammoth Cave. Portions of this tour are also seen on Star Chamber, Historic and Violet City Lantern Tours.

Historic Tour and River Styx Cave Tour

River Styx Cave Tour

Duration: 2.5 hours

Distance: 2.5 miles

Stairs: 600

This tour focuses on geology, history and visits the underground water level. On this tour it will include the entire Historic tour route and also see some of Star Chamber, Violet City Lantern, Mammoth Passage and Mammoth Cave Discovery Tours.

Star Chamber Tour

Duration: 2.5 hours

Distance: 2 miles

Stairs: 160

An evening tour lead by lantern light. This tour is a unique way to experience the caves, with a focus on history and early explores. On this tour you will also see some of the Historic, River Styx and Gothic Avenue Tours.

Moderate Caves From Departure Point B

Cleaveland Avenue Tour

Duration: 2 hours (2.5 hours if elevator is not available)

Distance: 1 mile (2 miles if elevator is not available)

Stairs: 200 (400 if elevator is not available)

On this tour you will see beautiful walls of sparkling gypsum and unique shaped passages. This tour is focuses on history and geology. All of the Accessible tour will be seen on this tour.

Great Onyx Lantern Tour

Duration: 2.25 hours

Distance: 1 mile

Stairs: 40

This tour is in Great Onyx Cave which is not the same as Mammoth Cave, but also very beautiful. On this tour you will see stalactites, stalagmites, gypsum crystals, and helictites with a focus on cave tourism and rock formations.

Wondering Woods Tour

Duration: 1.5 hours

Distance: 1 mile

Stairs: 140

This tour includes a short bus ride with a park ranger, a short hike in Tranquil Valley of Wondering Woods and then a short cave tour.

NOTE: This tour is currently not available

Difficult Caves From Departure Point A

Violet City Lantern Tour

Duration: 3 miles

Distance: 3 miles

Stairs: 160

Discover history and pre-history on this lantern only tour. Recommended for those who like to hike and want a unique way to experience the cave. Portions of this tour are also seen on the Historic, River Styx and Mammoth Passage Tours.

Difficult Caves From Departure Point B

Domes & Dripstones Tour

Duration: 2 hours

Distance: 1 mile

Stairs: 500

This tour focuses on natural cave formations, as you will see a sinkhole, huge domes and dripstones with many ascends and descends of winding through the passages. Includes all of Frozen Niagara Tour and a small part of Grand Avenue Tour.

Grand Avenue Tour

Duration: 4 hours

Distance: 4 miles

Stairs: 1313

This is the longest cave tour available and includes slot canyons, tubular passageways, tall canyons and sparkling gypsum. Grand tour is recommended for those looking to spend the most time in the cave.

Wild Cave Tour

Duration: 6 hours

Distance: 5 miles

Stairs: 500

This all day adventure is the most intensive cave tour. Most of your time is spent crawling and traversing tight spaces, and therefore is physically challenging. Proper footwear is required.

NOTE: This tour is currently not available

For more detailed information about Mammoth Cave Tours including dates and times:

ALERT: White-nose Syndrome a fungal disease found in bats has been detected in Mammoth Cave National Park. You must use the cleaning mats on your shoes as you exit the caves to help protect the bats and reduce the spread of this fungal disease.

Other Things To Do At Mammoth Cave National Park

1. Hiking

Hiking the dog friendly trails in Mammoth Cave National Park
Overlooks on hiking trails in Mammoth Cave National Park

There are 7.2 miles of trails around the Visitor Center. Hiking from the visitor center or Mammoth Cave Campground you can see the sink holes, rivers, ridge-tops, a cemetery, historic train engine and you might even see some deer and wild turkeys roaming around. Some trails have a steep climb and stairs and others are relatively flat and easy. The trails all interconnect and will eventually loop you back around to the visitor center. We used all trails to stay on trail and map our route but you can pick up a map at the visitor center.

2. Horseback Riding

Horses are welcome at Mammoth Cave. There is guided horse back riding available or you can bring your horse to the park. If you prefer to stay at the park with your horse you can camp at Maple Sprigs Campground in site 1,2,3 or 4.

3. Kayaking And Canoeing

The Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park

With over 30 miles of navigable water trails, Mammoth cave makes a great place to kayak. You can enjoy the water trails on the Green and Nolin Rivers Blueway. Rentals are available and personal floatation devices are required on the waterways of the park.

4. Fishing

Fishing is permitted within the park boundaries of Mammoth Cave National Park and a license or permit is not required to fish.

5. Ride The Green River Ferry

NOTE: The Green River Ferry is closed due to low water levels

You can take the ferry across the Green River. It will transport autos, bikers and hikers from one side of the river to the other. Located about 10 minutes from the visitor center.

Restaurants Located In Mammoth Cave National Park

  • Green River Grill: Located in the Mammoth Cave Lodge across from the visitor center. Offering dine in options and catering.
  • Spelunkers Café & Ice Cream Parlor: Also located in the Mammoth Cave Lodge. Offering counter service and food to go options.
  • Caver’s Camp Store: Located at Mammoth Cave Campgound entrance. Offering counter service and food to go options.

NOTE: The lodge is currently closed due to construction and should reopen in 2023.

Things To Do In Nearby Cities

  1. National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green
  2. Dinosaur World in Cave City
  3. Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo
  4. Adventures of Mammoth Cave Adventure Park
  5. Mammoth Cave Wildlife Museum

Other National Parks To Visit: Big Bend National Park Things To Do: Itinerary For One Day Of Adventure & El Yunque National Forest: Visiting Tips and Guide

Where To Camp In Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave Campground

Camping at Mammoth Cave Campground

We stayed at Mammoth Cave Campground. It is located in the park just a few minutes from the visitor center so you can walk or ride your bike. This campground is the most convenient campground to visit the park. They offer 111 primitive sites for tents and RV’s, so no hook ups.

The campground is mostly shaded, which is great in the heat, but more challenging for solar. Each site has a picnic table. Potable water is available throughout the park with a water fiil up station near the dump station. The campground is open March through November.

A park store is located on site. There you can find souveniers, camp supplies, ice and food. Quarter operated showers and laundry are also available at the camp store.

Houchin Ferry Campground

This tent only campground lies next to the Green River and is open year round. Located in the park and 15 miles from the Visitor Center. A simple campground with potable water, toilets, fire pit and picnic tables.

Maple Springs Campground

Located in the park about 6 miles from the visitor center. This campground offers electric and water hook ups with secluded sites and select sites for campers traveling with their horse companions. The campground is open from March through November.

Camping Outside Of The Park

Diamond Caverns RV Resort

Located only 7 miles from the Visitor Center. A small park with full hook ups and many amenities such as swimming pool, wifi, laundry, showers, golf, playground and more.

Jellystone RV Park

Located 8 miles from the visitor center offering 94 cabins and many campsites. This family friendly RV Park has many amenities and almost daily activities.

Lodging Inside The Park

The Lodge at Mammoth Cave offers modern hotel rooms and also rustic cottages. All located within walking distance to the visitor center and cave tour meeting points.

NOTE: The lodge is currently closed due to construction and scheduled to reopen in 2023.

Summary

So when is the best time to visit Mammoth Cave National Park? It is true that certain times of the year will be less crowded and have better weather. But really the answer is: whenever you can get there! So have fun and enjoy it!

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