I've visited caves all over the world - but nothing prepared me for the enormity of Mammoth Caves. With 400 (!) miles of surveyed tunnels and caverns, in addition to an estimated 600 miles of unsurveyed area, Mammoth Caves is easily the largest cave system in the world. Carved out of a limestone bed 1000 feet deep and extending across three states, Mammoth was first explored over 4000 years ago. European settlers encountered it in early explorations and it has been an attraction since the end of the War of 1812.
Not as 'decorated' as some other cave systems, Mammoth impresses nonetheless with its sheer immensity. The main cavern, accessed by the 'Natural' entrance boggles the senses with it's vast volume. Descriptions are inadequate - you have to experience it yourself. (Take the 'Historical' tour to see it best.)
The most 'decorated' portion (think stalagmites, stalagtites, cave bacon, etc.) of the surveyed caverns is accessed on the 'New Entrance' tour.
There are many other tours available, including Caving 101, where actual spelunking is taught.
The guides we had on our tours were knowledgeable, engaging, and passionate about their underground world.
We were fortunate to go on the New Entrance tour with a group of only 18 (maximum tour capacity 120) so were able to stop many more places than usual.
Our larger (40 person) group on the Historical tour (maximum tour capacity 140) was easily accommodated by the huge caverns and tunnels, but we all couldn't be near the guide to hear his side comments while walking from stop to stop.
With so much to do underground, don't neglect the above ground attractions of the park with its extensive system of hiking and interpretive trails, and ranger-lead activities.
There's so much to experience, a 2 day stay would be pretty much the minimum. The 'luxe' hotel in the park has basic but comfortable accommodations (king bed, air conditioning, phones, private baths, tv, etc.), for around $85/night in June. There are cottages and other accommodations starting around $50 night (2 room cabin $65/night) with AAA discounts.
There's a variety of dining options. We ate supper and breakfast in the main dining room, and had reasonably priced meals of better than average quality for a concession restaurant. In fact the Southern skillet-fried chicken was excellent, as were the biscuits (which turned out to be Pillsbury frozen dough - but were extraordinarily light, fluffy as and flavorful; I don't know how they did it.). Local cherry preserves are served at the table, and are good enough that you'll want to buy a jar to take home. Portions are large (to huge), many dishes can easily be shared. My wife ordered the $8.95 'Caveman' breakfast that was so much food it could have easily fed us both - and a kid or two.
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