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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky / National Park Campground, Cave Tours, and more

September 2016, Weekend-weekday, 3-nights, Campsite 71

Domes & Dripstones Cave Tour; info at the end of this post

Reservations, arrival, check-in

We wanted to reserve a campsite at Mammoth Cave National Park before our arrival; however, the park stops accepting campground reservations for the season on September 15th, which was a few days before our stay. You can still make reservations for the tours, although not the campground.

When we arrived, the ranger told us to turn in Loop C, find a site that we fit on, and then come back and pay. The cost was $20 per night, and we could pay by check or credit card.

Campground map; click to enlarge

Campsite 71

We had walked through this campground a year earlier when we passed through the area. At that time, we had thought sites 71, 73, and 80 were all good sites. We did not notice the traffic direction until we drove into the campground; all of the perimeter sites in Loop C are on the wrong side of the road to pull in with an RV (unless you want to face the road instead of your fire pit!). We decided to turn around through site 72, and then we chose site 71. Fortunately, there was not much traffic when we left, because we did not try to turn around again at that time. We passed one non-camping vehicle on our way out, and he pulled off the road to let us by.

View from our camper on site 71
There is a nice view of the woods behind campsite 71, and the site is mostly level. We had initially pulled onto site 73 after turning around because the site looked more spacious; however, site 73 is very unlevel. Every campsite has a fire pit and picnic table. There is no power or water on any of the campsites.

It was foggy every morning

Labeled view of sites 71 & 73

Signs posted in the campground warn visitors about poisonous snakes, and to be aware when gathering firewood. We had a snake on our lot that I discovered when gathering kindling for our fire.
Snake on our campsite
Since many of the inside sites in this loop have trees around the perimeter, the inside loop sites are quite private. Campsites 86 - 90 looked like the best ones in this loop. You can see photos of some of these sites in the Mammoth Cave album on our Facebook page. There were campers on many of these sites when we arrived. Most of them departed during our stay, and new campers arrived each day.

Facilities: restrooms, showers, sanitation station

The restrooms in our loop were pretty well taken care of. The overhead light inside the bathroom was on a sensor, and I had to wave my arms when I entered the Women's bathroom, because the light did not come on right away by itself. There are water spigots in several areas of the campground; however, the park was under a boil water order during our stay. We were glad we had filled the water tank in our RV before we left, because we did not know this before we arrived.

Showers are located in the building behind the camp store just outside of the campground. We did not check out the facility after we learned the cost was $3 for one token (I do not know how much time/water you get for one token). I had read a review from someone before our trip who said the showers were pretty nasty.

Campsite 90; bathrooms and dumpster visible through trees and across road
The dump station was located in the camp store parking lot, just outside the campground entrance. It was easy to get to. Dumpsters for trash and recyclables were located in front of the restroom near the entrance.

Trail map

Recreation: Trails, Visitor Center

There are miles of hiking trails in this National Park. We hiked some of the trails that were accessible from the campground: Whites Cave Trail, Sinkhole, Echo River Springs Trail, Green River Trail, Dixon Cave, and Historic Entrance. All of the trails were well marked, and none of them were very difficult. We hiked up and down a bit, although it was never extreme. Our overall climb height was just under 800'. 

Snake next to the trail
There are many warnings posted about snakes and not to venture off the trail. We walked by the snake in the photo above, which I thought was a Copperhead at the time. It matched the campground pictures, although information on the Kentucky wildlife website says that there are also non-venomous snakes that resemble Copperheads. It says you can tell whether a snake is venomous or not by its pupils: vertical pupils indicate venomous, and round pupils indicate non-venomous. I was not going to get close enough to this snake to see its eyes! As you can tell, I barely got close enough to take the photo. The snake in this photo had his chin up, his mouth open, and he was making eye contact with us. My husband wanted to back up and get a better photo, but I did not want to take any chances, and I would not give him the camera. After this, he started carrying his own camera!

Echo River Springs Trail
Mild inclines -
this was one of the biggest inclines we hiked

Mammoth Cave Railroad is a hard packed gravel hike and bike trail. We rode our bikes on this trail less than five miles since we have city bikes, rather than mountain bikes. A paved trail runs between the campground and Visitor Center. There is a gift shop in the Visitor Center, and in Mammoth Cave Hotel. Excursion tickets can be purchased in the Visitor Center, as well.

Green River Ferry
We hiked to Green River Ferry one day, and we drove our truck there the next day. We were not sure if we would be able to cross, since the website says the max length is 16', and our truck is about 17'. We took the ferry across and back. On the other side of the river, we visited Maple Springs Group Campground, and we went for a drive on Ugly Creek Rd. There was no boil order sign on the water spigots in Maple Springs, so we filled up our five gallon jug with water while we were there.

On Green River Ferry
After we came back across the river, we took a drive on Joppa Bridge Rd. We had planned to walk back to Green Onyx Cave and/or Crystal Cave; however, both of the roads were closed off. It is possible, the roads were only blocked off for vehicle traffic and that we could have walked around the gate, although this was not clear. If we had been staying another day, we would have asked one of the rangers about this.

Cave Tours - Domes and Dripstones, Diamond Caverns

We booked the Domes and Dripstones cave tour in the Visitor Center after we arrived and set up at the campground. This is available to purchase online, and staff members encouraged us to purchase it ahead of time. We did not do that because I did not want to purchase tour tickets, if we could not reserve a campsite. I had called before our trip to inquire further about campsite and tour reservations. I was told that if we canceled a tour, even if it was because we could not get a campsite, we would be charged a cancelation fee. We arrived on a Friday, and did not have any trouble booking the tour we wanted for the next morning. We booked our tour after 2:00 p.m. on Friday for Saturday morning.

Stairs at the start of tour
One of the walkways inside

The two hour tour includes the bus ride to and from the cave, so the time underground is less than two hours. Before we left, our tour guide gave quite a lengthy speech about close quarters and heights to scare off anyone who was having second thoughts. I have a mild fear of heights and close places, which is part of the reason why we did not book a longer tour. I did not freak out during this tour, nor did I experience anything I could not handle. I did not think the walk was difficult, although I was surprised to see some visitors wearing flip flops!

Walkway up after one of the stops
One thing I did not like about this tour is that the group size is over 100 people - our group consisted of three busloads of visitors. I had read reviews from visitors who complained about not being able to hear the tour guide, and that is correct. Unless you are one of the first 10 people, you will not be able to hear the guide except for when the group stops (there are two stops with seats on this tour). I wish we had been at the end of the tour, because both times that we stopped, we waited about 10 minutes for the rest of the group to assemble. The seats were not very comfortable (the second set of seats are on an incline), and I tended to think more about the fact that I was so far underground while waiting. This did not bother me as much when we were moving.

I thought the temperature was comfortable for hiking in the cave. We wore jeans, walking shoes, and rain coats. It was pouring rain the day of our tour, and we had to walk outside without a roof overhead to enter and exit the cave. This tour was worth the $15, and it provided a brief overview of some history. You can enlarge the photos here by clicking on them, and you can see more cave tour photos in the Mammoth Cave Facebook album.

We did not book a second tour at Mammoth Cave because we had planned to go on the Diamond Caverns tour when we left the area Monday morning. I had called beforehand to confirm the time and cost. Our plan was to go on the one hour tour at 9:00 a.m., and the cost was $17 without a coupon. We had a coupon for $1 off each ticket. We arrived just before 9:00 a.m., and waited a few minutes for the location to open. Once inside the store, we learned that the tour guide had called in that morning, and the next guide would not be in until after 10:00 a.m. We chatted with the person working, looked around the store a bit, and then decided we were not going to wait an hour for the tour. This tour is located pretty close to I-65, so we plan to stop another time when we are driving by.

Front of brochure
Page with bottom cut off

I observed a brochure rack just inside the entrance while we were looking around. I assume there is a discount coupon for Diamond Caverns in one of the booklets because the bottom of the Diamond Caverns page was cut out of each booklet. If you are looking for a coupon, you can pick up brochures like this in many locations in the area: gas stations, restaurants, rest area, etc. We got our $1 coupons in a booklet in one of the gas stations when we drove through the area the previous year.

Let me know if you have any questions! Please share this post for others.