By Josh Boyd
Nestled within the rolling hills, meandering river bottoms, and stands of hardwoods that dot the south central Kentucky countryside, is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise that few who have traveled the region ever realized graces the map.
A short drive from Interstate 65 is the home to Mammoth Cave National Park, a destination so rich in history that it should command its own textbook, and so teeming with awaiting outdoor adventure that once there, you would be inclined to extend your vacation.
Mammoth Cave National Park is the home to the world’s longest cave system. Mammoth Cave contains a labyrinth of over 400 miles of documented cave passages. The extent of the cave’s longevity might never be known, as new passageways are explored yearly, all the while, new cavernous chambers and passages are being carved by the river that runs within.
With a number of cave tours that range from short distance and mildly exertive, to six hours and extremely strenuous, Mammoth Cave offers an adventure tailor-made to any individual.
However, many tourists each year return from their desired cave tour and depart having never experienced the true magnitude of the outdoor recreational adventures that were to be had.
At over 50,000 acres, the above ground enjoyment that can be had meets, if not exceeds, that of the subterranean caving expeditions that the park is most notably associated with. Extensive hiking, backcountry camping, and fishing opportunities await anyone who desires such an outing.
The virtually undisturbed lands of Mammoth Cave National Park offer a unique experience for hikers looking to leave behind the concrete clad, modern world of today. Totaling in at nearly 84 miles of trails located within the park, an individual is sure to have ample opportunity to enjoy the absolute tranquility of this unaltered wilderness.
With trails that range in length from less than a quarter mile, to nearly nine miles in length, there are adventures to be had by hikers of any skill level. Each adventure embarked upon offers a unique perspective from which to view the park’s primitive charm.
Some trail offerings, such as the Green River Bluffs Trail, highlight the park’s majestic qualities with scenic overlooks of the mighty Green River. Other trailheads lead to destinations of historical significance such as Sand Cave, where in 1925 a caver by the name of Floyd Collins became trapped and ultimately perished during his explorations.
Mammoth Cave National Park also offers a vast array of camping opportunities for those who wish to get off the grid and experience the level of solitude that few areas in the region can offer. The park is home to three developed campgrounds as well as over a dozen backcountry sites.
Backcountry campsites are sprawled among varying locations within the park’s boundaries, allowing campers new experiences upon every trip. Backcountry camping permits are required, but are obtained for free at the park’s visitor center.
Fishing opportunities are also found in great abundance at Mammoth Cave National Park. Sections of both the Green and Nolin Rivers are found within the park’s boundaries and offer exemplary fishing for those who desire pole bending fun during their excursion to the park.
Both the Green and Nolin Rivers offer a diverse line up of fish species to pursue. Catfish, bass, musky, crappie, and bluegill all are commonly sought-after fisheries within these waters.
First Creek Lake, also located within the park’s boundaries, is another favorite of visitors to Mammoth Cave National Park. With a trailhead that lends itself to direct access to the lake, and public use campsites available upon your arrival, First Creek Lake is an all-encompassing destination with much to offer for visitors.
When fishing at any location within the park’s boundaries, no fishing license is required. This is often of advantage to anglers who are traversing the region, as it saves them the expense of license fees that would otherwise have to be included in trip expenditures.
However, anglers should be mindful of the state creel limits, as they are still in effect for fishing within the park’s boundaries.
The waterways located within the park also lend themselves to exceptional kayak and canoe exploration. Visitors are able to view corners of Mammoth Cave National Park by way of small watercraft that would elsewise not be easily accessible, and that few people experience.
If viewing or photographing wildlife is upon a visitor’s trip itinerary, Mammoth Cave National Park will not disappoint. The park’s motorways and numerous trails offer visitors countless opportunities to photograph some of the region’s most exquisite species of wildlife. Whitetail deer and wild turkeys are a mainstay of the park and are found in abundance.
According to the National Park Service, two-million visitors make their way to Mammoth Cave National Park each year. Sadly, the vast majority of those who visit, never truly realize the extent of the outdoor excitement that can be capitalized upon.
Just as the cave below offers miles of enchantment and exploration, the adventures that await visitors upon their ascent back to ground level are sure to conjure up a lifetime worth of memories and entice future trips for years to come.