KY--Mammoth Cave NP

Discussion in 'National Parks, Forests and ACOE Campgrounds' started by Travelhoveler, Oct 14, 2011.

  1. Travelhoveler

    Travelhoveler New Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    Even though it's only 94 mile away for us, we'd never taken the camper to Mammoth Cave National Park. I'd backpacked in there in the 70s but Moonbeams had never been. Last Saturday turned out cool and pleasant, so we decided on a spur of the moment trip up there. We packed in half an hour, secured our camper from storage, and took off in mid-morning.

    We never make reservations, but since it was such a glorious fall weekend, I thought I should call the park and check on availability. I was transferred to the campground, and the ranger said, "Oh, we have 15 sites open right now, and should have another 30 by lunch. You should have no problem, but tell you what, tell me your name, and I'll put you down for a spot." No credit card, no registration form. Try that with Reserve America or sometime. (The park does take reservations during the main season, and the main campground does fill occasionally).

    Not needing to rush up or develop a Plan B, we decided to take backroads up. We found a wonderful little coffeehouse in Millersville, TN where we stopped for more coffee and tea, then ambled on through Franklin, KY and Bowling Green. Had absolutely dreadful barbecue in the latter. (We are so lucky to be from Tennessee where the best barbecue is made, but you'd think they'd at least do a passable job less than fifty miles outside the state.) Wandered on through the lovely country of the Pennyrile Plateau and reached Park City and the entrance to Mammoth Cave NP in early afternoon. Had we taken Interstate 65 from Nashville, we'd have been there in half the time, but interstates are boring and you never see anything interesting. plus I like to take my time when towing the hovel rather than racing along with trucks and speeders.

    The Mammoth Cave Parkway is the main park entrance road.

    We went immediately to the campground to set up and leave the trailer behind. The main campground has 108 sites; there is a smaller rustic campground at Houchins Ferry with only 17, supposedly unable to accommodate RVs, though we could have fit our little pup in just fine. Like large campgrounds in some major national parks, this one had an office at the entrance staffed by rangers and an amphitheatre. Check in was painless; didn't want license tag numbers, driver's license, etc., just $17.

    There are four loops, one for tents only. We were on the back loop with no neighbor on one side, but sites across the way. The campground is located in a mixed hardwood forest under mature second-growth trees. Sites had paved spurs or pull throughs, concrete picnic tables, and fire rings. No lantern posts or raised grills. The campground was very clean, and there were plenty of comfort stations around. Outside the campground, a concessionaire stove offers showers and laundry (closed December through February).

    Here's our little a-frame set up in loop B.

    The park visitor center, the Mammoth Cave Hotel, and the departure point for cave tours is only a mile or so away. There are trails from the campground, including this one, the roadbed from the old Mammoth Cave Railway, which is a multi-use trail and the only trail in the park on which bicycles are permitted.


    We didn't go with the intention of touring the cave, but to scout out the Green River for a possible late fall or winter kayaking trip, and to do some hiking. We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the river.

    Moonbeams is inspecting the river at Dennison Ferry. It's moving flatwater, not really our type, but it does traverse some lovely country.

    The river moves at about 3-4 mph in the upper end of the park; further down, it's backed up by Dam No. 6 and is more of a slackwater river. You can do short trips or overnighters in the park. Riverside camping is allowed with a backcountry permit. There are several outfitters that rent boats, take guided trips, or will run shuttles for you.

    After checking out the river, we returned to the campsite for cocktails and then made dinner, earlier than usual as we wanted to check out the evening ranger program. We walked over to the park amphitheatre, located between the campground and the hotel, for the program. It was informative enough (subject was underground rivers) but short; in fact, we spent more time walking back and forth than listening to the ranger. Afterward, we returned to the campsite for another cocktail and sat out to enjoy the evening, which was pretty much a lost cause as the campground was quite noisy, with kids racing around on bikes, teens trying to impress girls, and people chopping wood feverishly in an effort to survive the temperatures which were dropping rapidly into the 60s. After a while of this, we retired to the hovel, turned on the FantasticFan for some white noise, and read a while before dropping off to sleep.

    The next day we decided to hike the trails on the south side of the river. We started out by taking the River Styxx Trail which took us by the historic entrance to Mammoth Cave.

    With about 392 miles of passages known today, Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world.

    The lower levels of Mammoth Cave have subterranean streams feeding into the Green River. This is the outlet for the River Styxx, which flows into the Green a hundred yards or so north.
    There are many miles of great hiking trails in the park, including an extensive trail system on the north side where backcountry camping is permitted. Here, Moonbeams is checking out an old (but second or third growth) plane tree, which is called a "sycamore" here in the South.

    There are also some historic structures in the park.

    This is the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church. In the church cemetery you will find the grave of Floyd Collins, a famous caver who was trapped in nearby Sand Cave in 1925 and who died after seventeen days trapped underground, even though rescuers had worked to free him and journalists interviewed him daily. His story is quite an interesting one, look him up here on Wikipedia.

    It's quite a nice park with much to see and do. We're looking forward to going back in January when the campground will be largely deserted. It's great to have places like this so close by.
  2. Unstable_Tripod

    Unstable_Tripod Well, there's your problem!

    May 20, 2008
    Seattle, Washington
    Great report and nicely illustrated. Thanks! That is one area in the East that I've always wanted to visit. Now, in at least one small way, I have.
  3. bigdad

    bigdad Active Member

    Mar 5, 2007
    Springfield Kentucky
    I have been there and have took the cave tour it is neat.
  4. BaylorWaylor

    BaylorWaylor Member

    May 27, 2009
    Whitehouse, Tennessee
    I love Mammoth Cave, if you came through Millersville, the next town you went through is my hometown of White House.
  5. hometownhiker

    hometownhiker Active Member

    Oct 17, 2009
    Franklin, NC
    Nice report Hoveler! It makes me want to visit Mammoth Cave. I'll have to check it out.
  6. Travelhoveler

    Travelhoveler New Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    Thanks everyone.

    UT, I hope you'll make a trek through the Southeast sometime. Chances are, we'll be on your doorstep before you ever do, as we plan on doing the Lewis and Clark Trail, maybe next year.

    BaylorWaylor, we went through White House; in fact, that coffee house I mentioned is at the hill crest between Millersville and White House. Took Moonbeams on a brief detour to see Cross Plains as well; one of my favorite little towns in the area.

    We're looking forward to going back this winter. It's so close, and there's lots more we didn't see.
  7. Grizzly_Wayne

    Grizzly_Wayne Member

    Oct 7, 2010
    Knoxville, Tn
    Great review and great pictures. This is very high on our list of places to camp. The wife and i are still saving for a pop-up (a house is first on the list though) but we really want to camp here. Lucky for me, the wife loves to tent camp as well. It was a shock for me, as a Boy Scout for 23 years, to finally meet a woman with as much if not more camping equipment than me! :)

    We live in Knoxville, so this is not that much of a drive for a nice long weekend.
  8. Travelhoveler

    Travelhoveler New Member

    Mar 8, 2011
    Wayne, we've only had our pup less than a year. We purchased way used and it's really been a good investment for us, as we've spent nearly two months of accumulated time since last fall in it, and we were able to our usual western trip for far less than flying out and renting a car.

    With Knoxville as a base, you have access to the best camping in the eastern states, with the Smokies on your doorstep, Cherokee National Forest and the North Carolina national forests close by, Big South Fork an hour and half away, TVA and Corps of Engineers reservations up and down the rivers, and our best-in-the-nation state parks all around you. Tent camping or in a pup, you're in a marvelous spot. We're camping at Cataloochee in the park over Halloween weekend and we have a three-hour trip just to get to Knoxville!
  9. haroldpe

    haroldpe Campin' Engineer

    Mar 21, 2004
    Adamsville, MI
    Very nice story, bringing back memories from our trip a year ago August. The national park campground had plenty of open sites then, as it was 95 degrees and up all week. We spent more time in the caverns then we expected, as the trails were extremely mosquito-ridden, even with repellent, we had a hard time of it.

    However, we opted to stay at Nolin River Lake State Park, and had a great site adjoining the lake. Kept the canoe lakeside all week and took off for fishing/paddling in the evenings/mornings. Very pretty area.

    Nolin Lake State Park by haroldpe, on Flickr

    It being late August, most of the schools are back in session, so it was very peaceful. I loved the large sites that Kentucky provides. Also, for less than $10, they brought us a gator cargo load of wood that lasted us all week.

    Nolin Lake State Park by haroldpe, on Flickr

    Being on the far side of the national park, we took the ferry quite a few times. My daughter loved it.

    Ferry by haroldpe, on Flickr

    We greatly enjoyed a side trip to Bowling Green, KY, for a tour of the national Corvette museum, as well as a hot air balloon ride.

    Almost full by haroldpe, on Flickr

    When in Bowling green, we realized we were only 60 miles from Nashville, so another side trip to the original Opry, Ryman Theater, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Earnest Tubbs record store.

    Ernest Tubbs Record Store by haroldpe, on Flickr

    We had plenty of time for geocaching just outside the park. Not to mention the beautiful countryside and caves. We surely enjoyed our Kentucky vacation.
  10. GA Judy

    GA Judy Active Member

    Oct 15, 2010
    Travelhoveler, thanks for the visit to Mammoth Cave and the surrounding area! We were booked for one of the tours back in the spring, but all the tornadoes and flooding started getting pretty serious, so we left eastern KY in a rush to get back to our basement in Georgia! [LOL] We cancelled the 3 nights we had set up at a private CG in Cave City since the NP was all booked. I've still got all the info and we will probably get there next spring after the tours start up again.

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