Domes and Dripstones Tour
- Rating: 3.5 Feathers
- Cost: $17 /person
- Reservations: Yes
- Arrive: 30 min early
- Length: 2 Hrs
- Distance: 3/4 mi
- Difficulty: Moderate
- No Flash Photography
- No Tripods
- 500 Stairs
The tour begins at the bottom of a sinkhole where a man looking to start his own cave-tour business, before Mammoth Cave was a national park, blasted his own entrance. You squeeze through some tight gaps, so we wouldn't recommend this tour to those who are claustrophobic. The temperature in the cave is mild year-round and we quickly learned a winter jacket was overkill; a light jacket should suffice. The majority of the tour is spent descending stairs until you reach one of the larger rooms in the cave where you are seated and the guide explains some history about the cave. Next, you are led to another large room, where the guide cuts all the lights and instructs everyone to be silent so that you can experience just how dark and silent it is. Near the end of the tour is when things start to get more interesting with stalactites and picturesque rock formations. One critique we have about this tour is the number of people in each session. They allow up to 110 people in each time slot and it usually books up. This makes it feel less intimate and also makes it extremely difficult to get pictures without other people in your frame. It is also difficult to get good pictures because tripods and flashes aren’t permitted.
Backpacking - Bluffs Campground
- Cost: Free
- Rating: 3.5 Feathers
- Distance: ~8 mi
- Moving Time: 3 hrs 40 mi
- Elevation Gain: ~385 ft
- Difficulty: Easy
- Hike type: Out + Back
- Trail traffic: Light (Only saw a few horseback riders)
- Permit Required: Yes
- Cell reception poor: AT&T
- Campsite: Lat: 37.20347, Lon: -86.16348
- GAIA GPS Route
Overnight camp permits are free and can be acquired at the visitor center. They have limited availability so if you are interested in a specific destination, consider booking online ahead of time.
We went at the beginning of November and it was a spectacular time to visit this park. The park’s terrain is primarily made up of dense trees with some interesting rock formations and walls. Going in the fall was the best choice as the trees were magnificent. Otherwise, the views would have been slightly lacking. The weather was perfect for hiking during the day, cool enough to not break a sweat but not too cold (~55°F). It got a little chilly at night (~35°F). Making a fire was a must to be able to relax outside of a sleeping bag once the sun went down.
Thankfully, there were no mosquitoes during our visit. There were, however, a plethora of daddy long-leg spiders near the campsite.
If you go during the fall, like we did, you will encounter falling acorns at campsite that will hurt if you are struck! We know from experience.
There is a small river at the bottom of the valley near the campsite. The walk to it is quite steep, but doable. There is also a small waterfall (about the flow of a shower head) that is a couple hundred meters before the campsite that you will pass on the way in. We did not encounter any water during the hike to the campsite, so fill up before leaving!
We were able to start a fire no problem in the metal ring fire pit provided. The problem was keeping it going as there was limited large pieces of dry wood to gather.
The parking lot at the trailhead is easy to find and has plenty of parking spaces as well as public restrooms. In order to get to the parking lot from the visitor center, you must pass over a river via a tiny ferry. It is free and the ride is only a couple minutes long; you don’t even have to get out of your vehicle. We were lucky that we went on a slow day because the ferry only takes 3 cars at a time and will get congested quickly during a heavily trafficked time. Once at the parking lot, make sure to display your backpackers permit parking pass in your windshield.
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