By Kathy Witt
If there’s a time and place where you can get away with gasping “AWESOME!” without it sounding overwrought, it’s when you’re standing amidst the stalactites, stalagmites, travertine dams and other geologic wonders within Mammoth Cave National Park. This 53,000-acre treasure bordering Cave City is one place that fully embodies the meaning of the word.
The world’s longest cave system is sheer grandeur, with 4,000 known passages and 400-plus mapped trails. It is also one of the oldest tourist attractions in North America; visitors have been exploring its vast subterranean depths since 1816.
Today, you can view the same spectacular formations that wowed guests nearly 200 years ago – whether your taste for adventure runs on the mild or wild side.
Caves R Us
You can go easy or strenuous – with or without a lantern – as you walk, hike, climb and sometimes squeeze through formations with names like Fatman’s Misery and Bottomless Pit. There are themed walks and talks, including those on slavery and the Civil War. Cave newbies should try the Frozen Niagara Cave Tour – it’s as stunning as it sounds and not at all strenuous, so everyone can enjoy it. History buffs will be intrigued to learn about the one-time tuberculosis hospital in the cave.
A World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, Mammoth Cave is a source of awe-inspiring wonder to the 500,000-plus who visit each year. And with eight caves within 45 miles – Mammoth, Hidden River, Lost River, Outlaw, Onyx, Cub Run, Diamond Caverns and Mammoth Onyx Cave at Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo – the Cave City area is a breathtaking example of what Mother Nature can do when left to her own devices.
Where Dinosaurs Roam
A visit to Mammoth Cave should top your must-see list in Kentucky’s Cave Capital, but there are other attractions (both underground and above) that you won’t want to miss.
And one you simply can’t miss! You’ll see T-Rex peeking from the treetops as you drive along I-65. Dinosaur World features life-size replicas of 150 such behemoths, including brachiosaurus and triceratops, lumbering through a lush setting. Dig for shark teeth and brachiopods, see raptor claws in the museum and fossil shop for your budding paleontologist.
Cave City is also known as Kentucky’s Zipline Capital thanks to three ziplines located within five miles at Mammoth Cave Adventures, Hidden River Cave and Kentucky Action Park, an adventure hub where bandit Jesse James once roamed.
Zoom down Kentucky’s only alpine slide. Race go-carts, bumper cars and boats. Relax on a mountainside chairlift. Try your hand at canoeing and miniature golf. Don dapper western wear and make a memento of your day at Old Time Photo.
After all of that action, enjoy off-the-beaten-path gems like the Heirloom Trail, which connects Cave City’s abundance of antiques, crafts, collectibles and consignment shops, and Chaser’s Chocolates. Here, hidden in the hills amongst the caves, is a candy shop whose specialty is sweet dark chocolate with cream centers made with fine Kentucky liquors, including bourbon, brandy and rum.
See? You really can use the word “awesome” as much as you want when visiting Cave City. From the mysterious and cavernous world below to the bigger-than-life herds of dinosaurs above, it just fits.
For more information about places to go and things to do in the area, call 270-773-8833 or visit www.cavecity.com!
If You Go
Cave City Tourism, 270-773-8833, website
Chaser’s Chocolates, 270-773-8766, website
Cub Run Cave, 270-524-1444, website
Diamond Caverns, 270-749-2233, website
Dinosaur World, 270-773-4345, website
Heirloom Trail, 270-773-3131, website
Hidden River Cave, 270-786-1466, website
Kentucky Action Park, 800-798-0560, website
Lost River Cave, 270-393-0077, website
Mammoth Cave Adventures, 270-773-6087, website
Mammoth Cave National Park, 270-758-2180, website
Mammoth Onyx Cave, 270-786-1010, website
Onyx Cave, 270-773-2323, website
Outlaw Cave, 800-798-0560, website