Backpacking Collie Ridge at Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave is the most famous feature of its namesake national park, but there’s plenty of above-ground backcountry to be explored via Collie Ridge. There’s a lot going on at Mammoth Cave National Park. It earned its national park designation in 1941, then became a World Heritage Site in 1981. It’s also an international biosphere reserve. The best-known attraction, of course, is the cave itself. With 405 miles of mapped passageways, and more being discovered and explored every year, the behemoth cave draws tons of visitors. Then there’s the Green River, home to world-class paddling. All this is good news for backpackers. While everyone else is touring the cave, you can have the backcountry to yourself.





Mammoth Cave National Park boasts more than 60 miles of backcountry trails and Collie Ridge is the best way to get to them. The trail begins at Lincoln Trailhead, situated along the park’s northern border, and meanders through old-growth forest, which comes alive with color in the autumn. The Collie Ridge Trail undulates gently, never reaching a grade steeper than 4% on its journey into the heart of Mammoth Cave backcountry.


The trail runs along Collie Ridge itself and the elevated vantage point provides views of several creeks and hollows. The trail passes several well-marked junctions—with Blair Spring Hollow Trail (1.8 miles), Raymer Hollow Trail (6.2 miles), and Mill Branch Trail (3 miles)—in its first three miles. Just under four ever-so-slightly-downhill miles in, you’ll encounter a major intersection. Here, Collie Ridge meets the Wet Prong (to the north) and Buffalo Creek (to the south) trails. There’s also the option of continuing straight ahead for another three-quarters of a mile, which delivers backpackers to the Collie Ridge campsite. It’s one of a dozen designated backcountry campsites in the park, and a perfect, centralized basecamp.





Collie Ridge offers the best of both worlds. Beginning backpackers looking for a relatively easy outing can test their systems here. The trails are wide and relatively level and a 4.5-mile hike will get you back to a trailhead. On the other hand, ambitious backpackers looking to explore every inch of trail can use Collie Ridge as a backcountry access point or as a basecamp from which to explore dozens of miles of trail.





You’ll need to pick up your free backcountry permit from the Visitor Center before heading to the the trailhead. You’ll have to cross the Green River via ferry to get to Lincoln, so check for ferry updates before heading out. Camp only in designated backcountry sites. Dispersed floodplain camping is only permitted by boat access. Fires are allowed, but should be kept small and camp stoves are recommended. Park regulations require visitors to keep out of any caves they might encounter, except when accompanied by a park-sanctioned tour.

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