Mammoth Cave: Caves, Camping, Community

After our misadventures in Tennessee, we were really looking forward to a good week visiting Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. And we got it!

The Caves

Visiting the caves can only be done as part of a tour. There are a large variety of different tours available, with varying lengths, levels of difficulty and costs.

We were lucky enough to arrive on a national park weekend which meant that tickets to tour the Rotunda were free. So we started our explorations of the cave by entering through the natural entrance into one of the largest rooms in the cave. We got a true appreciation for the size of Mammoth Cave and why it truly deserves the name “mammoth”. It’s difficult to describe in words and a picture will never do it justice, but just this one room is impressive enough. It really got us excited for taking a longer tour!

Family shot minus the photographer. So hard to appreciate the scale from a picture.

 

Mammoth Rotunda

Rangers teaching about cave exploration. For scale, look at the people in the background.

 

kids waterfall

The trail down to the natural entrance from the visitor center is really beautiful!

A few days later, we took the Domes and Dripstones tour together with our friends from Fummins Family Roadtrip. We decided that this tour would be the most appropriate length and difficulty to take with kids, and it also included Frozen Niagara and some other cave formations. In general, Mammoth Cave has very few formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, or our favorite: cave bacon. It is most impressive for its sheer size and also for some rare species that have adapted to living in total darkness. Like most of the tours, this tour entered the cave through a man-made entrance, about a 10 minute bus ride from the visitor center. The Domes and Dripstones tour was just the right length and level of difficulty to be a true adventure for the kids without ever being overwhelming or getting boring. We had a great time!

Mammoth tour bus

Two families on the bus, headed for adventures!

 

domes and dripstones tour

A tight squeeze at times, especially carrying Micah. Just adds to the adventure!

 

domes and dripstones tour

Group photo in the cave!

Junior Rangers

Over and over, with every national park we visit, we are inexpressibly grateful for the Junior Ranger program. Mammoth Cave was no exception. The activities are varied, educational and fun. This was the first time that we were able to work on junior ranger books together with another family which only added to the fun! Then we went to the visitor center together and all 5 kids did their swearing in together. I love anything that reinforces that learning is fun and this is definitely in that category.

junior ranger program

Working on Junior Ranger books together

 

junior ranger program

Checking their work and swearing in

Our kids also participated in a ranger program for kids that was all about bats. They learned about how bats use echolocation – a word that even Peter can both use correctly and explain even now a few months later. They played two different games. One was called Bat and Moth, an adaptation of Marco Polo where the bat was blindfolded and tried to listen and find the moth. The other game involved jars that made different sounds when shaken. The object was to find a partner whose jar made the same sound. Simple but effective! Both kids still remember, in detail, what they did and why. Thanks Park Rangers!

ranger program

Any volunteers?

Full-time Families Community

While there is a campground in the national park with very reasonable rates, there is also a Thousand Trails campground just down the road. It takes about 10-15 minutes to drive to the visitor center from there. So we stayed at the Diamond Caverns Thousand Trails during our stay in Kentucky.

Earlier in the year, in Florida, we had camped next to the Boudreaux family and had a lot of fun together. We all got along great. When we realized that their route in the spring would also be taking them to Mammoth Cave, we made plans to be there at the same time. Diamond Caverns had pull-through sites, so we were able to pull in from opposite directions and have our doors facing each other. It made a little yard in between our sites and we spend a few days relaxing at the campground and letting the kids play (and get fantastically messy!)

We soon discovered another family nearby that were also full-timers and the group just grew. The more the merrier! As much as we enjoyed touring the caves and exploring the national park, having this sense of community was in many ways better. Sitting around the campfire, way past bedtime, while the kids run around in the dark with flashlights… it feels like freedom. Our days were filled with Lego and mud and frogs and food cooked and eaten outside. I think the kids ate their weight in s’mores. It’s invaluable to us to have friends on the road. Even if we don’t meet up very often, spending time with like-minded people, where we can exchange ideas and brainstorm solutions to common problems, where we don’t have to explain our choices and our lifestyle, feeds my spirit.

Diamond Caverns

Building robots

 

Diamond Caverns

Community around the campfire

This was our last major stop before returning to Pennsylvania, and I can’t think of a better way to conclude our first season on the road. Natural wonders, fun and exciting learning experiences, genuine community, and overall freedom – these are the things that lead us to pursue this full-time lifestyle, and despite all the ups and downs of our travels, we were able to finish strong with a week rich in all these things.

Diamond Caverns

For video footage of our kids getting super messy together with the kids from Fummins Family Roadtrip, you can check out their vlog on YouTube about our time together in Mammoth Cave!

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