My adventures in Kentucky started at Mammoth Cave National Park, home to 400 miles of currently explored cave, making it the longest cave system in the world. For the millions of visitors that get to explore the caves each year, few are lucky enough to get to do all that Mammoth Caves has to offer.
For me, spending an entire day cave exploring, hiking along the green river, and spending the night at Mammoth Cave hotel was a thorough way to experience Mammoth Cave National Park, but it was the people I met along the way that made my time there special.
Mammoth Caves offers all kinds of spelunking excursions from photography to hard core cave crawling expeditions, but it’s the popular historic and entrance tours that give visitors safe educational experiences that showcase the history and beauty of Mammoth Caves most significant areas.
With only a day planned at Mammoth Caves I decided to go on both the historic and entrance cave tours because I wanted to maximize my experience of the caves. Each tour was very different and I got to experience the grandness and beauty of geologic features like the monstrous rotunda room the stalactites and stalagmites of frozen Niagara.
On each tour I had the opportunity to meet rangers Steve and Jerry who toured our groups through the dark winding depths of Mammoth Caves. During each tour the guides weaved through incredible stories of the caves first explorers and some of the original uses of the caves, outside of tourism, which made the original owners extremely wealthy.
The most interesting thing I learned was the Canadian connection to Mammoth Caves, which was a result of the war of 1812 between Britain and America. It was during this time that industrial amounts of calcium nitrate was mined in Mammoth Caves in order to supply gun powder to the Americans in their fight against the British.
The most unique thing about my tour was the opportunity to meet Ranger Jerry Brandsford whose family can be traced back to some of the original explorers and tour guides at Mammoth Caves. As we made our way through the cave he shared stories of his great-great-grandfather and showed us the names of his family scrawled using candles on the cave walls. In fact, his story was so unique that New York Times Travel recently did an expose on Mr. Brandsford and his family history.
Thanks to recommendations from Jerry and Steve, I also discovered the best hikes and barbecue in the area. After exploring the depths of Mammoth Caves for over four hours I headed to Porky Pig Diner to taste best barbecue in Kentucky with my buddy the shameless traveler, but not before working up an apetite with a hike along the hillsides around Mammoth Caves.
Thanks to Ranger Steve, our hiking took us on a one hour hike along the Green River Bluffs Trail to River Styx then up to Sunset Point before heading back via Heritage trail to the visitors center.
This hike was great because it helped contextualize the massive cave system beneath the hills. It also gave me the chance to see the Green River, which is an integral part of the cave system, and explore the surrounding hillside where you can see one of Mammoth Caves drainage points.
After several hours of exploring the caves and hiking the bluffs it was time to head down the road to Pig, Kentucky for the barbecue pork experience of a lifetime; the best barbecue in Kentucky which is only 10 mintues from Mammoth Caves. Seriously, the pork butt sandwich with homemade barbecue sauce is so good I almost started drinking it!
By the end of the meal I was incredibly satisfied. It seemed like nothing could top this day in Mammoth National Park where I’d gotten to explore the main attractions at Mammoth Cave, hiked along the incredible Green River, and eaten the best barbecue pork in Kentucky.
Thanks to the couple I had been talking with at the diner Kentucky surprised me with something again; this time it was some good old southern hospitality. As we finished up eating our new friends came to say goodbye and told us that that the best barbecue pork in Kentucky was on them!
Even better was that after such an exciting day, all I had left to do was head back to Mammoth Cave Hotel and put my feet up only 50m away from the cave entrance (which was reasonably priced if you’re not a tv addict because there weren’t many channels, but you’re there to experience nature anyways).
All in all spending a day at Mammoth Caves National park, exploring the depths of the longest caves in the world, hiking along the Green River, getting to know the witty and knowledgeable park rangers, eating Kentucky’s best barbecue pork in Pig, Kentucky and having our meal covered, then sleeping at the super convenient Mammoth Cave Hotel was one epic trip and something I’d recommend for all visitor to the cave!
Mammoth Cave Links