Right in the middle of Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park contains the longest cave system in the entire world. With over 400 miles of explored caves, filled with thousands of years of history, it’s certainly a park that should be on your must-visit bucket list.
Mammoth Cave National Park camping is a great option for individuals and families alike. There’s so much to see and do!
Read on to learn everything you need to know to plan your next trip camping at Mammoth Cave National Park.
What to Expecting Camping at Mammoth Cave National Park
Winter is a fantastic time to visit Mammoth Cave if you’re not looking to actually camp, but just visit the cave itself. The only campground open in the winter is Houchin Ferry Campground.
A huge pro to visiting in winter is lower crowds! There are less ticketed tours offered, but tours don’t regularly sell out. That means you’ll get the same tour experience with less people.
Mammoth Cave National Park Camping starts waking up, just like the world around it, during Spring.
Campgrounds open back up, more tour options and times are available, and wildflowers pop up throughout the park!
If you want to experience everything Mammoth Cave National Park camping has to offer, summer is your time to visit.
While it’s warm, average highs are around 90°F, the cave is a cool 54°F year-round.
Make sure to make reservations for tours and take precautions against ticks.
Camping at Mammoth Cave National Park in the fall means gorgeous, dry weather and amazing leaves in red, yellow, and orange.
It’s a great time to enjoy hiking, horseback riding, and biking through the park.
There’s no entry fee to get into the park itself, but there are fees associated with cave tours, picnic shelter reservations, and campgrounds.
We’ll discuss specific fees throughout this post.
Reservations and Permits
Reservations are highly encouraged for all cave tours and campgrounds. During the summer season and other school holidays, both will sell out in advance.
Backcountry camping requires a simple permit.
There are a few unique circumstances that would require a special use permit:
- spreading cremated remains
- commercial filming
- First Amendment Rights practices
- other organized public gatherings
What to Pack
Each person’s “must-pack” list may vary for their Mammoth Cave National Park camping trip, but here are a few things every visitor needs to have in their bag.
- First Aid Kit
- Layers— jackets, sweatshirts, hats, gloves
- Light— flashlight, headlamp, lantern
- Navigation— compass, GPS, map etc.
- Sun Protection— hat, sunglasses, breathable clothing
- Water Bottle
Campgrounds at Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave Campground
This campground is only 1/4 mile from the Visitor Center and has over 100 sites, with a good mix of tent and RV sites available.
Campground fees range from $12.50-$50.00/night, depending on what time of site you want and any pass you may have.
This campground is open March 1-November 30.
- Amenities like flushable toilets, hot showers, and laundry all nearby.
- Easy to get in and out of.
- May be crowded during a busy season.
Maple Springs Campground
This campground is six miles away from the Visitor Center and accessible by the Green River Ferry. You can also get to it other ways if the ferry isn’t running.
There are seven sites, ideal for bigger groups or people camping with their horses.
Campground fees are $50/night, and the campground is open March 1-November 30.
- Each site has both water and electric hookups for RVs.
- Conveniently located near the backcountry hiking trailheads.
- Fewer amenities—no showers and vault toilets only.
Houchin Ferry Campground
These 12 tent-only campgrounds nestled by the Green River are perfect for people looking to get away from it all.
These primitive sites are $20/night and are the only Mammoth Cave National Park camping sites available all year long.
- Drive-in access right next to a river.
- Open year-round.
- Over 15 miles from Visitor Center with only portable toilets.
Backcountry and Riverside Camping
If you desire a Mammoth Cave National Park camping experience that’s completely off the grid, backcountry and riverside camping are for you!
Pick up a Backcountry hiking map at the Visitor Center for site locations.
Each site has a fire ring and a hitching post for a horse.
- Affordable, at just $10/trip.
- Private and fully surrounded by nature.
- Specific regulations need to be followed and are up to you to learn.
- No amenities.
Things to Do While Camping at Mammoth Cave National Park
If you’re visiting Mammoth Cave National Park, a cave tour is an absolute must-do. There are a lot of tours that rotate availability based on time of year, but these are some of the most common ones.
This tour explores the area of the caves that gave Mammoth Cave its name.
This tour covers two miles and lasts around two hours. Keep in mind that visitors will descend and ascend over 500 stairs on this tour, some of them being steep.
The caves the Historic Tour covers have been used by people for literally thousands of years. This is a great tour for people who love history and are looking for a bit of adventure without much risk or prior experience needed.
Tickets range from $10-$20 and are available for visitors of all ages. Kids under five years old are free.
Wondering Woods Tour
If you’re looking for a relaxing cave tour while you’re camping at Mammoth Cave National park, this is the tour for you!
The Wondering Woods Tour starts by taking guests on a bus ride through the beautiful woods of the park. After the bus ride, take a short hike through the Tranquil Valley and then explore a small section of a cave system.
There are only 194 stairs in this tour (54 are optional!), making it a good choice for someone looking to leisurely explore.
All ages are welcome and tickets are between $9-$18.
Cleaveland Avenue Tour
Cleaveland Avenue is known for its unique tube-shaped walls that are filled with shiny gypsum.
Gypsum is a mineral that is formed when water evaporates from a mineral-rich soil. It’s mined all over the country and used as fertilizer and a main component of chalk.
However, this gypsum is left alone for guests’ enjoyment. If you’re interested in geology or history, check out this tour!
It starts with descending 200 stairs and ends 1 mile and 2 hours later with an elevator ride up to the surface. If the elevator is out of service, the tour will loop back and the 200 stairs will bring you back up.
All ages are welcome and tickets range from $11-$22.
Other Possible Tours
There are a lot of other tours available on a rotational basis.
This tour is the first part of the Historic Tour. Since it’s less than a mile in length and includes just 130 stairs, it’s considered an easy tour.
Grand Avenue Tour
If you want to know everything Mammoth Cave has to offer geologically and you’re up for an adventure, the Grand Avenue Tour is for you. It covers four miles and includes over 1,300 stairs, making it a “strenuous” tour.
Grand Historic Tour
This four hour tour will take guests to all of the iconic landmarks inside the cave, but it’s not for the faint of heart. A steep outdoor hike will take visitors to the natural mouth of the cave, lanterns are needed for some sections, and there are over 600 stairs climbed.
Star Chamber Lantern Tour
If you’re looking for a unique Mammoth Cave National Park camping experience, visit at a time this tour is available. Guests six years old and over will traverse through the historic caves by lantern light. This tour covers two miles and takes around 2.5 hours.
Echo River Spring Hike
Echo River is an underground river and this beautiful spring is where it comes to the surface. This hike is wheelchair accessible. It’s only one mile and takes between 45-60 minutes.
Rangers will teach guests about the biodiversity of the area as well as unique geological features.
Every evening on the back steps of the Visitor Center, join a ranger as they talk about interesting Mammoth Cave topics. Each talk is around 10 minutes and may cover topics such as native plants and animals, the history of the cave, or geological information.
Check with the visitor center during your Mammoth Cave National Park camping trip to find out what topics will be covered while you’re there.
Sloan’s Crossing Pond Walk
Sloan’s Pond was actually created by a sinkhole on top of the cave formations and is now a beautiful place to visit.
During warm months, walk with a Park Ranger along the 0.4-mile boardwalk to learn more about the diverse ecosystems which fill the park.
Junior Ranger Activities
Your kids can become a Junior Ranger while camping at Mammoth Cave National Park!
When you get there, purchase a Junior Ranger Book from the Visitor Center for a very small fee. Spend time completing the different, age-based activities, and join a real Park Ranger to take the Ranger pledge!
There’s even a Junior Park Ranger badge you can download and print!
Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike Trail
From 1886 until 1931, Mammoth Cave Railroad brought visitors into the park to see the caves.
Since shutting down, nine miles of the railroad has been transformed into a Bike Trail for all visitors to enjoy. It’s easily accessible from several points, including the Visitor Center.
There are historic markers and scenic overlooks along the ride to pause at and enjoy.
Big Hollow Trail
Consisting of a North Loop and South Loop, the 9.1 miles of Big Hollow Trail will take riders through a more densely forested environment. It’s better for more experienced riders and is accessible from the Maple Springs Campground.
Biking is also allowed on all the roads throughout Mammoth Cave National Park. There are no official bike lanes, so helmets and caution are recommended.
Beneath Your Feet
During your Mammoth Cave National Park camping trip, set aside some time to check out Beneath Your Feet. It’s an interactive walk that will open your eyes, both literally and figuratively, to everything happening beneath the surface of the Earth.
By downloading the National Parks app, you’ll be able to interact with 14 different places throughout the campground and around the Visitor Center and see exactly what’s going on beneath your feet!
If you’re wanting to spend some time exploring the surface, check out over 11 miles of hiking trails on the South side of the park.
The trails range in difficulty and length.
They range from 0.2 miles, all the way to over 5 miles. Wildlife and poison ivy are common occurrences, so take precautions and stay aware.
There are 30 backcountry trails for adventurous guests to choose from! Whether you’re looking for scenic views or a hike through dense trees, there’s a trail for you.
Trail guides are available at the Visitor Center and online.
Personal canoes and kayaks can be brought into the park, but there are also ones available to rent. Life vests are required at all times while in the water within the park.
Claimed as one of the most biodiverse rivers in the country, the Green River winds through 25 miles of Mammoth Cave National Park. Its depth ranges from 10-200 feet deep, and while it’s flat, the current can be strong and it’s recommended that visitors have some previous paddling experience.
The Nolin River is best suited for people who know how to paddle as a part of a swift river. It’s unpredictable and can change quickly depending on the weather and water release schedule of a nearby dam.
Experienced paddlers will enjoy the 7.5 miles of riverside the Nolin River has to offer.
Relax the day away on the side of the river while you fish. No permits or licenses are required.
Ingesting fish that are caught isn’t recommended and all mussels must be left untouched as they’re endangered species.
Whether you’re bringing your own horse or looking to go on a guided tour, there are 60 miles of backcountry trails ready for you to explore on horseback during your Mammoth Cave National Park camping trip!
Places to Visit while Camping at Mammoth Cave National Park
The Visitor Center is the hub of the park! It’s where all tour groups meet, critical park information can be found, and Park Rangers are available to meet and learn from.
Not only that but it’s got gifts and grub, too!
Doyel Valley Overlook
The only overlook accessible by car, Doyel Valley Overlook, is a 2-mile drive from the Visitor Center. Bring a meal or snack and enjoy the view while eating at a picnic table nearby.
Sunset Point and Turnhole Bend Overlook
Both of these scenic views are a short 1/2-mile walk from a parking lot. Both short hikes will end with gorgeous views of the Green River.
Green River Bluffs Overlook
Hike 1.3 miles to this overlook to get a view of the Green River Valley. The hike there is almost as beautiful as the overlook itself.
Historic Churches and Cemeteries
While you may be planning a Mammoth Cave National Park camping trip, it’s important to remember this land wasn’t always a national park.
In fact, it was home to somewhere around 600 families that were spread across 30 smaller communities. That means there’s a lot of history that happened there!
Old Guide’s Cemetery
Old Guide’s Cemetery is the eternal resting place of a famous African-American cave guide from the 19th century, Stephen Bishop. It’s also where patients who passed away in the Mammoth Cave Tuberculosis experiment of 1842 are buried.
The idea of the time is the cool temperatures may help alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease, but the damp environment made it worse and five patients died and are buried there.
Churches and Cemeteries
There are three separate churches and cemeteries that are able to be explored. Each will give you a glimpse into what life was like for early settlers in the late 19th century.
Eating While Camping at Mammoth Cave National Park
Green River Grill
The Green River Grill is inside the Lodge and available for both a fine-dining experience, as well as catering throughout the park. A visit here can take camping at Mammoth Cave National Park to the next level!
Spelunkers Café & Ice Cream Parlor
If you want something quicker or lighter to eat, check out the Spelunkers Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor inside the Lodge. They offer sandwiches, burgers, and obviously ice cream!
Caver’s Camp Store
Inside Caver’s Camp Store, grab a pizza or build your own sandwich or salad.
If you’re camping at Mammoth Cave National Park on a budget, bring your own food and enjoy one of the six picnic areas available throughout the park.
While eating there, avoid feeding wildlife or leaving any trash behind.
What’s Around Mammoth Cave National Park?
A Mammoth Cave National Park camping trip doesn’t mean you’re limited to enjoying only what’s inside the park!
Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo
Get a glimpse into life in Australia at this zoo. Get close and personal with kangaroos and take a look at other native wildlife like dingos and emus.
Take a break from learning “recent” history while camping at Mammoth Cave National Park and take a hike through prehistoric history at nearby Dinosaur World!
They’ve got life-sized dinosaurs that will transport you back to the time when they walked the Earth.
Places to Eat
Pick up a pizza at Hickory Cabins Grill or enjoy some southern comfort food at Watermill restaurant.
Wrapping up Mammoth Cave National Park Camping
A Mammoth Cave National Park camping trip will create memories that will last a lifetime! Whether you want to explore caves, hike through mountains, paddle down a river, or relax in nature, there’s something for everyone.
To plan another camping adventure, check out more of our National Park Camping Guides!