In Kentucky, a seemingly random state in eastern America, not quite the East or the Midwest, you find much more than fried chicken, horse races and bourbon. This is the place where you can visit the longest known cave in the world, appropriately named Mammoth Cave.
Humans and Mammoth Cave
Humans have explored (parts of) Mammoth Cave for at least 4,000 years, shown in archaeological evidence in the form of ancient artifacts and even mummies. Modern-day exploration didn’t start until the late-18th century, though. In 1797, John (or his brother Francis) Houchin was presumably the first European to set foot in what is now known as Mammoth Cave.
The Green River area and its subterranean tunnels, halls and passageways were private property well into the 1900s. The owners exploited this remarkably exceptional landscape for tourism, recreation and farming. As the years went on, more and more of this vast cave system was explored and mapped. In 1941, Congress dedicated Mammoth Cave as a national park.
The Longest Cave in the World
Exploration continued—and still continues to this day—and spelunkers discovered many more passageways. Eventually, cavers connected various cave systems previously assumed to be separate caves. This made Mammoth Cave the longest cave in the world. Nowadays, more than 400 miles of caves have been explored and mapped. This is double the size of any other known cave in the world. Think about that for a second.
Mammoth Cave National Park
The stunning thing is that this huge cave system lies underneath a landscape that’s as peaceful and unassuming as it gets. Hills covered with thick forests, rivers meandering their ways through valleys, this landscape is ideal for hiking, horseback riding, camping, fishing and canoeing.
After you have admired the Mammoth Cave’s many features on a guided tour, you can head out for a fun outdoor adventure.
Those tours, however, should be your first and foremost focus. The National Park Service offers a variety of cave tours, from self-guided strolls to strenuous multi-hour expeditions with a guide. Entering the park is free, but all tours require a ticket. Check the park’s website for up-to-date information on tour dates, times and prices.
UNESCO World Heritage
Mammoth Cave is not only one of the 59 national parks in the United States, it’s also a World Heritage Site. This indicates the area’s immense biological value. The park protects a unique cave ecosystem, which encompasses both the caves themselves but also the rivers and watersheds above ground, on which life in the cave relies entirely.
Additionally, Mammoth Cave National Park is also an International Biosphere Reserve.
So, if you want to explore one of the world’s greatest natural attractions, you should head to Kentucky! I bet you didn’t know about this wonderful place before.