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Mammoth Cave National Park is one of Kentucky's most popular tourist attractions. It offers beautiful flowers, trees, trails, and wildlife on the surface, but below the surface visitors will discover the breathtaking wonders and mysteries of Mammoth Cave's underground network. Mammoth Cave is the world's longest cave system.

Mammoth Cave is easily accessible from Interstate 65 and is about half way between Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee. These cities are each about 90 miles away from Mammoth Cave. There are several exits that can get you to Mammoth Cave but Exit 53 at Cave City, Kentucky is the most recommended. The park's visitor center is located about 10 miles west of the I-65 interchange. If you are traveling on the Western Kentucky Turnpike, you may enter the park by taking Kentucky 259 from Leitchfield to Brownsville and then taking Kentucky 70 to the park.

It has taken over 250 million years to develop the caves found in the Mammoth Cave National Park area. At one time, a shallow inland sea covered much of the area. During the last 25-30 million years the Green River has worn away many layers of the stone. As a result many bones, shells, and other fossils can be seen.

Hills and ridges are found above Mammoth Cave and the runoff water from them gradually seeps through the soil and trickles down through the rocks and fissures. As the water travels through the soil it picks up carbonic acid that can dissolve rock. These trickles of water form tubes that descend from the ceiling to form stalactites. When the water enters through long cracks in the ceiling formations have an appearance of curtains or drapes. Helictites are formed in all directions and have sporadic shapes.

Gypsum in the cave walls forms crystal snowballs or feathers when combined with ground water that seeps in. The Snowball Room, Alice's Grotto, and the Mammoth Wall all have spectacular gypsum formations.

There are about 15 different types of animals that reside in the cave that also live above ground. They are referred to as trogloxenes and include bats, crickets, and salamanders. Troglobites are animals that spend their entire lives in a cave. There are about 27 species of these found in Mammoth Cave. They include millipedes, flatworms, beetles. White crayfish, and blindfish are also troglobites and they live in the lowest area of the cave in Echo River. They rely on their antennae and sensors to find food in the river.

There is never a bad time to visit Mammoth Cave since the underground temperature is fairly consistent year round and stays between 55 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit. On hot summer days the cave feels cool and refreshing and on cold winter days the cave feels mild. Even after a rain shower the cave takes on new life when the water trickles in through many of the surface runoffs.

If you are planning to take a cave tour while at Mammoth Cave National Park, it is strongly recommended that you make your reservations in advance by calling the reservation line at 1-800-967-2283. These tours have a tendency to book up quickly. If there is a specific day or time you would like to see the cave you may make a reservation from up to five months in advance or within as little as one hour in advance. The local time zone for Mammoth Cave is Central Standard Time. Cave tours are offered every day except Christmas Day and tickets must be picked up at the visitor center at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. Any reservation cancellations or unsold tickets may also be available at the Visitor Center shortly before the scheduled departure time as well. All tours begin and end at the Visitor Center.

Mammoth Cave offers a variety of cave tours throughout the year that are guided by park rangers. These tours typically range from the quarter mile, hour and fifteen minute tour to the five-mile, six-hour tour. Most tours are between one and two hours long and ticket prices typically range from $3.00 to $7.50 per person. An adult must accompany all children under 16. Children under 16 receive half price tickets and children under 6 are admitted free. More tours are available from May to September since the summer months are the peak season for park visitors. During the winter months, fewer cave tours and the times they are available become more limited.

There are also some special tours to accommodate those individuals that have special needs. Some tours have been adapted for visitors in wheelchairs so they may utilize an elevator to take them down about 250 feet underground for a visit to the Snowball Room, Cleveland Avenue, and Boone Avenue. This tour lasts about an hour and a half and ends with a ride back up the elevator. Special tours are also available for those who have hearing and/or speech impairments. For these tours the guides can use sign language to enhance the enjoyment and understanding of the tour.

If you are not sure which tour is right for you or which one's are being offered when you are planning you visit, you may call the information line at 1-800-346-8908. This line is available seven days a week and provides information regarding tours at Mammoth Cave National Park and some other exciting cave adventures in the Mammoth Cave area.