Much of the cave was closed due to the pandemic. We were only allowed to take the Discovery Tour. We did have to pre-purchase our tour tickets for a cost of $8 per adult. This national park doesn't have a fee booth that you drive through like many of the other parks. So though we had previously purchased an annual park pass eariler in the summer, it didn't do us any good at this particular park. We were still required to purchase tour tickets.
I wasn't extremely impressed with the condition of many of the buildings we passed as we traveled to the visitors center. My husband made the comment that one could tell this is a neglected and not as visited park as the others.
The drive in is scenic. You drive through a forrested area where you will lose all cell phone reception. There were many trails along the road if one has time to venture out on them. One winds itself along the river. While we were visiting, the park service was repairing the road. This caused what little traffic there was to move slowly. Fall season was a great time to get the work done since there were minimal visitors. Downfall to the road work is that there is only one main road in and out of the park to the access to the cave and visitors center.
When we arrived for our tour we were ushered to a gazebo in the commons area outside. After listening to a ranger explain safety protocols and important information about the cave, we were excused in small numbers from the area to travel down to the opening of the cave. No flash photography, don't touch the walls, don't remove anything, and clean your shoes when exiting the cave were some of the protocols I remember. The ranger talk took about twenty minutes.
The walk down to the cave opening is all downhill and paved. It only took us about five minutes to get down to the gathering place to enter the cave. Since we were in a pandemic we stood socially distanced and entered the cave one group at a time. After the previous group was half way down the staircase the rangers would allow the next group to start their descend into the cave.
I was worried I would feel confined and claustrophobic in the cave. Mammoth Cave is not an ordinary cave though. Mammoth Cave is referred to as a dry cave rather than a wet cave. The cave is a limestone cave and has a limestone covering on top of the cave between the cave and the ground above it. This helps the cave to stay dry inside. I can say inside the cave, I never felt a feeling of dampness that you sometimes feel in caves. It was hard to believe the cave was once completely under water and ocean creatures called this home. Breathing wasn't an issue either. The air is not restricted in any way. Even wearing a mask the entire time, we never felt anything but normal. The air inside the cave was a comfortable 70 degrees. I wore a light long sleeved shirt and felt comfortable.
Once inside the cave, we walked along a dimly lit pathway one of two directions. The rangers split parties to go separate ways to avoid too many people on a particular trail at a time. We were instructed to the right side to begin. We walked down the path looking at artifacts from early mining in the cave. The trail only took us half a mile down before the park system had it blocked off due to covid-19. We had to take turns with other parties reading the informational signs at different points of interest. I felt that this side of the cave seemed to have a more open feel. I was amazed at how big the area was we were standing in. The ceiling of the cave was hard to see in the dimly lit cave. The area felt more like being in an auditorium rather than a cave.
Once we got back to the area where the ranger was splitting parties we were able to then venture down the left side of the cave. This side has more of a winding trail to follow. You travel slightly uphill and down winding around cave walls in the cave. Some of the trail felt like standing in a line at a theme park. There were railings on both sides of the trail that made passing slower parties impossible. I didn't overly enjoy this part of the trail. This side of the cave had a more closed in feeling than the other side. At the end of this trail was the tuberculosis hospital. There was a ranger standing at the trail end giving an amazing informative speech about the time period of the hospital in the cave. Though it ended up being unsuccessful, there area was still very interesting to view. We then turned around and backed tracked out of the cave. We felt that we saw and read everything we could on this particular tour and spent just under two hours in the cave.
Upon exiting the cave we had to stop at the shoe cleaning stations. This is done to protect the areas bats from White Nose Syndrome. The park system is trying to do what it can to help stop the disease from spreading.
After leaving the cave we venture down the trail outside the cave to walk along the Green River. The wooded area provided a peaceful outside hike in great September weather. The hike was easy to navigate with a wide and maintained path to the river.
We only spent one day of our weekend getaway in Mammoth National Park. If the park would have been open to normal operations we would have done several other tours. With the current pandemic going on and only one tour being available, visitors don't need more than an afternoon here to enjoy what is offered. I have several other national parks I want to visit in the coming years and not sure if I will ever make it back to Mammoth. If I do, I hope I get to see much more than the little bit that was offered this trip. I would suggest to anyone if they are in the area, to stop and visit the cave. It was definitely something worth seeing.