Best Day Trip from Nashville – Mammoth Cave

My husband and I visited Nashville with our best friends for a long weekend in January. This trip was an impromptu friends weekend because we found very cheap flights on Southwest Airlines. Although I never had any particular interest in visiting Nashville, I am so glad we did. Check out our Nashville Weekend Itinerary. or click to see our detailed review: A Weekend Getaway in Nashville.

Since we love exploring the surrounding areas of each place we visit, I searched for quick day trips from Nashville and found that Mammoth Cave National Park was only an hour and 20 minutes away in Kentucky. None of us had ever been inside a cave before (we are from Miami, FL) and thought it would be a fun adventure. Needless to say, we visited the world’s largest cave system! So here is why Mammoth Cave is my pick for the best day trip from Nashville.

Mammoth Cave Sign

Mammoth Cave Tours

Domes and Dripstones Tour

We booked the Domes and Dripstones tour about 3 weeks in advance of this day trip from Nashville. January is usually a pretty slow time for visitors, however I highly recommend that if you are traveling in the summer, you get your reservations for a tour well in advance because they do sell out. In my opinion, this tour gives you the most “bang for your buck”. Most of the 4-5 tours they offer range from $12-17 and this is the longest, most active one in that price range.

The tour is about 2 hours long. You are expected to be able to hike a mile, but should be in good physical condition because there are about 500 steps (some with quite an incline). It is rated moderate for physical activity.

I would recommend this tour for most people and even families with school age kids (about 5 and up). This is the best Mammoth Cave tour for families. Anyone who is a little limited in walking or elderly should not take the Domes and Dripstones tour. There are other tours available for younger guests and those who find steep stairs a challenge.

The tour begins at the Visitors Center. You grab your ticket and board a bus towards the entrance of the cave. The bus ride is a quick 5 minute drive, and you get an explanation of how the tour will operate and when we will be meeting. The park ranger said that all guests who believe they will be slow to walk with her towards the front. I thought this did not make any sense, and would slow the whole group down, yet the pacing was totally fine since people stop to take pictures while meandering through Mammoth Cave.

The temperature inside the cave remains relatively cool (50’s– low 60’s). Once you enter the cave you instantly walk down some steep steps and are transported into the underground world of limestone chambers.

Disclaimer… the pictures didn’t come out that great, as I was taking them on my iPhone and do not have much experience in photo editing in dark areas.

Walking underneath the Earth’s surface was pretty amazing! The rock formations created by the Green River were stunning. The park ranger was very knowledgeable and explained the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, and discussed how we should not touch the cave walls to limit our trace.

There are plenty of man made walkways, viewpoints, lighting and handle bars to guide visitors safely through the tunnels. We walked about halfway down and then met our tour guide in a gathering area with benches. We did have to wait about 20 extra minutes for the last member of our party to arrive, and then the park ranger gave us a 10 minute history of the formation and conservation of Mammoth Cave National Park.

It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 and has about 400 miles of underground pathways. It is the largest cave system in the world and is called mammoth due to its’ size (not because of a mammoth fossil discovery). Click here to check out this post on the Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

I am a little claustrophobic, yet I was fine the entire time down here. There were many areas of open space, yet it did have its’ share of tight spaces. I actually found it exciting when we had to squeeze through a narrow area or duck due to a low ceiling. Check out this video of my husband (who is 6’3) ducking through an opening.

Check out: Nashville Two Day Itinerary

All in all, this day trip to Mammoth Cave National Park ended up being one of the highlights of our weekend in Nashville. It was only a one hour trip from and great day trip from Nashville option. It was a nice break from the busy city and a fun couple of hours of exploration to visit these caves in Kentucky. Since we have a family bucket list goal of visiting all 50 states, I cannot wait to take the kids to Kentucky and visit Mammoth Cave National Park. Pin this post for later.

To check out our other adventures in nearby Tennessee, click on my posts – Smoky Mountain Hikes and Visiting Pigeon Forge with Kids. If you are looking for other caves to visit, check out Magnificent Caves around the Americas.

Interested in reading about other national parks we have visited? Check out these posts:

10 Best National Park Vacations for Families

Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

North Dakota National Parks

Glacier National Park with kids

Acadia National Park

national parks

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