Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave, KY
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave, KY
After we settled in at the campground, I wondered if we should have kept moving. The Great Smokie Mountains were about 5 hours away and we would be shaving time off of our visit there by staying in Kentucky to check out Diamond Caverns.
Well, I’m happy to report that it was TOTALLY worth it! We were up super early this morning to catch the first tour but we ended up missing it. Diamond Caverns actually opened at 9 AM but the off season hours were posted online already, so we arrived just after they first group went down. Bummer, but it worked out because the first group was huge. There was only one other couple with us and we didn’t realize what a benefit this was until we had to maneuver the cavern. This tour is a bit more strenuous than Frozen Niagara and there are a couple of very narrow spots that we barely slithered through.
However, the cavern itself was stunning. There was so much more to see here and we must have taken a zillion pictures! We visited Meramec Caverns last year on Route 66, which was cool also, but Diamond Cavern has been the nicest cave/cavern we’ve visited so far. So much so that our tour guide, Mikel, mentioned that during the “cave wars” back in the day, employees from other caves broke in and stole stalactites from Diamond Cavern to sell them in their gift shops! By the way, do be sure to spend some time in the gift shop if you ever visit Diamond Caverns. They have a stunning array of stones, rocks, and minerals, plus your usual tourist fare.
After the tour, we hopped in Lady T and drove straight to Tennessee without stopping. We drove for about 20 miles in Smokey Mountain National Park but of course, we arrived at the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center two minutes after they closed. As I pressed my sad face up to the glass, I noticed movement inside. I knocked on the door to get the Ranger’s attention and held up my passport. He was nice enough to come out through a side entrance with the stamp and ink pad so we could stamp our books!
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay in the Smokies overnight so we decided to drive into Gatlinburg. We figured it would be a small quite town and were surprised as we drove through the downtown area. Gatlinburg has to be one of the biggest tourist towns we’ve ever seen! By now, it was about 7 PM and the place was packed. Thankfully, we found a safe place for Lady T to rest while we scoped out the place. Candy shops, restaurants, theme parks…you name it, Gatlinburg has it.
We were strolling along, taking everything in, when we came upon the Gatlinburg Sky Lift. The lift consists of 2 person seats that shuttle you 1800 feet in the sky to a small gift shop and overlook. Since we weren’t going to have an opportunity to explore the mountains, this was the next best thing. If you are even the slightest bit afraid of heights, you should probably not even look at the lift. I am not and I could barely breathe the entire ride up. Once you reach the top, though, you have a birds eye view of pure beauty, especially at dusk.
If you do decide to ride the lift, calm your nerves afterward by visiting one of the several moonshine distilleries on the strip. We stopped at two, Ole Smokey Distillery and Sugarlands Distilling Company. We also passed a third one but two was enough! On the way out of Gatlinburg, we drove through Pigeon Forge, which is like Gatlinburg but several miles long! It was fun to look at all of the pretty lights.
We just pulled into a Flying J rest area in Wytheville, Virginia. Check back tomorrow as we visit two of the most scenic roads in the country!
Today, we spent the afternoon at Mammoth Cave National Park in central Kentucky. We found this park listed in our national parks passport and thought it would be fun to check out. We had no idea how immense the property would be!
Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world, with over 400 miles of explored area. The NPS offers several tour options, ranging from lighted tours to 6-hour crawling expeditions illuminated by headlamps. We opted for the Frozen Niagara tour, which is about an hour long. Unfortunately, the 2 PM slot sold out just after we arrived so we had to wait for an hour and a half for the next one.
A shuttle bus picked us up from the Visitors Center and brought us to the mouth of the cave. The Park Ranger leading the tour was pretty funny and shared a lot of cool info about the caves and surrounding area, We learned about stalagmites, stalactites, and pillars (the things people sleep on in Kentucky!). Frozen Niagara is the shortest and least strenuous tour but if you’re super tall or are uncomfortable is small spaces, you may want to think twice about going into the cave.
By the time we arrived back at Lady T, it was almost 5 PM, so we decided to stay at the Mammoth Cave Campground tonight. The campground has over 100 sites but there are only a couple with water and electric, so we are pretending we are at Walmart in the woods 🙂
Tomorrow, we’ll be up bright and early to visit Diamond Caverns, another cave within the park that’s supposed to be spectacular. Stay tuned for more spelunking fun!