Above ground, this 52,835 acre park is just as awesome as its Swiss cheese basement. The forest is open and clear underneath the massive hardwoods. The dense overhead canopy and abundant wildlife contribute to underbrush control. It's a very well preserved and clean national park brimming with natural beauty and furry creatures.
Near the park's visitor center is a the Mammoth Cave Hotel and the park's primary campground. There are many options for lodging within the park, but camping, while very picturesque and natural, is limited for the extended stay of this family of six. The lack of water and electrical hookups can make stays of more than 2-3 nights a little trying. If you need full hookups, there are several options in nearby Cave City and Park City. Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park, with its child-oriented activities and amenities, is always a hit with the kids.
There is plenty to do in the area. If you are here for a short visit, you'll have a hard time deciding which adventure to attempt. There are numerous caves outside the national park that can be toured, including one located in an Australia-themed park called Kentucky Down Under. This area possesses a "retro" tacky tourist appeal reminiscent of Gatlinburg, Panama City Beach, and Ghost Town in the Sky. Rock shops, go karts, t-shirts, fudge, and zip-lines abound. Many of the attractions are seasonal, so do your homework before booking your accommodations.
When we pulled into Jellystone, I was pleased with the feedback coming from the back of the camper. The pool, water slide, miniature golf, and massive Yogi welcoming us to the park was enough to start a small frenzy with the kids (and Rebecca). face it, if the kids are happy, what else matters?
Now, the campground is pretty nice, but if you're not prepared to do some major leveling, you will be very unhappy with the sites. I walked the campground, searching for a good (level) site. When I found one, I'd call the office only to find that the particular site was already taken. Apparently, many people that camp here regularly know the best sites and reserve them well in advance. Others have just learned how to adjust for a significant drop from one end of the campsite to the other. I saw some pretty creative leveling techniques.
I eventually located a nice pull through site. We were pulling our car trailer, so pull through sites make life much more pleasant. Once we were set-up, the fun began. There was a hey hey hey ride followed by a tour of the entire park. Jellystone is designed for kids, and they do a wonderful job of keeping them entertained.
Our first full day was a Saturday. We purchased tickets for a tour of Mammoth Cave that departed from the visitor center around 10am. The bus ride to the "new entrance" was almost as exhilarating as the cave itself. Our ranger/guide was a cute little lady that we all grew to love throughout the course of the tour. She told us what to expect before entering the deep hole.
Initially, the cave is anything but beautiful. We've visited numerous caves, but this cave was different. Initially, there were no formations. Much of the cave is dry, which means formations cannot form. We followed a long narrow staircase down, down, down into the barren cave. Our guide joked about the cost of the stairs. The government contractor that built the stairs specialized in submarine stairs. He did the entire staircase for $3,000! PER STEP! There are hundreds of steps, but they are incredible. This isn't an entrance for people with broad mid sections or bad backs.
Eventually, we made our way to the wetter portion of the cave, where the formations are. It was worth the wait. We saw just a small portion of Mammoth Cave, but what we saw was something we will remember for the rest of our lives. The children were thrilled at the "Frozen Niagara" and other formations near the old entrance (our exit)
While driving through Mammoth Cave National Park, we saw several very healthy large (and friendly) deer. We also saw an abundance of wild turkey on the side of the road. We drove through the campground, and at least one of us (me) wished we were camping there. This is my kind of place to camp! However; we were here for three days, and the campground at Mammoth Cave has no hookups for campers. With four kids, we really value water, electricity, and sewer hookups.
Jellystone, we all
enjoyed painting ceramics, playing bingo and miniature golf, and karaoke
(Carra Yogi). Jellystone provided a great experience for the kids, and a
leveling challenge for Daddy. Sorry, in this case, Mommy and the kids
win. This is the kids new favorite place to camp.