Seriously, at Mammoth Cave National Park, the caves are optional. Yes, they are magnificent and the history is extensive. They are BIG. But when you’ve got a little with you, consider their point of view. They aren’t going to understand the history and everything will be in their face… the rocks, other people’s bums. Its dark, its dank. And, unlike Carlsbad Caverns National Park, its not decorated so much that you can constantly say “look that that neat rock!”
If you have older children, or you are likely to never be back, by all means, take one day and see the caves. But if you have littles and you think you’ll be back when they are older, stick to the above ground gorgeousness.
There are a slew of rivers through Mammoth Cave National Park. You can ferry over the Green River, though that will be out of commission this summer so they can dredge the river. Houchin River has a small camp ground near it and struck us as a potentially fun place to camp if we couldn’t pack in to the back country.
There is one river that you can hike to from the main visitor center: The River Styx. Really, you gotta do this. Its about a mile down, its paved part way and then a gravel path, very nicely maintained. And the end is one of those places you’d be happy to just sit and look it; its sublime.
With slightly older kids, be sure to read a bit about the original River Styx in Greek Mythology and consider how this river made someone think of that river and so name it.
The Back Country
In most national parks, no one bothers to see the back country. They see the visitor center and the main attractions. But in each park there are acres and acres of largely untouched wild. There are miles and miles of trails, and you should follow the trails… for your safety and for the preservation of the wild. But do get out on the trails. In Mammoth Cave National Park, there are 52,830 acres to explore and this is a relatively small park.
Caves and Littles? Are the caves optional?
Are caves for Littles? Sure! When Little Man was about 2, we took him down Carlsbad Caverns and he loved it. When we took him through Mammoth Cave at 2.5, he didn’t. Every kid is different and every cave tour is different, and we were surprised he didn’t like the caves at Mammoth Cave. But there it is. Sometimes, you live and learn. The caves are optional, and there is always more to see at a National Park.