Mammoth Cave National Park, a Half-Day Drive from Great Smoky

Steer away from the crowds at America’s most visited national park by going underground in nearby Kentucky.
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Visitors walking down Thanksgiving Hall in Mammoth Cave National Park

Visitors walking down Thanksgiving Hall in Mammoth Cave National Park. The passage is so named for a small formation said to resemble a Thanksgiving turkey.

Tucked in the hills of southern central Kentucky lies Mammoth Cave National Park. While it’s the world's longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles explored, its visitation numbers don’t compare to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the number one visited national park in the country. It’s 239 miles from Gatlinburg, Tenn., on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is about four-hour and 40-minute drive.

The cool cave air meeting the warm, moist summer air outside makes a mist at the entrance of Mammoth Cave.

The cool cave air meeting the warm, moist summer air outside makes a mist at the entrance of Mammoth Cave.

Cave Tours at Mammoth Cave

Ranger-led tours are seasonal, so check the park website to see what types of tours will take place when you will be visiting. While reservations are not required, they are strongly encouraged as tours often sell out. All tours require tickets.

Bike and Paddle outside Mammoth Cave

A waterfall beside one of the trails in Mammoth Cave National Park

A waterfall beside one of the trails in Mammoth Cave National Park

You don’t need to spend all your time inside the Earth. Bring your bike and cycle on the park roads or designated paths. Head out and explore some of the 30 miles of the Green and Nolin rivers that cut through the park. Catfish, bass, perch and other game fish await for fishing opportunities. Or rent a canoe or kayak in town at one of the park’s four recommended outfitters and and explore the park by river and camp on islands.

Getting There

But don’t make getting there harder than it needs to be. Park officials warn that GPS and online map services have taken people in the wrong direction, forcing them to spend miles rerouting. Others report their online mapping systems or devices have directed them to take the long way to the park via the park’s north side that requires a river crossing by ferry. Don’t be late for your tour because your online directions sent you the wrong way. Look at a printed map to scout out your route ahead of time.

Learn more at www.nps.gov/maca

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