Car Rides and Caves: Mammoth Cave National Park
Last weekend we made the trek from Michigan to Florida for a wedding. We prefer road tripping for things like this to allow us time to see things along the way. This particular trip had to get cut a bit short but we still managed a quick stop at Mammoth Cave National Park on our way home.
Before we chat about the cave, we have to do a quick shout out to the Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead. We weren't sure how far we would make it our first night on the road so waited until a few hours out to snag a hotel off Hotwire (future post coming about how to Hotwire. . we've become experts!). We got a fantastic deal and were beyond impressed with the place. Buckhead, itself, seemed like a great spot with a ton of restaurants and people out enjoying the night, and the hotel was incredible. In the middle of all these big buildings they have built a beautiful little oasis, zen garden for their guests to enjoy. We also took advantage of the steam room and sauna, and would have loved to check out the pool if we had more time. Definitely a great option if you're looking to staying near Atlanta at any point!
Now on to the caves! We got in around 9pm and only had the next half day to explore (note: that area is in the Central time zone so plan accordingly) so it was a very quick trip that we made the most of. We had prebooked at cabin at Rock Cabin Camping. Another point for us in overnight accommodations! The cabin was charming, cozy, super comfy, clean and there were dogs to greet us (insert high pitched squealing here). Plus, for $50-$60 a night, you can't beat it. We woke up to roosters crowing, fresh coffee and a ton of great info on the caves from the owners.
We had also pre-booked our cave tour (like 12 hours before arriving) online as recommended by our cabin host. The tours do sell out and they often have large tour groups through so definitely take a look at your options before arriving. We opted for the Domes and Dripstones Tour. We were intrigued by some of the longer ones but were limited on time and one of us (me) might be a bit (a lot) claustrophobic so we were unsure how going underground would play out. We got the park early enough (thank you unexpected timezone change) to take a quick stroll above ground which we highly recommend. We weren't able to make it too far but did enjoy some great views and would definitely spend more time above ground if we return. Side note: the hotel has a great little cafe with coffee, hot breakfast sandwiches and snacks if you're hungry!
Back at the visitor's center we got picked up for scheduled tour. The bus took us a few miles out to the cave entrance where, upon entering, I was reminded that my brain really is not a fan of tight spaces. If you are at all claustrophobic, I do recommend assessing your level of anxiety before tackling the caves. I had purposefully been working on some breathing techniques before our trip knowing I did not want to miss the experience. There are plenty of open areas within the tour that we did, but there are plenty of very tight squeezes to get to those areas, as well. There is also a moment where they turn the lights out and your senses are consumed by the darkness. . .and fear, panic, terror, etc. I cannot say what the other tours are like but this was a good one if you know you can manage a mild anxiety attack for an hour and a half or so. It was 100% worth it to see the beauty beneath the surface. We commented multiple times that it almost felt fake, as if we were in an Indiana Jones movie or something. It was fascinating to envision what it must have been like to be some of the first explores down there. We were also impressed with the park's ability to make the routes fairly accessible and lit without disturbing the natural beauty. For our limited time in the area, it felt like we we were able to see a bit of everything and really take in what the park had to offer. If you are planning to visit, definitely take the time to read through the park's website and tour explanations. There are very strict rules with regards to flash photography in the caves and abilities required for the various tours that you'll want to keep in mind when visiting. Overall, it is well worth the stop to experience such a unique view of what our National Parks have to offer!