Established as a national park in 1941, Mammoth Cave National Park protects the longest known cave system in the world. With 412 miles of cave passages, explorers are still discovering new passages in Mammoth Cave. Unfortunately, your dog will need to stay above ground during their visit to this fascinating national park located in Kentucky.
Luckily, there is still plenty to do with your pup, as Mammoth Cave is home to over 80 miles of hiking trails through rolling hills, rocky outcroppings, and scenic river valleys.
Oh, and did I mentioned that entrance to this national park is free? Yep, you just have to pay for entrance into the cave tours, but everything above ground is open for exploring without an entrance fee.
History of Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave began to form when layers of limestone were deposited in what would become the state of Kentucky. Scientists believe that around 10,000,000 BCE, rainwater began dissolving the limestone to form the first passages of Mammoth Cave. And by 1,000,000 BCE, the large passages that are the namesake of this “mammoth” cave began to form.
Native Americans likely discovered this cave between 5,000 – 2,000 BCE and the first European, John Houchin, discovered this cave in 1790. The first published use of the name Mammoth Cave didn’t appear until 1810, but from then on, the cave had many recorded uses. Enslaved men mined vast amounts of saltpeter from 1813 to 1814, formal tours began in 1816, the cave was used for tuberculosis patients from 1841-1843 in an experiment that was hoping that cave air could cure tuberculosis, and first photographs of the cave were taken in 1866. And finally, in July of 1941, 45,310 acres were established as Mammoth Cave National Park.
Today, Mammoth Cave National Park is much more than just a cave.
Rolling hills, deep river valleys, and the worlds longest known cave system. Mammoth Cave National Park is home to thousands of years of human history and a rich diversity of plant and animal life, earning it the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.https://www.nps.gov/maca/index.htm
Dogs at Mammoth Cave National Park
Dogs are permitted on all surface trails in the park provided they follow a few simple rules.
- Pets must be leashed (up to 6 feet) at all times.
- Pets are not permitted in caves or park buildings.
- Pets can not be left unattended outside or inside a vehicle.
- Pet waste must be immediately collected and disposed of in the nearest trash can.
You can find all of the pet rules/regulations for Mammoth Cave National Park on the official NPS site.
Even though dogs are not allowed in the cave, you can still spend a couple of dog-friendly days exploring this national park. But if you only have one day, we recommend you explore the area around the Visitor Center.
Visitor Center Area/South Side Trails
Mammoth Cave National Park is split into two “sides” by the Green River. The south side contains the Visitor Center area, the lodge and cottages, the main campground, and the historic entrance to Mammoth Cave. There are 18 miles of easy to access trails on the south side of the park, and about 7 of those miles are right around the Visitor Center area.
Most of the trails around the Visitor Center are short, but they can be linked together to make an approximately 5-mile loop around the area. Features of these trails include ridgetops, river views, sinkholes, cave-fed springs, cemeteries, and views of the historic entrances to Mammoth Cave and Dixon Cave.
I highly recommend visiting the historic entrance to the cave in the evening after the day’s tours have been completed. You can walk right up to the entrance to feel the cool cave air. During our visit, we were told we could walk the dogs down the stairs and right up to the entrance gate just inside the cave entrance. So the dogs did get a little cave experience.
Since there were two humans present during this trip, we did switch off watching the dogs so that each of us could take the opportunity to walk into the cave on the self-guided discovery tour (which took each of us about 30 minutes to complete).
The morning before our cave “tours,” we spent time hiking around the Visitor Center area and were impressed with the trails. From the campground, we were able to take the Whites Cave Trail over to the Sinkhole trail. The Sinkhole trail, as its name implies, features a large sinkhole. We then took the River Springs Trail to the River Styx spring.
The spring is the location where the River Styx flows out of Mammoth Cave on its way to join the Green River. From the River Styx Spring, you can then link up with the Green River Trail for views of the Green River and loop back to the Woodland Cottages area or you can choose to take the River Styx Spring Trail past the historic entrance of Mammoth Cave ending near the Visitor Center.
On the morning that we hiked around the Visitor Center area trails, we took the Green River Bluffs Trail as we had already been to the cave entrance, but both trails are lovely.
There are a couple of additional trails on the South Side that are not right around the visitors center. The Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike Trail starts by the Visitor Center (although you can also access it from the campground) and runs along an old railroad grade for about 8 miles. The trail ends in Park City, Kentucky.
You can also drive to the Cedar Sink Trail, Sand Cave Trail, Sloan’s Crossing Pond Walk, or the Turnhole Bend Nature Trail. Ranging from 0.1 to 1.0 miles in length, none of these trails are very long. During our trip, we stopped with the pups at the Turnhole Bend Nature Trail and enjoyed the 0.5-mile “hike” there, but it was pretty short.
With over 60 miles of backcountry trails, make sure to grab a backcountry map at the visitor center before hitting the trails. The backcountry trails are located across the Green River from the main cave entrance and Visitor Center. As a result, you have two options for accessing these trails. Drive out of the park and around to one of the roads that grant access to the northern part of the park. Or walk or drive your car to the Green River Ferry.
The Green River Ferry was first developed in 1934 and is the last remaining active ferry in the park. The Ferry shuttles vehicles, hikers, and bikers across the Green River from 6 am to 9:55 pm every day except Christmas.
*Please note: The ferry has room for 2-3 cars and no RVs or trailers are allowed on the ferry.
After taking the ferry across the river, we parked at the parking lot near Maple Springs Campground. This allowed us easy access to several hiking trails. We hiked the Maple Springs Trail and part of the Mill Branch Trail. Be aware that trails in the backcountry may be shared with mountain bikers or equestrians, so it is very important to follow leash regulations on these trails.
The Maple Springs Trail was nice, but the Mill Branch Trail was pretty average. The terrain was gravel/rock and we didn’t have a lot of overlooks or good views. Although the forest was nice, the trail wasn’t anything special. And after a couple of miles of walking through the fresh cobwebs (we were the first ones on the trail that morning trying to beat the heat), we turned around.
Although I wouldn’t recommend the trails that we hiked, there are recommendations on the internet for more interesting trails. Check out this review quoted below.
If the cave system is the grand dame, then the McCoy Hollow Trail is her squire. The most popular long distance trail in the park starts at the Temple Hill parking area and then traverses a diverse, 6 miles of hollows, steep ridges, streams and rock walls through the forest. The trail is one-way and it can be either backtracked for a big, 12-mile day or done as overnight trip. Use caution as there are some drop-offs near the trail and stream crossings can be slick.https://rootsrated.com/stories/insider-s-guide-to-mammoth-cave-national-park
To find an online map of the numerous backcountry trails, follow this link.
Camping at Mammoth Cave National Park
There are 3 campgrounds in Mammoth Cave National Park, plus backcountry campsites and rooms and cottages at the Mammoth Cave Lodge. Dogs are allowed at all of the campgrounds and (for only an extra $9/night) in the Woodland Cottages at Mammoth Cave Lodge.
Mammoth Cave Lodge also operates a rustic day boarding kennel if you need to leave your pet unattended while you explore the cave. We didn’t use this service, but you can find more information about the rustic outdoor kennel on Mammoth Cave Lodge’s website.
During our stay, we parked our camper trailer at the main campground near the Visitor Center: Mammoth Cave Campground. We had a nice shaded spot with a fairly private campfire area. We really only shared it with a few deer who wandered through while we cooked dinner over the fire. The shaded site was super nice as it kept the camper cooler during the hot days.
Dog-Friendly Activities in the Surrounding Areas
With so many dog-friendly trails at Mammoth Cave National Park, you shouldn’t need to venture away in order to have a good trip with your pup. But Go Pet Friendly has some fun suggestions of other activities to do with dogs in Kentucky.
Or take the time to visit some nearby National Parks, like Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri or Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.
Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park with Your Dog
Overall, Mammoth Cave is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the United States. With around 80 miles of dog-friendly hiking trails + cottages that allow dogs and an outdoor dog kennel, this National Park is easy to visit with your four-legged family member in tow.
While dogs aren’t allowed in the cave, this park can still be well explored with dogs. And even if dogs can’t explore all of the caverns below-ground, they can still enjoy the Below Your Feet program around the visitor center area. The Below Your Feet program highlights 14 locations along trails and walking paths that let you know which part of the cave that you are standing above.
We really enjoyed the campground and Visitor Center area trails. We weren’t as impressed with the north side trails we chose, but we only explored around 7 miles out of 60, so I don’t know that we had a large enough sample size to draw a good conclusion about the backcountry trails as a whole.
If you are interested in learning more about Mammoth Cave National Park, check out the YouTube video below.