Kentucky is undeniably cave country. Since the state's geology is mostly limestone, one is never very far from a cave, karst or sinkhole. The Kentucky Speleological Society cave index indicates there are at least 130 caves in the state with a mile or more of charted tunnels, including the world's largest cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park. For tourists and serious cavers alike, the state has plenty of underground adventure on offer.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world with almost 340 miles of explored passages and many more that remain unmapped. With such an expansive underground world, the equally wide-ranging tour options make the park a great place to go if you are interested in getting into caving ("spelunking") and want to try it. The most demanding tour is the Wild Cave Tour. This lasts for about 6 hours and covers 5 1/2 miles underground. Basic techniques are taught, and the route goes into undeveloped parts of the cave to offer rock climbing and belly crawling.
1 Mammoth Cave Parkway
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259
Hidden River Cave
Sitting under the town of Horse Cave, this cave is one of the great success stories in underground environmental recovery. Pollution from the town, which treated the cave's waterways as little more than a sewer, had made the cave a source of a great stench by the 1940's. Recovery work began in 1993 and the cave is open for visitors. Both tour options take tourists at least 150 feet underground and along a mile or more of underground passages, including the underground river itself. The more demanding of the two tours lasts for 3 1/2 hours and includes a 30-foot belly crawl.
Horse Cave, KY (located in the town center)
Constantine Salt Peter Cave
This Hardin County site is one of the better-known undeveloped caves in Kentucky, making it a natural for cavers who want to get away from organized tours. The opening half of the cave is fairly spacious and includes some large galleries, such as the cavernous Dance Hall located about 700 feet from the cave entrance. The back half of the cave offers access to the underground Griffith River, extending down a gallery that is almost a half-mile long. A side passage off that river gallery offers sterner challenges, becoming tight in places and eventually culminating in a challenging belly crawl.
Cave Exploration Tips
Experienced cavers naturally seek to explore more undeveloped caves. Maps of undeveloped caves are not widely available either in books or on the Internet, however. This is for a number of reasons. Many cave-oriented organizations make their maps available only upon request as a safety measure; this prevents the inexperienced from biting off more than they can chew. If you are planning a cave expedition, the best way to choose a cave and get a map is to contact the Kentucky Speleological Society (which is associated with the Kentucky Geological Survey) for information. You may even be able to join an expedition to help map a previously unexplored cave area.
KY Speleological Survey
228 Mining and Minerals Resources Building
500 Rose St.
Lexington, KY 40506-0107
Article Written By Edwin Thomas
Edwin Thomas has been writing since 1997. His work has appeared in various online publications, including The Black Table, Proboxing-Fans and others. A travel blogger, editor and writer, Thomas has traveled from Argentina to Vietnam in pursuit of stories. He holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University.