Mammoth Cave National Park is a place I had a chance to visit, and it is more than just a cave. The place has deep river valleys and rolling hills that made my eyes yearn for more.
The Mammoth cave is the longest known in human history, and it has a rich diversity of animal and plant life. Because of its rich diversity, UNESCO has given this cave the name International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.
The Mammoth Cave National Park is part of the green river valley and part of the rolling hills found in South Central Kentucky. I had the chance to be part of several cave tours of up to 10 miles which form part of the park’s big attraction.
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There are many more places that I got to visit and things I managed to explore, like camping, hiking, kayaking, and even horseback riding. Read through to the end to learn about my experience and learn some of the best things to do in the park. Other Posts About Boondocking and Hiking Near Kentucky
Through the ranger-led tours, I learned that Mammoth cave is the longest known cave system, and it measures more than 40 miles. That is just the miles that have been successfully explored, as it is estimated that the park can go up to 600 miles. The park has over 200 caves, and all these are just fragments of the extensive cave system. I did not get to visit all of them, but I visited enough to know they are worth seeing.
A group of private citizens, in the year 1926, formed the Association of Mammoth Cave National Park. The association was formed to protect the cave and park as a whole, and it was officially dedicated as a park in 1941. It became a world heritage site in 1981, and later in 1990, it became an International Biosphere Reserve.
As many of your know we not only cover boondocking opportunities but also want to make you aware of other options in the state. Most people want to visit multiple places when on a camping adventure. Kentucky offers the Mammoth Caves but so so much more. A quick not if you want to visit the caves you must make your reservations well in advance, by that if you want to visit the caves themselves next summer you need to make those reservations at least 6 to 12 months in advance. Now to other Kentucky opportunities.
11 Free Boondocking Locations near Mammoth Cave National Park
1. Mammoth Cave National Park Boondocking Locations – Mammoth Cave Back Country Campsites
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
GPS: 37.187057, -86.10054
Management: National Park Service
All the backcountry camp sites at Mammoth Cave National Park are free. They just require a little bit of a hike to reach. If you like seclusion these are some amazing camp sites. Go to the visitor center front desk and request for a back country permit.
2. Mammoth Cave National Park Boondocking Locations – Thelma Stovall Park (tent camping)
101 River Rd.
GPS: 37.26968, -85.88501
Management: City Park
The maximum RV length at Thelma Stovall Park (tent camping) is 15 feet.
I believe. It was busy until shortly after nightfall. Then it was mostly quiet. People that came and went were quiet. Road noise doesn’t bother me, and I didn’t think it was loud anyway. My dog and I had a nice long walk and also checked out the boat ramp. Every person we came across and interacted with was nice. I slept well here. I felt safe here. I will likely go back at some point in my travels. It’s near a route I take.
3. Mammoth Cave National Park Free Boondocking Locations and – Born Again Camping / Antiques
236 Groce Cemetery Rd
GPS: 36.953841, -85.833187
A Quaint place in the country with a playground, and playhouse for the kids, large fire pit with free wood. Shower house and antique shops to browse through. Sites are free unless you want electric.
4. Mammoth Cave National Park Free Boondocking Locations – Cabela’s Bowling Green
Bowling Green, Kentucky
GPS: 36.939495, -86.420275
Management: Retail Store
The road in is Paved. Cabela’s Bowling Green is open All year. The maximum RV length at Cabela’s Bowling Green is unlimited. You may stay 1 night at Cabela’s Bowling Green.
Good overnight spot in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Minimal traffic noise. RVs welcome sign.
5. Mammoth Cave National Park Free Boondocking Locations – Butler County Park
Lock 4 Road
GPS: 37.181735, -86.629699
Management: County Park
The road in is Dirt and 0n a paved road. Butler County Park is open All year. The maximum RV length at Butler County Park is unlimited. You may stay Unknown at Butler County Park.
Very large area of open land at county park. On the Green River. No fee collection system or signs. Locals say people park RV’s and tent camp in this area when not flooded.
6. Mammoth Cave National Park Free Boondocking Locations – Circle K
GPS: 37.598804, -85.873295
Management: Truck Stop
Truck stop can park over night and sleep in your card – 24 hours showers $9.00 good coffee nice employees.
7. Mammoth Cave National Park Free Boondocking Locations – Peabody WMA – A Lake PASS or PERMIT is required at this campsite.
Beaver Dam, Kentucky
GPS: 37.325298, -86.877244
Management: Fish and Wildlife
Must have a Peabody permit to even drive on Peabody property. They do make rounds and you will be fined if on Peabody property without permit. Cost is $15 for a 1 year usage permit. https://fw.ky.gov/Licenses/Pages/Fees.aspx
8. Mammoth Cave National Park Free Boondocking Locations – Walmart Carthage Tennessee
125 Myers Terrace
GPS: 36.246156, -85.939637
Management: Retail Store
The road in is Paved. Walmart Carthage Tennessee is open year round. There are 1-5 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is unlimited. You may stay overnight at Walmart Carthage Tennessee.
9. Mammoth Cave National Park Free Boondocking Locations – Wilson Creek Recreation Area
Wilson Creek Rd Elk Horn KY 42733
Elk Horn, Kentucky
GPS: 37.286224, -85.259918
Management: Corp of Engineers
The road in is Paved. Wilson Creek Recreation Area is open Year round. There are 1-5 campsites at this location. Nice, quiet, out of the way, near the river. Picnic tables could use an update as well as the fire pits. The sites were large. Each site had a covered trash can with liner.
It’s finally open, went there for a few day’s, Nice place for a campsite, only problem i saw was family’s come and take up two maybe 3 campsites, first time a family took all three campsites in front, another family took the rest in back, we couldn’t camp, came back through a couple weeks later, and same problem, a family must of stayed a month in the back sites,
10. Mammoth Cave National Park Free Boondocking Locations – Bardstown Walmart
3795 E John Rowan Blvd
GPS: 37.79981, -85.43526
Management: Retail Store
The road in is Paved. Bardstown Walmart is open year round. You may stay unlimited at Bardstown Walmart.
Many signs that say no overnight parking. However, I did call the Cracker Barrel across the street and they had no problem with it! Stayed here in my car but there was RV parking as well.
11. Mammoth Cave National Park Free Boondocking Locations – Cordell Hull Lake Horse Trail
GPS: 36.316715, -85.793297
Management: Corp of Engineers
The GPS takes you to a gravel lot with a boat launch right on the water. It is a beautiful lake and you can see the sunrise in the morning. If you take a right where the sign is there are picnic tables, fire rings, and stoves set up there. I had no signal for 30 min driving to it but there some at the boat launch area at least. I was there on a Wednesday night and a few others staying there as well. Two dogs came running down to greet me in the morning, Lucky and Daisy. Sweet pups owned by a nearby homeowner.
Top 10 Trails to Hike at Mammoth Cave National Park
I also got the chance to experience different trails at Mammoth Cave National park. The park has 23 trails that you can use for running, hiking, and many other fun activities. If you love nature ad you are in for some exercise, this trails will be great for you. There are ten trails I loved the most, so I will list them below so that you have the chance to explore them too. They range from easy to hard, so find one that fits you the most and take the trail that fits you the most.
1. Green River Bluff, Sinkhole Echo River Springs, and Heritage Trail
We can rate this trail as moderate; it is 4.5 miles long and is heavily trafficked. It is located near the Mammoth cave, and one of its best features is a river. Several activities can be performed on this trail, and we were even allowed to go with our dog. You, however, have to keep the dog on a leash so that it does not wander off. Also, make sure to carry a map so that you don’t get confused like we were. Overall, the trail was well maintained, and we loved and views.
We really liked hiking this trail today. It’s a combination of trails to make that big loop. WeI like loops, but you will have to look at the app to check which way you should go several times. We did some back tracking. according to this app, I walked 5.3 miles. It is an absolutely beautiful hike! Today is a Thursday. There were enough people around, but definitely not too many.
Length: 4.5 mi
Elevation gain: 557 ft
Route type: Loop
2. Dixon Cave Trail Loop
This trail is rated as easy, but I would rate it as moderate. It is 1.5 mile long and located near Mammoth cave, anyone can hike on this trail, and you will get to experience the lovely views of a flowing river. You are also allowed to go with your dog on this trail as long as you have a leash on it. It was a bit rocky so make sure you watch where you step. It also has a lot of shade, so if you get tired, sit aside and enjoy the view while you relax.
I did this trail right after coming out of mammoth cave underground tour. It’s right next to the exit/entrance. Definitely go counterclockwise – go to Dixon cave first. There was a steep decline that you won’t want to climb up.
Length: 1.5 mi
Elevation gain: 275 ft
Route type: Loop
3. Green River Bluffs and Heritage Loop
This trail can be rated as moderate, and it is 2.4 miles long and moderately trafficked. It also features a river and can be used for hiking, running, walking, and even nature trips. We met other hikers who came with their dogs, but they were all on leashes which is excellent. You can also take your kids on this trail as it is effortless to follow. We got to see some deer and even went into some caves, which was pretty awesome.
Great to take kids on because the trail is very easy to follow. There are rocks and stairs to get up, but our six year old had no issues. Great overlook spot, saw a couple deer, and was able to see into a couple of caves. We didn’t hike the Heritage part because we took a detour to Dixon Cave and kept going and ended up at the visitor center.
Length: 2.4 mi
Elevation gain: 374 ft
Route type: Loop
4. Sinkhole Trail
This is one of the most accessible trails in Mammoth National park and only 2.4 miles; it is located near the Mammoth cave and is moderately trafficked. It is great for a nature trip, walking and hiking. You can even bring along your dog as long as it is on a leash. We got to see a lot of historical things, which made it even more fun.
Pretty trail that is connected to many other trails to explore. Overall not as impressive as the actual caves would be but sadly you need a reservation to see any of the inside of the caves. Would not recommend this park without a reservation as the trails are nothing too special.
Length: 2.4 mi
Elevation gain: 357 ft
Route type: Out & back
5. Heritage Trail Loop
The Heritage Trail Loop is also another easy trail that you have to try out. It features stunning wildflowers and can be hiked by people of all skills. I liked how it was well maintained and the wooden paths. The wooden paths were also combined with cement and gravel and not forgetting the steep inclines. I got to see some woodpeckers, a doe, and a wild turkey. The sounds were excellent, and the whole trail was generally peaceful and enjoyable.
We’ll maintained but, only .8 miles long, combination of gravel, cement and wooden paths with some steep inclines. We saw a doe nursing her fawn, turkeys and woodpecker. The beauty and sounds were wonderful.
Length: 0.8 mi
Elevation gain: 42 ft
Route type: Loop
6. Nolin Lake: Lakeshore, Bluff Waterfall, and Point Loop
I would rate this trail as easy because I did not have any problems reaching the top. It also features a lake, which you can use for walking, hiking, or nature trips. I feel like I bonded with nature on this trail, and I even came across some lizards, turtles, beavers, and snakes. There were beautiful rock formations and also a small waterfall that was fun to watch. Make sure to carry a good camera so that you capture all the great moments and views.
Great trail, passed the waterfall but turned back and found it. It’s at mile 1.6 in case you miss it too. Loved this hike. Peaceful.
Out & back
7. Echo River Spring and Sinkhole Loop
This is also another easy trail that you definitely should try out. It is 2.2 miles long, and it features a river. It is accessible all year round, and you can even go with your dog as long as it is on a leash. When I went on this hike, it was a warm day, so I appreciated the shades. The trail has nice scenes and is very well maintained, which I loved a lot.
Did the ranger-led walk— it was their first day ever offering this since it’s a new trail and they were on a limited schedule due to COVID. Alex, our ranger, was fantastic at pointing out lots of wildlife and plants we wouldn’t have noticed on our own. We just did the accessible loop but it was a great overview of how the cave is formed.
Length: 2.2 mi
Elevation gain: 154 ft
Route type: Out & back
8. First Cree Lake Trail
I can rate this trail as moderate, so be prepared mentally before you take it. It is 3.6miles long, and it features a lake. It was a bit muddy, but the good thing is we came prepared with the right shoes. It is also great for dogs; go with it and keep it on a leash if you have a dog. It is also a great camping ground to hike and afterward decide to camp as we did.
First 1.5 miles is great: gentle downhill towards the lake through moss covered boulders and glimpses of the green river. The loop around the lake was so-so: trail was extremely muddy and the lake was completed dried up.
Length: 3.6 mi
Elevation gain: 524 ft
Route type: Loop
9. Mammoth Cave National Park Scenic Drive
The Mammoth Cave National Park Scenic Drive is a road to take in as the last thing in the park. It is 10.9 mi long and also features a lake. The road is accessible all year round, so don’t miss out on a drive you will often remember when you get a chance. It was my first time there, but I will go back.
Length: 10.9 mi
Elevation gain: 570 ft
Route type: Point to point
10. Big Hollow North and South Loops Trail
This is a moderate trail that is 17.9km long. It is also accessible throughout the year, and you can come with your dog. Make sure that the dog is always on a leash to avoid wandering off. I loved how well the trail was marked, but I wouldn’t say I liked the spider webs. I would recommend this trail, especially if you don’t mind the spider webs.
Nice trail. Never saw so many spiders in my life. Had to carry a stick in front of us. The actual trail from the Maple Springs Parking Area was 12.4 miles. Pretty woods, not many scenic views and very few animals (even though we started at 7 am). Would be great for a little trail running. Did see one mountain biker.
Length: 11.1 mi
Elevation gain: 587 ft
Route type: Loop
The Mammoth Cave National Park is a great place to visit and keep in touch with nature. It was my first time there, but I am already planning on how I can go back. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a place to hike, take a nature trail, or even camp. There are lots of activities that you will love making it a great place to unwind. There are also many family activities, and they even allow dogs, so go there as a family and get an experience of a lifetime.
Other Boondocking Free Campsites In Kentucky
Paragon Dispersed Camping Area
West Liberty, KY
“One of the best free camping areas, watch out for snake.”
Daniel Boone National Forest
Turkey Foot Campground
“And it’s free to camp!”
Little Lick Campground
“Hard to find free dispersed camping out here in the East.”
Great Meadows Campground
“Beautiful Primitive Camping”
“Best free camping in ky!”
Hartig Park & Wild Life Reserve
“The camping is free but there is no electric or water so be prepared.”
US Forestry Department
Big Creek, KY
Places and Things to Do and See in Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National park lies on 53,000 acres of land, which includes cemeteries, old historic churches, forests, sinkholes, and not forgetting the longest cave system known to history. I got to enjoy many activities and sights, some of which you can enjoy all year round.
The park offers cave tours all year round, but the selection changes depending on the availability of the staff and the season. The park has a website to check on the tour schedule and plan ahead of the trip. I knew that, so I had the chance of applying early, I would advise you to do the same.
We also participated in a ranger-led program which is a great activity, especially for the whole family. You get to discover new things and learn a lot about the Mammoth Cave National Park. Other activities included walks, talks, and even junior ranger activities. Apart from the cave tours, all the other activities are free, but you must check with the current program. You will also be able to see the available programs and get to book in time.
There are several available service roads and unpaved trails in the park for anyone who wants to cycle. You have to check first because some of the trails are closed. I had the chance to participate in bike riding, and I enjoyed the activity a lot. If you meet horse riders, you have to pave the way for them.
I love hiking, so I did many hiking activities; we saw several springs, and the views along the rivers were breathtaking. There are over 60 miles of trails, so you have to choose a hiking trail that fits you best. Some of the trails are very hard, but some are moderate, and others are very easy to hike with your kids.
Canoeing, Kayaking, and Boating
When performing the above activities, always make sure that you are wearing a life jacket. It is also a requirement of the Mammoth Cave National Park, and you have to wear it all times you are on a river. Make sure it properly fits you and is approved by the coast guard. You will get to enjoy the whole experience as we did. The rivers offer a lot of activities, and you will find one that you love.
The fishing experience taught me patience and relaxation. It was challenging at first because it was my first time. I was able to learn the sense of preservation and conservation. You have to learn about the fishing information if you intend to participate in this activity and get to know all about your activities. You will not need any fishing permit or license as long as you are within the boundaries of Mammoth Cave National Park.
Another great activity I got the chance to participate in is horse riding. If you would love to see the world from the back of a horse, then you will love this activity. There were different trails for horseback riding; some were dirt paths which were enough for two riders. However, you have to be daring enough to go on other trails like the ridgeline trails and the single file.
Beneath Your Feet
If you love geology and you are often curious about the mysteries of the world, then you will love this activity. This activity is one of the best ways to learn more about the Mammoth Cave National park.
In the past, people used the stars to navigate and keep track of time. They also used stars to connect with other people who have different types of cultures. After a day of hiking and kayaking, pitch up a tent and enjoy the stars. You don’t have to stop the fun just because it is dark outside. You also definitely don’t need a telescope to enjoy the stars.
Free Kentucky Resources
Kentucky does not offer a annual pass simply because they do not charge admission to any of their state parks. There are some discounts if you qualify. The most tempting is the senior discount.
Senior Citizen (use code SENR when booking lodge rooms or cottages online or select “senior” customer type for campsites). ID required upon check-in (age 62 & older).
AAA Membership Discounts (use code AAA when booking lodge rooms or cottages online or select “AAA” customer type for campsites). AAA membership card must be shown at check-in.
Their is also a military discount.
Type-in discount code USA when booking online Nov.-March for super deals on lodge rooms and cottages. April-October select Military Discount from the drop down under Special Rates for 15% lodging discount. Active & retired military personnel with proof of service.
For military campers, receive a 10% discount by choosing the “Military” customer type upon booking online and showing identification at check-in.
The America Beautiful pass for all National Parks, National Forests is available and a great deal, seniors who travel together can get one lifetime pass and use that free for those listed above and more.
Last but not least are the Wildlife Management Areas in Kentucky. Camping is permitted in the WMA but in designated areas.
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