Mammoth Cave National Park is the largest and longest cave system in the world (at least that is known) with a surprising four hundred miles that have been explored and they find new parts of the cave constantly. Before heading out on this full-time travel journey, we lived in Knoxville, TN. We were close enough to hear about Mammoth Cave National Park and never made it in that direction. Having heard it was a great family activity made it an anticipated stop on our trip.
The truth is we did very little research about Mammoth Caves and did not know what to expect. To say we jumped in blindly would be an understatement. We had a lot of surprises on our visit, some good and some not so great so we took a lot of notes and combined all of our best mammoth cave tour tips to help others visiting Mammoth Caves with kids and especially toddlers.
Book Your Mammoth Cave Tour Early
And by early, I mean earlier than you think. Start planning your cave tour as soon as you can. In the summer many of the popular tours fill up weeks in advance. You can book online at the national park website. So my first advice would be to do your research on which tour you want and start searching for the dates you will be there.
Please note that online booking closes at 9 pm CDT the night before the tour but depending on availability you can purchase same-day tour tickets at the visitors center.
Save Time for The Visitors Center
The Mammoth Cave National Park Visitors Center offers historic tours of Mammoth Caves but it also has many interactive exhibits that will be interesting for kids and adults of all ages. Obviously, we homeschool so we are all over that (hello Science class) and you will want to allow some time for exploring the visitors center, getting your National Parks Passport stamped, and using the restrooms before your tour.
Get There Early
We made the huge mistake of showing up just a few minutes from our tour time. We booked online and thought we would be able to directly head to the cave entrance and go inside. This is not the case. As mentioned before, especially when traveling to Mammoth Caves with toddlers or young kids you need to plan time to use the restroom before entering the cave. Besides that, you will need to stand in line to show your confirmation of booking to get physical tickets that will allow you to get on the bus and find out which area your tour is departing from. We did not understand beforehand that we would be taking a bus from the visitor center to the cave entrance.
Please learn from our mistake to save yourself from the stress we went through! I will say that Mammoth Caves National Park has some friendly and helpful rangers who helped us cut in line and chase down the bus when under a time crunch.
Best Mammoth Cave Tours For Kids and Toddlers
Frozen Niagara Tour
It seemed to me when booking our Mammoth Cave tour for our family that the Frozen Niagara Tour must be one of the most popular because it was consistently sold out. It’s a shorter tour about an hour that is easily accessible that does not have a ton of stairs (it does have stairs but they are optional) and no tight squeezes. It also was one of the cheaper tours. This would be a great option for families with small children or those traveling with elderly parents or special needs.
Dome and Dripstones Tour
Because we were disappointed in the lack of availability for the Frozen Niagara Tour, we chose the Dome and Dripstones tour because it was only about 45 minutes longer than the Frozen Niagara tour plus it included that portion of the cave as well. It does have 500 steps and you will pass through some tight areas where you need to hunch and walk sideways. No-one in my family is overly claustrophobic and managed well. The tight areas don’t last long and you will shortly find yourself in wide open areas. All children ages 8-2 did well on the tour and maybe got just slightly fussy toward the end.
The Discovery Tour is a great option for families with toddlers or young children because it is only about a 30-minute tour and has 120 steps. Little kids could easily be carried and with such a short tour the natural surroundings would likely keep them entertained for just long enough. This tour is also self-guided so if needed you could speed up or slow down according to your family’s needs.
Grand Avenue Tour
This is most definitely not a tour you will want to book with small children. You will want to save this for older teenagers and young adults as it is quite lengthy. It is about a four-hour tour that showcases some of the best and strenuous aspects of Mammoth Caves. I wanted to include this in this guide just so you wouldn’t make the mistake to book this one with a 2-year-old.
What to Bring
Food and drinks are not allowed in any of the guided tours of Mammoth Caves and absolutely no gum. You are permitted to bring bottled water only. You do not need close-toed shoes- it is not a requirement but I would encourage you to wear sturdy shoes or even hiking quality shoes of some kind. All of my children wore running shoes and I wore my trusty Tevas.
If you are bringing toddlers or young children strollers and carrying backpacks are not allowed inside on the guided tours. They would be a hassle anyway and a there are low ceilings so you want a visual on a baby’s head at all time. I have heard front low lying slings are allowed but check with the ranger beforehand.
Cameras are permitted inside the caves but they are very strict on the no flash rule. They also ask you to stop walking before taking photos or video. This is done for safety reasons. They’ll also remind you not to touch the caves as you move through the tour.
What Else You Should Know
Kids 6 and under get free admission to any of the cave tours that are age appropriate.
There are plenty of free kids activities and nature hikes around the visitors center. Kids can participate in jr. ranger activities (check in with the info desk) or pick up a worksheet scavenger hunt as they go through the visitor’s center.
As I mentioned earlier all cave tours require a short bus ride that departs from the visitors center. A the end of your tour you will be dropped off at the Lodge where you will walk across a squishy pad that will clean off your shoes of cave fungus to protect bats. At this point, you may be grateful if you chose sneakers because my feet got sloshed with the solution.
Pack your own lunch and enjoy a picnic on the property but not inside the caves. There is also a cafe and restaurant on site. Snacks are available to purchase in the gift shop
Plan extra time for hiking or biking. The Heritage Trail is easy for the whole family. If you’re up for it you can walk the extra distance to a small waterfall. The trails are beautiful and well maintained and many are paved so strollers are welcome. There are also a wide variety of other hiking and biking trails available in the national park. Check with a ranger to find one that will work best for your family.
Parking is located just outside the visitors center and is free. If you are bringing your RV to Mammoth Caves National Park there were also plenty of RV and bus parking. If you are just passing through and want to make a day trip you can easily park, take a cave tour, go on a bike ride or hike, eat some lunch and get back on the road.
Have you ever been to Mammoth Caves? What tour did you go on?