We live in an area that offers a unique respite from the hot and humid summer weather: natural caves. You really need long sleeves and pants for these underground jaunts, but you won’t need much more to enjoy a day trip to another world. Put one of these destinations on your list of summer day trips.
About an hour’s easy drive on 64 West from Louisville, Indiana’s Marengo Cave offers walking tours of an hour or shorter that are accessible for almost anyone. The Crystal Palace, with its ending reveal of the giant room, is a particular draw. Check out that easy walk or the Dripstone Trail, open seven days a week. During the summer, special cave exploring trips, where you will get down and get dirty, literally, in an undeveloped cave, are available on Saturdays. With a little planning ahead, you can add a half day of canoeing on the Blue River, with Cave Country Canoes, just up the road.
A little over two hours east on 64 and you’re in Olive Hill, Kentucky to tour Carter Caves. One of Kentucky’s State Parks, Carter Caves State Resort Park boasts the highest concentration of caves in the entire state. All year, you can see Cascade Cave and X-Cave. During the summer, you can also tour the Saltpetre Cave, where the gunpowder ingredient was sourced during the War of 1812. Each of these tours requires at least a few steps, but is otherwise not too strenuous. As a state site, these tours give great bang for the buck, too: Several of the tours are only $7 per adult. You may want to inquire about the Bat Cave tour, which is sometimes suspended, due to the White Nose Syndrome threat to area bats. If the tour is being run, be ready for a bit more of an adventure: You must pass a “squeeze test” to see if you’ll fit through certain passages and will likely be crouching, slithering and splashing your way through this one.
Mammoth Cave National Park
If you live in Louisville and you haven’t yet been to Mammoth Cave, I just don’t know what you are waiting for. In under two hours, you can be exploring the world’s longest cave system. The park system surrounding the caves is a well-oiled machine. For over 10 cave tours, you can make reservations by phone. You don’t have to do so, but I recommend it, especially during the busy summer, so you get the tour you want. You will not be able to make reservations the same day, so plan ahead just a little. Tour prices range from $5 for adults for the Mammoth Passage to $48 for the Wild Cave Tour. Every tour is led by a knowledgeable, professional park ranger. Several of the tours are non-strenuous, and are conducted in very large caverns (It is Mammoth, after all), so those who don’t do closed in spaces might take that into consideration. Everyone should at least see the Frozen Niagara, and then perhaps proceed onto another tour or two. Above ground, round out the day with a trail hike or a little canoeing on the Green River.
One last thing: Whichever caves you visit, the tour guide will ask you about the formations rising from the floor and hanging from the ceilings, which are the stalactites and which are the stalagmites? Here’s how you remember. The stalactites hang “tight” to the ceiling; the stalagmites “might” reach the ceiling. You are now ready to go caving.
Photo: Shutterstock Copyright: Zach Frank
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