“A challenging & fun loop along the Green River near the park's visitor center.”
— Clinton Lewis
Birding · Cave · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring · Views · Wildlife
With many loops, it's easy to shorten this route as your family sees fit. The mild elevation change keeps things interesting without being overly strenuous.
This route is a six mile loop exploring some of the trail network around the Mammoth Cave Visitor Center. Don't be fooled by it's proximity to the visitor center, these aren't bunny trails!
Need to Know
This takes several trails, so pay attention at all intersections. During the summer months, the trails are quite busy with many visitors and families.
The most common loop in the visitor center area takes us from the parking lot at the Mammoth Cave Hotel along the short paved trail by the Ampitheater. Say goodbye to concrete for a bit and enter the trees on the boardwalk. This is the Campground Trail
that is a very short jaunt to the edge of the Mammoth Cave Campground. Be careful on the boardwalk sections, they are extremely slick when wet.
Hang a right onto the wide Whites Cave Trail
when you emerge from the boardwalk. Enjoy the flat start and elbow room as you descend into the Kentucky forest while the trail takes a fun downhill slant. There are several steps built into the trail, so keep an eye on your footing. The trail ends at an intersection with the Sinkhole Trail
, so take a left here. You'll stay on the downhill section for just a bit and stop at the intersection with the Echo River Springs Trail
. You have two options here: take a left to the Green River Ferry parking area and porta potty (keep that in mind!) while enjoying the view of the Echo River Springs or hang a right and keep hiking.
Continuing on the Echo River Springs Trail
, the path opens up again under the forest canopy with wide trails. Follow this fairly flat section of trail to the boardwalk over the River Styx Spring. The trail takes a steep curve to the left and drops down to a big intersection with numerous trails. The short boardwalk overlooking the Spring is a nice diversion, but point down towards the river and find the Green River Bluffs Trail
. Keeping the river on your left, start going uphill. There are a set of switchbacks about a quarter mile in that help, but it's a good steep climb. Once you top out, stay on the Bluffs trail while it still trends uphill, culminating in a steady half-mile climb that you just have to grind away on.
The trail ends at a road in the Mammoth Cave Picnic Area and amenities like bathrooms can be found across the street and a pavilion if you need to sit down. Once you've caught your breath and you don't feel your heartbeat in your teeth any more, turn right (from the trailhead) and follow the road down as it arches to the left. Be on the lookout for a small trail off the road to the right and drop into the next road section.
Hang to the right and the road forms a small cul-de-sac and take the wooden stairs down the Dixon Cave Overlook Trail
. When you reach Dixon Cave, veer to the left and head down the Dixon Cave Trail
in a fun descent to the Historic Entrance of Mammoth Cave. You'll notice quite the drop in temperature here, so bask for a minute and head up the paved Historic Entrance Trail
, for a few yards then take the Old Guides Trail
to the right for a steep climb to the Mammoth Cave Hotel.
You could stop here, but why? At the top of the stairs, take a right onto the Heritage Trail
and stay left when you reach the Old Guides Cemetery to reconnect with the Sinkhole Trail
. This is a fun downhill with tricky footwork. After the intersection with the River Valley Trail
to the right, it takes a slight uphill heading and joins the White Caves Trail to the left. Follow that back the way you started to the parking lot!
Alternatively, at the end of the Green River Bluffs Trail
, you can turn left and follow the road in a straight shot to the visitor center parking lot, but you'll miss the Dixon Cave Trail
(which is super fun).
Flora & Fauna
Traditional Kentucky forest with ferns, hardwood trees, poison ivy, turkey and deer.
History & Background
This route takes you through the heart of Mammoth Cave and drops by the Historic Entrance, which is definitely worth stopping for!