November in Michigan is celebrated with opening day and Thanksgiving feasts. November in Michigan is contemned with an indecisive weather channel. A week in November can bring snow, rain, sunshine and 50-degree weather differences.
What better way to combat these intense weather changes then by visiting a location where the temperature does not vary by more than a few degrees year-round. Mammoth Cave National Park contains the Mammoth Cave system, which remains around 54 degrees Fahrenheit 365 days a year.
Kentucky's Hidden Gem
With our trip to Mammoth Cave, came National Park Service adventures, family visits, new breweries, ice skating, and hiking through underground darkness. We started our journey with lunch at Country Boy Brewing, which we LOVED. The service was amazing, plus the beer and food was great!
A Great Stop, If In The Area!
After lunch, we made our way to Camp Nelson National Monument. Here you can explore what a recruitment camp for African American soldiers was like during the Civil War. We walked through the area that was once a camp and refugee area. There are gravestones, walking paths and history plaques explaining the history of the area. Definitely a worthy stop for any history or national park buff.
A Mass Graveyard Of Unknown Bodies
Best Hosts Ever!
The next morning, we woke up and made our way to Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. The birthplace has a monument with a log cabin replica inside. You can walk in and around the memorial building. The building will likely remind you of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The D.C. monument was built in 1914, while the monument in Kentucky was actually built starting in 1909.
The Original Lincoln Memorial
We really enjoyed our time at the park and would recommend a visit if nearby! You can visit the symbolic birth cabin and the famous Sinking Spring while in the area.
After our Lincoln adventure, we made our way into Mammoth Cave National Park. We wanted to experience the “surface activities” before our full day of underground exploration. I put quotes around “surface activities”, because I giggled every time Colin used the term to describe our schedule (though this is EXACTLY how they are described on the National Park website).
Mammoth Cave National Park!
We went to the visitor center to make sure our tours for the next day were all set (more to come on this later). The visitor center has a great museum full of information and interactive displays. We had some fun with fellow hikers while watching a video on the cave system.
Film Room In The Visitor Center
We walked around the visitor center to the only cave entrance accessible without a tour. You can walk down the stairs and inside the cave, but can’t get much further. A locked door prevents entrance without a ranger.
We drove over to a “surface” hike called Cedar Sink Trail. The path was really easy to follow, however the end results during November were not too exciting. It was essentially a bunch of leaves and bare trees. We also cut it really close, as the sun set while walking back to the car. It was still a fun little hike, with a couple cool photo ops!
The Cedar Sink Trail
To be able to truly explore Mammoth Cave, you have to take part in the ranger-led tours. To see a list of tours and requirements, look on the website here. While reservations are not required, we would definitely recommend booking before the trip. While we were there, quite a few of the tours sold out, and both of ours were at full capacity. You can browse the tours and their descriptions online and then pay online as well. We went to the visitor center the day before to grab our physical tickets. You can wait to check-in and pick up tickets before heading out on your tour, but lines are definitely longer right before tours begin. As an added tip for the tours, they recommend being early to make sure everything is taken care of. This is true and our tours left right on time, so be sure to not be late and miss hearing the instructions before taking off.
We decided on two tours - The River Styx tour and the Domes and Dripstones tour. The two tours were both amazing and very different. We honestly enjoyed our experience much more than we had expected. Definitely read the descriptions of the tours before choosing, as there are many different options for all interests. For example, the Mammoth Passage tour will not show dripstone formations, but will talk about the historic artifacts left in the cave. If you didn’t want to be in the cave too long and experience a more popular section, you can participate in the Frozen Niagara tour.
We started at 9:00am with the River Styx tour. During the tour, we learned about the flow of water on the rocks, the different types of rocks, weathering and the history of the cave specifically. One of the coolest parts of this tour is that it leads you to the underground water level. It was really cool to see, and if you are lucky, you can even hold onto a lantern during the walk to the river. We were able to see a fish in the water! So cool!
Lantern Section Of The River Styx Tour
There were some areas that had a pretty tight path. You have to form a single file line in order to pass through. Nothing too crazy, however for anyone really claustrophobic, there may be an issue. Welcome to “Fat Man’s Misery”.
Fat Man's Misery
Walking Through Fat Man's Misery
The great part about completing the two different tours was the different information from each ranger. Their knowledge on the cave, the rocks, and the history are amazing to take in.
Butterscotch Falls On The River Styx Tour
As you can see, you are able to take pictures during the tours. However, because it is so dark, you can’t use flash. Our pictures were taken using night mode on the iPhone 11 Plus. It was difficult to capture the true beauty within the cave, so we recommend you just go see for yourself. We managed to get our flag pic in one of the largest rooms within the cave - The Rotunda.
Fire Up Chips!
After our River Styx tour, we had a short break before heading to the Domes and Dripstones tour. This tour had some similarities with discussion of cave formation and history, but was more focused on the science of the cave system.
400+ Miles Of Cave
The rangers are really helpful in deciding what would be the best tour for you based on your interests. The Domes and Dripstones tour was around 2 hours. You are led by two rangers who help answer questions and guide you through the cave. We passed by artifacts as we walked, however, because this tour does not focus on history, the guide did not discuss the pieces. Did you know that Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave? With over 400 miles of discovered trail, this cave system seems to be never ending. It’s crazy to think about that while walking above and hiking the surface of the park.
An Ancient River
The Domes and Dripstone tour moves at an easy pace, but there are quite a few steps to take throughout the tour. While the descriptions will tell you how many steps are to be completed, keep in mind that this is a total. At any given moment, there were not more than 100 or so steps to climb (with the exception of going down 280 ).
One of the best parts, in my opinion, of Domes and Dripstones, was being able to see stalactites and stalagmites. At the end of the tour, you enter what is known as Frozen Niagara. This part has an optional set of stairs you can take down to see the formations up close. Fun fact - stalactites and stalagmites are both referring to mineral deposits within caves. Stalactites form on the ceiling (can remember by the ‘c’ in the word) and stalagmites form on the ground (‘g’ in the name).
Stepping Down Into Frozen Niagara
We highly encourage you to go down these optional steps, as there is a great photo op at the bottom. The Frozen Niagara tour only has 15 steps and you can see these amazing formations up close and personal! So even if hiking through a cave does not sound like your cup of tea, this tour would still be great for you!