Top Ten Offbeat Summer Parks

Mammoth Cave National Park
Stalagmites in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Stalagmites in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (WikiCommons)

Mammoth Cave National Park

52,800 acres

1.9 million annual visits

Attractions: Mammoth Cave contains the longest recorded cave system in the world—more than 336 miles have been explored and mapped. The caves feature all of the grand features: huge subterranean "rooms," baroque stalactites and stalagmites, and eerie underground rivers.

But the well-kept secret is there's a lot going on in the world of open air and sunlight. Mammoth offers 52,830 acres of woodsy parkland perfect for hiking, fishing, paddling, and wildlife viewing. Big Woods, a 300-acre old-growth forest, is a favorite among tree-huggers.

If you want to get off by yourself, you can't beat the more than 60 miles of backcountry trail in the park.

Activities: Besides hiking and caving, don't overlook getting on the water. Within the boundaries of Mammoth Cave National Park, 25 miles of the Green River and six miles of the Nolin River carry boaters past dramatic bluffs, scenic woodlands, and wildlife. Boating from Dennison Ferry Campground to Houchins Ferry down the Green is a popular, six-hour voyage.

Finding Solitude: Most of the cave system is closed to non-accompanied exploration. Experienced cavers can apply for a permit to see the Ganter Cave. Otherwise, you're restricted to tours, which by definition are not solitary. However, if you're in good physical shape, we recommend the Wild Cave Tour: five miles of hiking and crawling through rough, unimproved passages. And the groups for this tour are kept small—14 people—as opposed to up to 120 people for the less strenuous tours.


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