Mammoth Cave: A National Park Gem

National parks and monuments are not to be missed and some are backpackers’ dream destinations, so we veered north from Nashville to explore Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park. What did we find? Enough to fill three days. The ranger-led Gothic Tour took us below to walk two miles of the 365 miles of cave, more than twice as long as any cave in the USA. If you time it right, you might be offered a rare boat tour on an underground river. A free ferry took us across the Green River after a roadway sign warned us that the road ”ends in water.” The road across the river leads to a web of wilderness trails for backpackers; permits for overnight trips are available in the visitor’s center. We walked several trails, including the Big Hollow Loop.

We pulled our hybrid bikes out of our trailer to try another park feature: the Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike Trail, a packed-gravel path that includes many short (some steep) climbs. We rode to two of the 77 cemeteries in the area, reminders of times more than a century earlier when the narrow-gauge railroad transported people and supplies to communities built around the growing popularity of the cave network. Another great national park, but without the crowds that frequent some.

Trail Climbs to Breathtaking Crater Lake View

Crater Lake provided the backdrop on the first day of August for our hike to Garfield Peak, a stone’s throw above 8,000 feet and 2,000 feet higher than the surface of the deepest fresh water lake in the USA. Sue and I found the altitude a bit challenging for our lungs at first, but after a stop for snacks, made it to the top in less than an hour. We are fortunate that our home in Ashland, Oregon, is just a two-hour drive from the national park.

Matt and Karen Smith wrote my favorite national parks book, Dear Bob and Sue, in which they describe their visits to every American national park. Their presentation is unique and entertaining; check it out by clicking on the cover. They have just published book three in the Dear Bob and Sue series. Sue and I also enjoyed the Smiths’ book about their Grand Canyon dory trip, Dories Ho!