Mammoth Cave: When Nature Crawls
The ceiling was inches from my hard-hatted head; the reporter's notebook in my back pocket kept catching on protruding rocks, and off to my left was a 6-foot drop that could certainly break a limb or two. My glasses were fogging up, I was wriggling on my belly, and I was pleased as could be.
It was about an hour into the 3 1/2-hour "Intro to Caving" tour at Mammoth Cave National Park in southern Kentucky. Guided tours range from a lantern-lit amble ($11) to the six-hour "Wild Cave Tour" ($46), with "hand and knee crawls over jagged rocks and dirt." I chose the introductory level ($23) because you have to crawl only over "rough" rocks, not "jagged" ones.
The Ins and Outs of Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is a 1 1/2-hour drive from Louisville, Kentucky, or longer if you take the tree-lined scenic route past Lincoln's birthplace of Hodgenville-and about the same from Nashville.
The Introduction to Caving tour usually sells out, so it's a good idea to make reservations ahead of time. Park information and tour reservations are at nps.gov/maca The park doesn't charge entry fees, but cave tours cost from $4 to $46. The cave is about 54 degrees year round, but you'll stay warm enough on the Intro to Caving tour without a jacket. The park doesn't allow backpacks or fanny packs in the cave; check other restrictions online. Accommodations are available in the characterless but convenient Mammoth Cave Hotel, right in the park, or in nearby Cave City. And, of course, this is a national park, so you can rough it in the campground if you prefer.