Monday, May 16, 2011

National Park Trip 2011.... Mammoth Cave!!!

One thing that I really, really, want to do is visit all of the National Parks. (Just the actual 56,(I think!) parks in US states. Not all 392 areas under the care of the National Park Service, and I'm not too worried about getting the the one in American Samoa or the Virgin Islands.) In order to accomplish this, and get the kids to as many as possible, we have started trying to go to at least one National Park a year. This is our second year. Last year we went to Great Smoky Mountains. We stayed in a cabin, and an 8 hour drive took more like 10, (Addie was only four months old, and required frequent nursing breaks!) but it went pretty great considering there were three little kids!

This year, we decided to visit Mammoth Cave. We chose this park because it had the least driving time. We are going on a big vacation later in the summer (Disney!), so we wanted to get our National Park trip in without it being a huge ordeal. We decided to camp in our tent. (Unlike Smoky Mountains, we didn't have to worry about bears!) Overall, the trip was really great, surprisingly kid friendly, and an easy weekend get-away.
We left Thursday night, after Cory got off work, and drove to Owensboro, KY. We stayed all night in a hotel, so we wouldn't have to set up camp in the dark. We left for the park Friday morning. After about an hour and a half, we had arrived! (Side note: Jack missed a half day of school on Friday to go on the trip. It was his only absence this year. It took a lot of convincing to get me to be okay with breaking his perfect attendance streak!)

It was a beautiful day. After we got the campsite all set up, we went on our cave tour! We chose the Frozen Niagra Tour. It was rated as the easiest tour to do with kids, and the tour with the most formations. It was amazing!
This was the formation that gave the tour its name.
When we walked into the cave, the boys were nervous, but soon were in awe of everything they saw. Before going in, Jack was really worried we'd see bats. After coming out of the cave, having seen one little bat sleeping, he said that was his favorite part. The tour was pretty kid friendly, with hand rails and lights. The ranger was very informative. After the tour, Jack asked if he could learn more about the "cave wars" the former private owners had over tourism rights. (At least he learned something while missing school!) That night, we went to a ranger talk about the birds in the park. The boys were really interested in it, because the ranger talked a lot about wild turkeys, which we had seen dozens of throughout the day. Moments after getting the kiddos to bed, a thunderous downpour began. But thanks to Cory's very thorough tent covering, we stayed dry all night!

There's a tent under there!
Saturday was rainy, so we decided not to camp another night. We enjoyed a driving tour during a break in the rain. We got to ride on a ferry, which the kids (and Cory!) thought was pretty cool.
A view of the Green River from the ferry.
We visited one of the churches that was left after the park officially became a National Park. (Over 500 families lived on the land and were forced to vacate when the National Park Service took over the area.)
Then, we made an impromtu trip to Nashville, only about an hour's drive from the park! We ate yummy barbecue, while the kids danced to the band, at Rippy's Smokin' Bar and Grill. Then we went to the best place to buy posters in the world, Hatch Show Print. I was pretty excited to get the two new posters that will soon be gracing our walls!
All in all, a pretty great trip! I am already thinking about next year's!

***A few tips on taking a trip to Mammoth Cave***
*We went on the campground's opening weekend, and did not need a reservation. Later in the season is busier, so it is reccommended to reserve a campsite before you go.
*You can purchase tickets for some of the cave tours before you go. However, none of the tours rated "easy" are available for pre-purchse. You must go to the visitor's center and purchase tickets after arriving at the park. They do sell out, so it is a good idea to make that your first stop.
*With the exception of the cave tours, all of the other ranger led activities are free! There were some really great activities offered!
*Pretty much nothing is allowed in the cave. No purses, diaper bags, food, drinks, camera bags, or backpack style baby carriers. There is a full list available on their website, and in the brochures you get at the park. Two exceptions are front style baby carriers (we took a Baby Bjorn in) and cameras not in a case.

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