GETTING THERE: The closest major airports to the Kentucky park are in Louisville and Nashville, both about 11/2 hours away by car. Many major airlines fly from Washington to both cities, but you'll need a rental car to get to the park. Restricted round-trip fares to Nashville and Louisville begin around $125.
CAVE TOURS: The Wild Cave Tour, the most difficult and most expensive offering of the park's 12 tours, lasts six to 61/2 hours and costs $46 per person. Open only to ages 16 and older, the trip requires over-the-ankle boots and chest or hip measurements 42 inches or smaller; bigger people won't fit. Additionally, people who fear heights or close spaces should not take this tour.
Walking-only tours range from brief self-guided trips inside the "historic entrance" to 41/2-hour tours through major passageways; prices are $4 to $21. (See Information below.)
CANOEING: Six miles of the Nolin River and 25 miles of the Green River lie within park boundaries. Both rivers can be paddled. Rentals and transport to/from some river sections are available from Mammoth Cave Canoe & Kayak (1240 Old Mammoth Cave Rd., Cave City, 877-592-2663, www.mammothcavecanoe-k.com). Canoes are $45 for a half-day, $55 for a full day, $100 for two days.
WHERE TO STAY: Mammoth has three options for car camping. Maple Springs Group Campground, near the heads of Mammoth's backcountry trails, has sites suitable for groups of up to 24 for $30 per night. The other campgrounds are by the visitors center and on the Green River, near the Houchins Ferry crossing. They cost $16 and $12 per night, respectively. Reservations: 800-967-2283.
The Mammoth Cave Hotel (270-758-2225, www.mammothcavehotel.com) is near the park visitors center and offers options ranging from hotel rooms to cottages. The "hotel cottages" -- small, white buildings with heat and window air-conditioning units -- run $63 for a double and are available from mid-March to mid-October. Though they lack AC or heat, the "woodland cottages" have ceiling fans, wood floors and more charm. They're $48 for two people and are open from mid-May through September. The main hotel offers two types of accommodations: Heritage Trail rooms are $68 or $75 for a double, depending on whether the room is remodeled; Sunset Terrace rooms, in a low, ranch-style building nearby, are somewhat nicer and go for $78.
The owners of Mammoth Cave Canoe & Kayak run the Wayfarer B&B (270-773-3366, www.bbonline.com/ky/wayfarer) on its grounds. The inn has wood floors and a relaxed country decor, and no TVs in bedrooms. Doubles begin at $85.
For more basic accommodations, Cave City, a few miles from the national park, has a number of chain hotels. One of the newer ones is the Comfort Inn (801 Mammoth Cave St., 800-228-5150, www.mammothcave.com/comfinncavecty.htm). Doubles start at about $85.
WHERE TO EAT: Mammoth Cave's underground cafeteria is accessible only to tour groups on certain routes, so most eating will be done above ground. The Mammoth Cave Hotel (see above) houses the Travertine Restaurant and the Crystal Lake Coffee Shop. The Travertine, decorated with old photos of local life, has a hearty menu heavy on meats of various sorts. Entrees are $5 to $16. The coffee shop has soups and sandwiches, with prices in the $3 to $7 range.
If you want to venture outside the park, locals say the Sahara Steakhouse (413 E. Happy Valley Rd., 270-773- 3450) is Cave City's best restaurant. The decor is nothing flashy, but the menu has plenty of meat and seafood. Entrees $10 to $29.
Closer to the park is Joe's Diner (1004 Mammoth Cave Rd., Cave City, 270-773-3700), with a jukebox and a lunch counter. Burgers, sandwiches, and other diner fare will run you $3 to $7.
INFORMATION: Mammoth Cave National Park, 270-758-2180, www.nps.gov/maca.
-- Ben Brazil