15 Remarkable Facts About Mammoth Cave

One of the most famous cave complexes in the world is located in the United States, and in this list, we’ll present some of the most interesting facts about Mammoth Cave.

Mammoth Cave is for the biggest part located in Edmonson County. Minor parts are also stretching into the Hart and Barren Counties in central Kentucky in the United States.

It’s part of the Mammoth Cave National Park and was first opened to the public as a tourist attraction on July 1, 1941.

The Mammoth Cave has been established as a world heritage site in 1981 and an international Biosphere Reserve in 1990.

Let’s take a closer look at all the facts about Mammoth Cave so you get a better understanding as to why this is such a remarkable place to visit.

1. Mammoth Cave is the biggest in the world

The Mammoth Cave National Park has a total surface of 52,830 acres (21,380 ha). Inside the park, the Mammoth cave complex has over 400 miles (640km) of surveyed passageways.

This makes Mammoth Cave the longest known cave in the world, and much bigger than the second-longest known cave in the world, Mexico’s Sac Actun underwater cave.

Map of Mammoth Cave
Map of Mammoth Cave / Wiki Commons

2. Mapped out by slaves

Mapping out a huge cave as Mammoth Cave was no easy job. Back in the 19th century, people couldn’t rely on GPS yet to know exactly where they were, nor could they enter data in their computers.

The majority of the mapping was actually done by slaves, including a mixed-race slave named Stephen Bishop who discovered a lot of passageways.

Even after Stephen was freed, he continued to work as a tour guide in the cave in the 1840s and 1850s.

Stephen Bishop
Stephen Bishop / Wiki Commons

3. Mammoth Cave Cemetary

Outside the cave, there is a cemetery called “The Old Guides’ Cemetery.” This contains the graves of old people that helped discover the passageways inside the caves and the initial guides.

In the early 19th century, tuberculosis patients were also sent to the cave as people believed that the conditions inside the cave would be beneficial. Those people are also buried in this cemetery.

Obviously, the grave of the main explorer who discovered a lot of passageways, Stephen Bishop, can be found there.

Mammoth cave cemetary
Grave of Stephen Bishop on the South Hill above Mammoth Cave / Source

4. History of over 5,000 years

Evidence of humans entering the cave has been verified, as mummies of native Americans were found both in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The remains found were put in the cave intentionally and were most probably part of a burial ceremony. It has been determined this was done in the pre-Columbian era.

Apart from human remains, other signs of people entering the cave have been found, such as drawings, cane torches used by Native Americans, gourd fragments, and woven grass moccasin slippers have been found inside the cave.

One of the greatest mysteries is the fact that apart from these ancient finds, there haven’t been any signs of humans entering the cave in more recent periods. Scientists have no answer as to why this is.

Ancient drawings in Mammoth cave
Ancient drawings in Mammoth cave / Source

5. Mammoth Cave Discovery

The first European to ever set foot in Mammoth Cave was either John Houchin or his brother Francis Houchin.

The family claimed that John Houchin actually found the cave during a hunting expedition. This is however unlikely as he was only 10 years old at the time.

Either way, while hunting a bear suddenly attacked, and while hiding from the charging bear, the entrance of the cave was discovered.

Entrance of Mammoth Cave
Entrance of Mammoth Cave / Wiki Commons

6. Tragedy inside Mammoth Cave

During the exploration and mapping of the cave, a lot of people have lost their lives. Many slaves that did the initial work died inside the cave, and a lot of Tuberculosis patients took their last breath there as well.

Perhaps the most remarkable incident happened in early 1925 when cave explorer Floyd Collins found himself trapped in a small passage of the cave 55 feet (17M) below the ground.

In the initial 4 days, rescue workers were able to provide Floyd Collins with food and drinks until a big stone made the cave partially collapse. Floyd died of starvation 2 weeks later, just 3 days before the rescue workers were able to reach him.

Floyd Collins Grave
Floyd Collins Grave / Wiki Commons

7. Mammoth Cave was privately owned

For over a century, Mammoth cave and the land it’s in had been privately owned. In 1924 however, citizens formed the Mammoth Cave National Park Association.

The National Park was finally authorized on May 25, 1926.

This wasn’t without a hassle though, since there were thousands of people living within the borders of what became the Mammoth Cave National Park.

The land was acquired by the right of eminent domain, and often legal battles ensued as landowners felt they were compensated way too little for their properties.

Because of all the legal hassle, the area was only declared a national park officially on July 1, 1941.

8. More caves are to be discovered

Even though Mammoth Cave is already the longest cave complex in the world, researchers are positive that there are more caves in the area that haven’t been discovered yet.

Back in 2005, a connection into the Roppel Cave has been mapped which added another 3 miles to the total length of the cave.

While this is true, discoveries are pretty rare since it involves very risky behavior. New techniques, however, could make it safer to take this risk, allowing new caves to be mapped and added to the cave complex.

9. Tourist Attraction

Mammoth cave is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. In fact, it’s the second most visited site every year.

0ver 600,000 people visit the Mammoth Cave National Park every year, and of those 600,000 visitors, over 450,000 go on a guided cave tour.

Don’t like to get overrun by people in a famous tourist spot?

Make sure to pick a day off-season to avoid the masses of people visiting the cave!

Mammoth Cave Tour
Cave Tour / Daniel Schwen / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

10. Mammoth Cave and Flint Ridge connection

In the 60s it has been discovered that parts of the Flint Ridge Cave System and Mammoth Cave were interconnected.

In 1972, more extensive research has actually confirmed this, and the two complexes have been merged as one huge cave complex.

The Flint Ridge cave system contained 144.4 miles (232.4 km) of surveyed passages and had fourteen entrances, which means the site expanded tremendously because of the merger.

Since then, the official name is actually the “Mammoth–Flint Ridge Cave System.” even though most people simply refer to the cave as the “Mammoth Cave.”

River Styx
River Styx / Daniel Schwen / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

11. Unique species inside the cave

In 1990, the site has been put on the list regarding biospheres that need to be preserved.

Mammoth Cave is not solely a magical underground world for tourists to see, it’s also home to animals that can only be found inside it.

Some examples are:

  • Albino Shrimp
  • Kentucky Eyeless Cave Shrimp
  • Southern Cave Fish
  • Indiana Eyeless Crayfish
  • Indiana Bat
  • Eastern Pipistrelle Bat

The Kentucky Cave Shrimp, Indiana Bat, and Gray Bat are all considered to be endangered species and only a small number live in the cave.

Bats in Mammoth Cave / Source

12. Digging for Saltpeter

The Jefferson Embargo act of 1807 banned all foreign trade of Saltpeter, with the result that domestic prices skyrocketed.

During the war of 1812, the American army was painfully short of saltpeter. Some savvy investors who bought the cave a bit earlier started to extract saltpeter from the cave on an industrial scale.

About 70 slaves were continuously digging for calcium nitrate of which gunpowder can be fabricated.

Saltpeter Vats / Wiki Commons

13. World Heritage List

Back in 1981, the Mammoth Cave complex has been added to the list of World Heritage Sites from UNESCO.

To be added to the list, a site must not only be classified as an important landmark already, but it must also have “cultural, historical, scientific or any other form of significance.

Having this title allows it to be legally protected by international treaties.

14. A natural wonder of the United States

Many sources have or are stating that Mammoth Cave is one of the seven natural wonders of the United States.

If you have ever visited the cave, you will surely agree on that.

15. Amazing scenery inside Mammoth cave

To emphasize why Mammoth Cave is considered one of the 7 natural wonders in the United States, let’s take a look at some of the scenery from within the cave.

Rotunda Room in Mammoth Cave

Wiki Commons

Historic signatures on the ceiling of Gothic Avenue

Wiki Commons

Staircase tower in Mammoth dome

Daniel Schwen / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

Stalactites and stalagmites inside Mammoth Cave

Stalactites and stalagmites inside Mammoth Cave
Wiki Commons