Erosional forces that formed the cave system have also shaped the landscape of this entire region. Rivers, bluff, sinkholes, cave entrances, and ridge tops all provide a variety of habitats in which are found a number of distinct plant and animals communities. Relatively small but specialized habitats, such as wetlands and old growth forest, contribute disproportionately to both the park's and Kentucky's biological diversity. Predominantly wooded, the park features mostly second-growth forests. Small areas of relatively undisturbed old-growth forest, rare in Kentucky, can also be found. Beech trees dominate the ravine flats, joined by tulip poplar and sugar maple on lower and middle slopes. White and black oaks, along with 3 species of hickory, define upper slope forests.
Forests of Mammoth Cave National Park are home to a variety of wildlife. Eastern white-tailed deer are frequently seen browsing along roadsides, and flocks of wild turkey are not an uncommon sight in the park. Walking on some 73 miles of trails in the park may be rewarded with the sights and sounds common to the eastern hardwood forests. Squirrels, chipmunks, and raccoons are the most commonly seen animals.
As the base level stream of the region, the Green River is central to the formation and health of the Mammoth Cave system. Known as one of the most biologically diverse rivers in North America, the Green River contains 82 fish species. Gravel bars of the upper Green River are critical habitat for freshwater mussels, one of the most endangered groups of animals in the US. More than 50 species are found within the park, 7 of which are listed as endangered. Another 4 are being considered for the list. The banks of the Green River and its largest tributary in the park, the Nolin River, abound in wildlife. Deer, wood ducks, turtles, kingfishers, and great blue herons are frequently seen.
Mammoth Cave National Park contains a number of smaller more specialized habitats, that provide the conditions for various plant and animal communities. Small ponds and stream banks provide wetland refuges for at least one rare sedge, several rushes, bladderwort, arrowroot, and the lance-leaved violet. Sinkholes and cave entrances provide moist microclimates for plant species different than those found in drier uplands. Native grasslands species, once characteristic of much of western and central Kentucky, can be found in isolated patches and along park roadsides. Sandstone gorges containing hemlock, yellow birch, umbrella magnolia, and holly are found in the northern part of the park.
It is easy to think of Mammoth Cave National Park in 2-parts, the below-ground world of the cave system and the above-ground realm of forests and light. However, these 2 parts are simply different pieces of a greater whole, unified by the forces of nature that continue to form the cave, shape the landscape, and nurture their biological communities.
A quick drive and an easy walk will show you some of the park's most beautiful scenery. Take a picnic, stroll the circle of Sloan's Crossing Pond Nature Trail and listen for bullfrogs, green frogs and red-winged blackbirds among the cattails. Descend into Cedar Sink to look through a window into the way water travels beneath the ground, then go to Turnhole Bend Nature Trail and find out where and how that same water joins the Green River. In season, drive the Joppa Ridge Motor Nature Trail and peer into the deep valleys. The Joppa Ridge Motor Nature Trail is open seasonally. Inquire at the Visitor Center before visiting Joppa Ridge.
Mammoth Cave, as its name suggests, is the world's most extensive cave system, with over 300 miles of passages that are known and more that have not been explored. Located in central Kentucky, this subterranean phenomenon was created more than several million years ago as water worked its way through limestone deposits, dissolving the rock and carving underground passageways to connect with the nearby river. Over the ages, the water table slowly dropped leaving narrow horizontal tunnels, broad caverns and giant vertical shafts linked in a many-leveled labyrinth. The lower passage ways are still being enlarged by streams and rivers. Water seeping into the cave creates stalactites, stalagmites and white gypsum crystal formations that decorate some of the passages and rooms. See the Cave Tours for more information.
Rare and unusual animals, such as blind fish and colorless spiders, demonstrate adaptation to the absolute blackness and isolation. Having evolved over millennia, 50 species of cave creatures are now threatened by pollutants that are entering the cave system from today's water supply. Mammoth Cave is an incredible natural phenomenon that continues to challenge humankind. (Inscribed in 1981)
For information on Animals, Bats, Birds, Fish, Plants and more, see the Park Information Pages.
There are 70+ miles of trail on the North Side. Hike here and you may not see another living soul. Seek solitude in the rugged hills and deep valleys, camp by river, lake or waterfall, explore bluffs and ridgetops. Ride horses along these backcountry trails or guide yourself on a spelunking trip into Ganter Cave. Drive the scenic routes of Houchins Ferry Road and Little Jordan Road. Seek out the Big Woods, one of the few remaining stands of old-growth timber in Kentucky.
Check out the Hiking Page for more information.
Bicycles are allowed in the park on the park roads. There is also a bike trail however, bicycles are not permitted on the trails in the park. The bike trail is a mile-long gravel trail that connects Loop B of Headquarters Campground with the Carmichael and Violet City Entrance Road.
East Entrance Road
Flint Ridge Road
Houchins Ferry Road
Joppa Ridge Road
Little Jorden Road
North Entrance Road
Park Ridge Road
South Entrance Road
West Entrance Road
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