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Mammoth Cave National Park


J-Squared
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Anyone done any backpacking in Mammoth Cave National Park?  I'm looking for a "beginners" trip to do with a friend that wants to try it but doesn't want to do big miles.  It looks like it would be easy to put together a 3 day/2 night loop trip with 4-5 mile days.  Any sites or trails better than others?  How hard is it to get a permit in April/May?  Thanks in advance!

JJ

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Aaron Zagrodnick

Unfortunately no intel I can share but if you do head out that way let us know how it goes! Always had Mammoth Cave NP in mind as a possibility for a quick trip with my dog - at least last time I looked it was one of the few national parks that allows dogs on backcountry trails.

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Mark Wetherington

Better late than never, and since your trip isn't until April/May I figured I'd chime in . . . I looked at an updated map and it appears that there have been significant re-routes of the trail system as Mammoth Cave National Park, so some of the routes I wanted to suggest won't work anymore. Anyways . . .

I've done several backpacking trips in Mammoth Cave National Park, but none within the last five years. The backpacking in the park is OK, but the horse traffic can make some of the trails less than ideal for hiking especially in wet conditions. I would strongly recommend going to the Red River Gorge or Big South Fork over Mammoth Cave National Park. Permits are much easier to obtain for the RRG or BSF and do not limit you to specific campsites. That way if your friend doesn't want to pack up and move one day, the weather is bad, etc. you can just stay put. Also, I think those areas have better camping and more stunning scenery, mile for mile, than the trails at MCNP do.

That said, I do have fond memories of backpacking at MCNP during my early years as a backpacker. The Bluffs Campsite and Raymer Hollow are particularly nice campsites, at least in my opinion. Ferguson Campsite isn't very remarkable, but there are some cool karst features nearby.  Maybe start at Maple Springs Trailhead and do the first night at Bluffs and the second night at Turnhole Bend? There are some nice wildflowers that time of year in the park.

If you decide to go to RRG or BSF instead, let me know . . . I've spent a lot of time in those areas and could help you out with trip planning.

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Thanks Mark!  I am not set on Mammoth Cave at all.  I'm more interested in great scenery and nice campsites. Ease of obtaining permits would be a plus.  I've done some day hiking in RRG and it was beautiful!  I've never been to BSF but I've seen pictures.  I'm definitely open to suggestion on hikes there.  A loop trail would be more practical unless there are shuttles available.  Because I will have a couple newer hikers, I want to keep the mileage reasonable.  I'm thinking 5-10 miles/day depending on terrain.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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Mark Wetherington

You're welcome.

You would have some good options in the RRG doing a loop using parts of Rough Trail, Pinch-em-Tight Trail, the Sheltowee Trace, and Buck Trail. Maybe about 12 miles total but some nice ridgetop campsites on spur trails and nice creekside camping, too, if you want to do that one night. Fantastic scenery but lots of people. I've seen several trailheads there on the same day with 15-20 cars in them :o . . . in an area with only 70 miles of official trails, even the most conservative equations used to run those numbers result in an answer of "a ton of people".

Personally, I think one of the best backpacking loops in Kentucky (and its only a partial loop, about 11 miles total with some backtracking) is using the Sheltowee Trace to hike up to Van Hook Falls and then doing a loop using the Rockcastle Narrows East Trail to return to Van Hook Falls. No permits needed and a great trail. Similar to the RRG but with fewer people, a great waterfall (nice lunch spot on the hike in) and some nice creek/river scenery. Some nice camping near the Rockcastle Narrows (Class III rapids and a boulder-strewn river). Van Hook Falls should be flowing well in April/May. This area is near London, KY . . . you park at the Sheltowee Trailhead at KY-192/KY-1193 and then hike north on the Sheltowee Trace.

Here is a shot of the campsite and the Rockcastle River; the river is just through the trees:

8117370925_08b81e0ea3_c.jpg

8117378012_84b3426037_c.jpg

This a pretty mellow route and is a great trip for new backpackers, in my opinion . . . not too tough, but still gives you a good feeling of accomplishment and of being out in the "wild". The fact that it is pretty short also means that you can take your time on the trail, arrive at camp early, and have plenty of time and energy to build a fire (I don't really build many fires anymore, but new backpackers seem to dig them) and/or explore around camp. This route is also short enough to where if you wanted to just camp at the same spot both nights and explore (I can point you in the right direction for some off-trail sights) for a day rather than packing up and hiking you could do that. Sometimes new backpackers just want to enjoy the scenery rather than spend time packing up camp and setting up. Just a thought.

Another nice trip in that general area is a point-to-point hike using the Bark Camp Creek Trail and the Sheltowee Trace. It's only about 10 miles total but has a nice series of cascades (Bark Camp Creek Cascades), a side trip to Dog Slaughter Falls, and two shelters to stay at. I thought Star Creek Shelter was the nicer of the two, to be honest. The shelters are oddly spaced, they are only 3 miles or so apart. This would be a great one-night trip or a very leisurely two-night trip. There aren't that many great spots for camping between the two shelters, just a heads up. You also end your hike at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, which has a neat lodge and you can get a good meal there. For the logistics, you would park at Cumberland Falls and have Sheltowee Trace Outfitters drop you off at the trailhead. It was $30 for a shuttle in 2014. Here are two trip reports I did on backpacking that route:

http://alternativepinnacles.com/sheltowee-trace-march-2014-1/

http://alternativepinnacles.com/sheltowee-trace-march-2014-2/

There are some nice hikes and loops in the BSF, but given what you mentioned you were looking for I'd feel more comfortable suggesting the above options.

Note: Edited to add some pictures.

Edited by Mark
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The Bark Camp Creek and Sheltowee Trace sound really nice.  I'm in northern Indiana so it'd be a bit of a drive.  I'd like to make it a 3 or 4 day trip.  I know the Sheltowee Trace is a long trail, would be possible to make a longer hike by adding some miles on it?  A point-to-point trail would be fine if a shuttle is available.  I really like the cascade falls!  I've not done much off-trail hiking but this looks like it might be a good place to try it out.  Another option I might consider is doing the short version and camping a couple nights at Cumberland Falls.  I was there years and years ago and saw a moonbow.  Thanks for the suggestions and the blog post links!

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Mark Wetherington
16 hours ago, J-Squared said:

The Bark Camp Creek and Sheltowee Trace sound really nice.  I'm in northern Indiana so it'd be a bit of a drive.  I'd like to make it a 3 or 4 day trip.  I know the Sheltowee Trace is a long trail, would be possible to make a longer hike by adding some miles on it?

You could start at the Mouth of Laurel Trailhead and hike from there to Cumberland Falls. Not sure about the mileage though, might push it closer to 15-20 miles. You'd still pass Bark Camp Creek Cascades and the other waterfalls and could camp at the shelters. I've never done that route so I don't have any information, but from what I've seen/heard the Bark Camp Creek Trail is more scenic than the trail between Bark Camp Creek and the Mouth of Laurel Trailhead.

For what it's worth, I would not recommend camping at Cumberland Falls. The campground is crowded and has little appeal (but maybe I'm just spoiled from nicer campgrounds). The Bee Rock campground a bit north of there is much nicer in regard to spacing and scenery from the campground. Also closer to some great trails (Bee Rock Overlook, Van Hook Falls/Sheltowee, etc).

This might be a good three-night/four-day option . . . Camp at Bee Rock Campground your first night and explore the trails around there. Spend the next day doing a day-hike trip to Van Hook Falls (doing all or part of the route I described above) . . . spend the night at the campground again . . . then do the Bark Camp Creek Trail/Sheltowee Trace route. You would be able to combine the best of both worlds with this strategy, in my opinion.

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Before Mark even mentioned it, I was going to suggest the Bee Rock area. I did a quick overnight with my 4 year old this past summer. Did not get to do much exploring, but there are a couple trails in the area, the Forest Service has some maps of the campground and trails. http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dbnf/recreation/recarea/?recid=71039

 

http://backpackandbeer.blogspot.com/2015/07/boys-trip-to-bee-rock-ky.html

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Thank you Mark and wspscott!  I will definitely look into those options.  Like I said, I'm still in the early planning stage and have not committed to anything other than heading south for a spring hike.  I want to keep it to a day's drive which puts me in the Kentucky/Tennessee regions.  I will certainly check out Bee Rock Campground. 

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