A road trip from Chicago to Mammoth Cave National Park is an easy trip through the Midwest which is bookended by opposing worlds. You begin the trip in Chicago, Il, the third-largest city in the US and by far the largest in the Midwest. The trip ends in Mammoth Cave National Park, a huge area of rural scenic beauty. The two couldn't be more different.
Starting in Chicago, there is no shortage of things to do. Regardless of the time of year, you should be able to catch a game from one of their many professional sports teams, be it baseball, hockey, football, basketball, or soccer. There are also many great theme parks in and around the city. These include the indoor Safari Land and Six Flags Great America outdoors. Finally, there is a vast array of city tours, museums and cultural sites located throughout the city.
RV park options in the city are exceptionally limited but this is a good thing. Chicago is notorious for low clearance bridges and traffic congestion, which can cause an RV traveler major headaches. Also, many of the roads around Chicago are toll roads which can get exceptionally expensive with heavy multi-axle vehicles. Instead, keep the RV outside the city and drive in with a smaller vehicle. A good choice for an RV park to stay in is Cedar Lake Ministries RV Park which is located just over the Indiana line. They have great amenities, are close to the city, and provide easy access to I-65 for a painless start to your journey to Mammoth Cave.
To get to Mammoth Cave simply take I-65 South, which will take you all the way to the park. Along the way, you'll pass through Indianapolis, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky. There are several points of interest on this trip which are worth a stop.
27 miles south of the Cave City, KY exit on I-65 you will find the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY. While this side trip is about 30 minutes past the exit for Mammoth Cave, it is worth the trip for several reasons.
First, this is an excellent museum with first-rate exhibits detailing the history of America's sports car. Throughout the museum, there are shining examples of early and rare production Corvettes as well as several prototypes that you won't see anywhere else. There is also a great gift shop where you can gear up with the latest Corvette garb.
If you are a Corvette owner you may even be able to find some missing pieces to your car. They sell reproductions of some common items like owners manuals which can be hard to find elsewhere. There is also an extensive library section where you can research the history of specific vehicles.
Next, there is actually a historical tie-in to your Mammoth Cave visit here. In the early morning hours of Feb 12th, 2014 a massive sinkhole formed in the main display room causing the floor to collapse. Eight rare Corvettes were swallowed up in the hole. Those cars were recovered and the showroom was repaired, all are now part of a display memorializing the event. While this is not considered part of Mammoth Cave, the sinkhole illustrates how the geology in the area allows underground caverns to form. It also shows how large of an area that geology extends through, which is why Mammoth Cave is so large.
Finally, across the street is the Bowling Green Corvette Factory. Factory tours are available at certain times. If you would like to see how the cars are produced in person then check to see if there are any tours available during your visit.
Anyone who has ever played baseball is familiar with the name Louisville Slugger. These are the baseball bats we all grew up with and here is where they are made. The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is located in downtown Louisville in the Museum Row area. The museum is full of baseball and Louisville Slugger memorabilia dating back to the company's founding as a general wood shop in the early 1850's. There are also several tours of the factory available ranging from the general public tour to two private tour options which they call the “All Star Experience”. These tours take you from the forests where the wood for the bats is harvested straight through to the finished product.
There are several RV parks to stay at in the area. One of the closest ones to the Museum Row area is Louisville North Campground. It is only 3.1 miles away, or about a 10 minute drive, from all the attractions in the area.
Indianapolis, Indiana is home to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which hosts the Indianapolis 500 Indy Car race in May of each year. It also plays host to the Brickyard 400 Stock Car race and several other events throughout the year. This venue is legendary in the motorsports world which has earned it the moniker of “The Racing Capital of the World”. If you can visit during one of the major racing events then by all means do, they can be quite a spectacle. If not, then a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is the next best thing.
The museum is located within the oval of the speedway so visiting the museum also allows you to see the raceway facilities. The exhibits within the Hall of Fame and Museum contain over 100 years of motorsports history. The exhibits include IndyCar and NASCAR racing as well as formula one, short track and drag racing. All in all, this is an excellent visit for American motorsports history.
The Raceview Family Campground is a good choice for a stopover. This highly-rated park is just a few miles from the raceway.
Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the longest known cave system on earth. Underground here snake over 400 miles of known caves, with more being discovered every day. Above ground, there are over 53,000 forested acres of land over rolling hills. Seventy miles of trails provide and 13 backcountry campsites offer the opportunity to explore the park in peaceful solitude. The Green and Nolan Rivers provide waterways for kayaking and canoeing.
This park is one of the few major parks without an entrance fee, so you can enjoy all of the above-ground attractions including the excellent visitors center for free. To generate revenue, the park relies on fees from ranger-guided cave tours. Those tours are your only option for exploring the caves and there are several options available throughout the year. One of the best tours is the Violet City Lantern Tour, where you spend three hours trekking three miles through the historic sections of the cave by lantern light. There are a couple of sections that are steep but all in all it's not a difficult three-mile trip. At the end of the tour, you exit the cave to a waiting bus which drives you back to the visitor's center.
There is a campground within the park for camping by tent or RV which is located near the visitor's center. There are 111 sites available, 109 of which can be reserved in advance. If that campground is full, or if you can't find a suitable spot for your gear, then consider the Singing Hills Campground. It is located right off Mammoth Cave Road between I-65 and the park entrance. This is an excellent family-run park that is quiet and offers great access to both the park and the shopping/restaurants in the area.