Mammoth Cave Historic Entrance

A large cave entrance with a stair case leading down.
The Historic Entrance of Mammoth Cave

NPS Photo/ Deb Spillman

Quick Facts
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
The largest natural opening into the Mammoth Cave system and the site that has been used as the main entrance into the cave by Native Americans, saltpeter miners, cave explorers and travelers from all over the world.
National Park, National Register of Historic Places

Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Trash/Litter Receptacles

Located ¼ mile down the hill from the park visitor center, the Historic Entrance is the largest natural opening into the Mammoth Cave system. For thousands of years this site has served as a gateway to the underground world beneath the park. Prehistoric people first entered the cave through this entrance between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago seeking the resources of minerals the cave holds. Later saltpetre mining operations dominated the landscape near the entrance, eventually leading way to tourism in 1816. Since then, over two hundred years of guided cave tours have taken place at Mammoth Cave.  

John Houchins and the Bear 

Although the credit of the cave’s discovery belongs to the prehistoric Native Americans, the question remains as to how the cave came to the attention of European settlers in the area. According to legend, in the late 1790s a young boy named John Houchins, was out hunting for game for his family. He spotted a black bear roaming through the forest near the entrance of the cave, he took aim and fired. His shot failed to be fatal for the bear, only wounding the animal. The injured bear ran down the hill and took shelter in the cave, leading Houchins into the cave. The legend tapers off at this point, leaving unanswered the question of whether Houchins ever got his bear, but whether or not, Houchins gained the credit of the modern discovery of the great cave. 

Visiting the Historic Entrance 

The Historic Entrance of Mammoth Cave is viewable all hours, free of charge. To access this area, follow the paved trail down the hill behind the visitor center. The walk along this path travels 0.25 miles and takes about 5-10 minutes. Along the way there are wayside signs that describe the areas geology, and several benches are available. Please note that this trail has a steep incline and is not rated as wheelchair accessible. 

During the busy spring and summer season, the Historic Entrance can be a congested area. Large tour groups pass through this area about every 15 minutes at peak visitation. If there is not a tour entering the cave, you can travel down the 65 stairsteps and travel about 300 feet into the cave opening before reaching the gate.  

Mammoth Cave National Park

Last updated: February 2, 2022