Thursday, March 23, 2017

Biking Kentucky's Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike Trail

Mammoth Cave National Park now has a bike trail!  

In 1859, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad opened its mainline between these two cities, and the line was only 8.7 miles from the Mammoth Cave tourist attraction which first began cave tours in 1816. (Yes, cave tours have been offered for over 200 years, surpassed in our country only by Niagara Falls as the nation's oldest tourist attraction!) After the Civil War, as many as 50,000 tourists rode the train and then switched to stagecoaches to travel to the cave, and in 1886, the rail line to the caves became operational. In 1904, the first automobile drove to the cave, hinting at the future, and in 1931 the train made its final run.

The trail is NOT a rail-trail. It follows the approximate route of the  former railroad, but it is not uniformly flat like most converted rail trails. This trail has three very steep uphill climbs that need to be walked by most riders. The development of state and park roads replaced sections of the old rail line, necessitating re-routes up high hills.

The trail runs about 9 miles to the town of Park City, formerly called Glasgow Junction. It begins near the park campground, not far from the Mammoth Cave Hotel. The trail is mostly crushed gravel with a few boardwalk sections, and I found it in good condition. A mountain bike or hybrid bike works best.

Photos can not depict the steepness of the grade, but your body will know! Don't be afraid to walk all or part of the uphill -- we call that cross training!

I was here in March so only the evergreens had color. When the entire forest blooms, I'm sure it is magnificent!

Sloan's Crossing Pond is called "A wet place in a dry land" and was caused by a sinkhole that filled with water and now provides a bit of an oasis. There is a .4 mile boardwalk encircling the pond, with benches at several points.

There are four cemeteries along the trail. Below is a photo of the Locust Grove Cemetery which is on the trail and adjacent to the park entrance road. Another cemetery, the Furlong Cemetery, is on a spur trail at the top of the westernmost steep grade. The Shackleford and Zion Cemeteries are more at either end of the trail. There are scores of cemeteries in the park where over 1800 people lie in rest. A database of the cemeteries is here.

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