Things to Know Before You Go Caving in Kentucky

Exploring one of Kentucky’s caves should be on everyone’s itinerary.
Exploring one of Kentucky’s caves should be on everyone’s itinerary. Photo © Matt Howry, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Exploring one of Kentucky’s caves should be on everyone’s itinerary. Before you show up for a cave tour, however, there are a few things you should know.

First, do your research in order to choose the tour that’s right for you. Are you interested in a history-based tour or a geology-based tour? Do you want to see enormous cave rooms or passageways thick with formations? Read the descriptions of the caves closely, and call the individual caves if you have questions about what you will see on a tour.

More important than picking the right cave based on your interests, however, is picking the right cave based on your abilities. Are you able to handle stairs, some of which might be slippery due to the constant dampness of the caves? Are you claustrophobic? Will you, physically or mentally, have trouble fitting through small spaces? Are you afraid of heights? Are you afraid of the dark? Do you have difficulty stooping over or crawling? Answer honestly, because it’s no fun for anyone if you get into a cave only to realize you can’t handle it. But don’t think that because you answered yes to one (or even all) of these questions, you have to rule out caving. With the variety of caves and tours in this area, you’ll find one that fits your style with just a bit of research.

Second, come prepared. Wear closed-toe, closed-heel shoes with good traction. A few caves have boardwalks, but in the majority of caves you’ll be walking on hard-packed dirt that can be rough and uneven. On spelunking-style tours, boots are required. Also remember that caves maintain a year-round temperature of 50-60°F. You’ll want to wear long pants and bring a light sweater or jacket with you regardless of the season. Leave bags and other accessories in the car. You’re allowed to bring your camera into Kentucky’s caves, but not camera bags or tripods. Finally, due to the threat of White Nose Syndrome, a disease that is wiping out entire populations of bats and that was found to have spread to Kentucky in 2011, do not wear into the caves anything that you might have worn into another cave. If you do, you could introduce the disease to the cave. This means that if you plan to tour multiple caves in the area, you need multiple changes of clothes (shoes can be decontaminated at stations set up at the caves). Although there’s no way for a cave to know that you are complying with this commandment, please, please do so. The lives of bats are at risk, and failure to comply could result in their deaths as well as caves being closed to the public.

Finally, never enter a cave on your own. Sinkholes and unmarked caves are located all across this region, which is part of what makes it such a neat place. You should not, however, explore one of these caves without a trained and knowledgeable guide and without permission of the landowner. Caves can be very dangerous and aren’t for casual exploration. To safely experience a cave, join a tour at one of the region’s many established sites.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Kentucky.