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  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Domes & Dripstones Tour in Mammoth Cave National Park

With more stairs per mile than any other cave tour in Mammoth Cave National Park, the Domes & Dripstones Tour is certainly a memorable one. Featuring towering domes and seemingly bottomless pits, grand rooms, beautiful rock formations, and windy passages, it often ranks near the top of most casual visitor's lists of the best experiences in the park. Highlighted by a steep descent through narrow passageways, the tour is nothing short of spectacular and should be near the top of everyone's list when visiting the park.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

Bathrooms No

Water No

Stairs Around 550 descending, 200 ascending

Duration 2 hours


The tour kicks off with a 10 minute park shuttle from the visitor center to the New Entrance, which sits at the top of a large, yet unassuming sinkhole. From the entrance, the tour immediately begins a long descent into the depths of the sinkhole's drain via a network of intricate, maze-like passageways.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

As the descent unfolds, the passageways progressively narrow, barely extending beyond shoulder width. Beautifully water-sculpted cave walls hug the staircases as they twist and turn, further and further and further down.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

A few brief flat sections give pause to the seemingly endless descent.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

True to its name, the tour traverses through expansive domes, like Roosevelt's Dome, a towering limestone dome standing at 130 feet tall. Named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, a pioneering environmentalist who oversaw the preservation of nearly 200 million acres of national forest and parkland, the dome stands as one of many impressive domes highlighted during the tour.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

The tour also passes beside deep pits, such as Silo Pit, a 160-foot deep hole midway through the descent. The formation of both domes and pits within Mammoth Cave persists through the gradual process of water flowing down from the surface along limestone joints. This process, spanning millions of years, has shaped the formations visible today.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

After descending nearly 300 feet beneath the surface, the path levels out once more, winding through dim passages just before reaching the deepest point of the tour, Grand Central Station.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

Upon arriving at Grand Central Station, park rangers take a few moments to delve into the room's history and provide insights into the cave's past, including the room's discovery by cave developer George Morrison in the early 1920s.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

After Grand Central Station, the tour resumes with a slight ascent along several paved pathways and numerous stairs, leading to Big Break, where a substantial amount of fallen cave ceiling rock has littered the floor. Shortly thereafter, the tour arrives at Fairy Ceiling, where rangers once more share insights into the cave's history and answer questions visitors may have.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

Beyond Fairy Ceiling, the tour progresses through level, subway-like passages, including an area known as Flat Ceiling.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

Then, the tour passes through a large room known as Lover's Leap. Here, the path follows beside a large pointed rock projecting over a hollow, more than 30 feet deep. The feature acquired its name when, in bygone years, young women would request their partners to take the "Lover's Leap" as a demonstration of their love. To date, it has not been attempted.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

A look back at Lover's Leap gives a better view of the projecting rock slab along the right side of the path.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

After navigating more subway-like passages, the tour proceeds through College Heights, a sizable, dimly-lit chamber, and eventually arrives at Thanksgiving Hall, renowned for its beautiful colors. The passage was given its name after a small formation said to resemble, oddly enough, a Thanksgiving turkey.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

Shortly after Thanksgiving Hall, the tour arrives at Frozen Niagara, perhaps the park's most well-known formation. Here, a 48-step staircase leads beside it.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

Midway down the staircase, it makes a 90-degree turn, providing arguably the most spectacular view of the colossal formation. The stats on Frozen Niagara are impressive, with dimensions of 43 feet in width, 70 feet in height, and a thickness of 32 inches. Considering that these formations are thought to grow at a rate of 1 inch per 1,000 years, Frozen Niagara has undergone a process spanning at least 800,000 years to reach its current size.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

Following the staircase's 90-degree turn, the Drapery Room awaits visitors roughly 20 steps later. The aptly named room provides breathtaking views in all directions, with the upward perspective being particularly extraordinary.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

Space in the Drapery Room is slightly confined, but well worth the minimal effort and wait.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

An endless sea of arthritic fingers hang from above.


Domes & Dripstones Tour

After ascending the stairs back to the top of Frozen Niagara, the tour resumes through various sections of cave such as the Onyx Chamber, Rainbow Dome, Crystal Lake, Onyx Colonnade, and eventually to the Frozen Niagara Entrance. For information about these areas and the conclusion of the Domes & Dripstones Tour, check out our Frozen Niagara Tour in Mammoth Cave National Park article. Just be sure to read it backwards from the end.

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