When you think of state and national parks in the South to include on your tours, it’s easy to get distracted by the heavyweights, like Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, the Appalachian Trail or the national seashores in North Carolina and Georgia.
But when you’re looking to create a unique experience for a group, especially a smaller one that would easily be lost in the traffic at these major sites, looking to some of the expansive but lesser-known parks in the South can offer a much more exclusive experience.
As many offer opportunities to mix cultural and historical education with natural vistas, you’ll create that “Oh, I didn’t know” moment for your group rather than simply helping check things off a bucket list.
So many sites in Europe are famed for their prehistoric cave complexes that it’s easy to forget about the one in our own backyard. Mammoth Cave National Park is named for its size, not the prehistoric animal; it is the longest known cave system in the world,. In addition to its status as a national park, Mammoth Cave is one of the 12 natural sites in the United States protected as part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
But learning about the early history of the cave, much of which is still being discovered daily, is one of the most unusual facets of a visit to Mammoth. For thousands of years, from around 4,000 years ago to around 2,000 years ago, prehistoric Native Americans mined these caves for minerals.
While archaeologists are still not sure what the minerals were used for or why the mining stopped, the ambient temperature and humidity inside the caves has mummified many ancient miners and explorers, providing an unprecedented look at prehistoric Native American society.
Depending on how much time your group can allow, the National Park Service offers tours of different lengths and depths, from one to six hours long, including options for exploring the caves by candlelight. The cave boasts a rich collection of cave flora, fauna and rock formations, so you’ll go far past the basic differences between stalactites and stalagmites, seeing and hearing about everything from rare cave shrimp to gypsum “flowers.”