Just one mile from the popular Mammoth Caves is a gem that should not be overlooked.
For more than 150 years, Diamond Caverns has offered tours into an underworld of stalagmites and stalactites. You can see more formations here than on most tours throughout the tunnels at Mammoth Caves. The hour-long tours through Diamond Caverns are intimate, ours being less than 10 people including the guide, providing opportunities to ask many questions and have many picture-taking moments.
Walking up and down the stairs (noticing a pattern in exploring caves?) and through these caverns on a 1/2 mile trail you’ll notice one unique attribute: this cave is alive. Yes, alive. You can hear and see the water dripping, and see the river that flows through the place.
You’ll feel it falling on your head or shoulder and realize these formations are still growing and have been for thousands of years.
At one time, they used to hold wedding ceremonies in these caverns. You can see the altar during the tour and realize just how small these ceremonies must have been. They were definitely standing room only, with enough foot space for maybe five people to watch the couple recite their lines in front of the pastor.
Mammoth Caves and Diamond Caverns were in good relations. When the railroad was developed, Diamond Caverns was a major stop on the line and tourists could visit both attractions in the same day.
However, once the automobile decided to ride the roads, more people went straight to Mammoth Caves, passing by the others. With more than 15 caves in the region, competition soon got the better of them.
The result: Kentucky Cave Wars.
Local cave owners would use harsh tactics to attract visitors to their caves, such as false advertisements or spreading rumors about Mammoth Caves. In the Diamond Caverns you will be able to see some of the results of the Cave Wars where people snuck in and actually broke formations.
To bring some focus on Diamond Caves, improvements were made. Electrical lights were modernized, the wooden stairs were upgraded to concrete and a bridge was added. Above ground, the lodge was made bigger and cabins were added to make the destination an authentic tourist attraction.
Sadly, it wasn’t until the tragic death of infamous spelunker Floyd Collins that people flocked to Cave City. He was trying to discover a new cave but soon became stuck after a rock fell, trapping his leg. Rescuers made several attempts over time to reach him, unable to use explosives in fear of a cave-in. People from all over drove their cars and camped out to watch the ordeal, others sent him food in glass jars. Unfortunately, a collapse did occur before the rescuers could save him. His death brought national media attention to all the caves and soon after, Mammoth Cave National Park was established as well as a healthy relationship among the other caves.
Diamond Caves faced transformation for many following years, including a growth in size after explorers found more passages, being hit by a tornado, new owners, as well as the re-naming to its current title, and much more. It is the fourth-oldest commercial cave in the United States and is still aging with evidence of each slow drip of water falling from its formations. Do not drive past this jewel!