Great Onyx Cave

Useful Information

Great Onyx Cave, U.S.A. Public Domain.
Early Artificial Entrance, Great Onyx Cave, U.S.A. Public Domain.
Gypsum Crystals, Great Onyx Cave, U.S.A. Public Domain.
Location: 5 km northeast of Mammoth Cave, near Cave City.
Highways I-65, 31W, 31E from the North;
Blue Grass Parkway, the Cumberland parkway, and U.S. 68 from the East;
I-65, 31W, and U.S. 68 from the South;
U.S. 231, The Green River parkway, and the Western Kentucky Parkway from the West.
All connect with Ky. 70 and Ky. 255 to the park.
(37.218666, -86.077633)
Open: Visitor Center: APR to mid-AUG daily 8-18:30.
Mid-AUG to OCT daily 8-18.
NOV to MAR daily 8:30-16:30.
Closed 25-DEC.
Fee: Great Onyx Lantern Tour: Adults USD 23, Children (6-12) USD 18, Pass Holder USD 11.50.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: gas lanterns provided
Guided tours: VR=10 m, St=40., D=2.5 h, L=1,600 m. Max=38.
Photography: allowed, no flash, no tripod
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Anonymous (n.d.): Great Onyx Guide Manual, Mammoth Cave National Park Library, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, n.d.
Kay F. Reinartz (n.d.): The Great Onyx Cave War: Edwards v. Lee, Manuscript, Mammoth Cave National Park Library, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, publication data unknown.
Bruce Ziff (2012): The Great Onyx Cave Cases - A Micro-History, 46 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2012 Last revised: 6 Apr 2012. DOI online
Frederic R. Siegel (1965): Aspects of Calcium Carbonate Deposition in Great Onyx Cave, Kentucky, Sedimentology, 4 (1 965) 285-299. DOI pdf
Address: Mammoth Cave National Park, P.O. Box 7, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259, Tel: +1-270-758-2180, Fax: +1-270-758-2349.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1914 L.P. Edwards starts the search for a cave on his ground.
12-JUN-1915 discovered by Edmund Turner and L.P. Edwards.
1916 opened to the public with one route named The Flower Route.
1923 Second tourist route to the Lucikovah River opened for tours.
1926 cave managed by Lucy Edwards Cox, daughter of L.P. Edwards, and her husband Perry Cox.
1929 F.P. Lee sues L.P. Edwards for trespassing under his land.
1936 finial judgment in the case Lee/Edwards.
1941 Mammoth Cave National Park established, Great Onyx becomes an inholding.
25-NOV-1960 Great Onyx Cave and property sold to the National Park Service for $365,000.
1975 Great Onyx Tour opened.


Great Onyx Cave, U.S.A. Public Domain.
Great Onyx Cave, U.S.A. Public Domain.

Great Onyx Cave is one of numerous caves in the Mammoth Caves area. It was discovered after a planned search, but there were two persons involved, and it is not clear how the thing exactly happened. One story tells, that the existence of caves in the area was well known, so the landowner L.P. Edwards wanted to find a cave to make a show cave. As he could not find any cave he asked the caver Edmund Turner for help, who discovered the cave one year later. The second story says that Edmund Turner knew there was a cave under the land of L. P. Edwards and he made a proposition to him, to show him where to dig, if he got a share in the cave's ownership in response. After less than a year the cave was discovered and an artificial entrance built. Turner died soon after, probably of pneumonia, and Edwards claimed that he discovered the cave.

This cave was opened to the public in 1916, as a direct competitor to Mammoth Cave, which started the so-called Kentucky Cave Wars. Numerous cave owners of the area tried to get rich with a show cave. This escalated in 1920, and ticket offices were burned, false cops redirected the tourists to other caves, signposts were stolen or replaced and so forth. The whole situation became worse and worse, so in 1941 Mammoth cave was closed completely for the public.

Today things have settled, and there are no wars any more. Great Onyx Cave is toured on lantern tours only, guided by the Mammoth Cave staff. The guides tell legends of the 19th and early 20th century explorations and the disputes which preceded the installation of the Mammoth Cave National Park. And of course the story of Floyd Collins is told, who was trapped in a cave quite near Great Onyx for 17 days. Rescuers attempted unsuccessfully to save him and so he finally died in the cave. Obviously a story which is very impressive if told in a dark cave in the flackering light of lanterns.

Another strange story from this era is famous amongst lawyers. The owner of Great Onyx Cave charged tourists to enter the cave entrance on his land and then guided them through the cave extending below both his own surface land and that of his neighbour. His neighbour F. P. Lee sued him, and so Great Onyx Cave became the subject of a famous restitution case. Kentucky's highest court was called for restitutionary compensation. The decision was: you own what is under your land. As a result L.P. Edwards had to pay approximately $25,000. The court decided that 2,048 feet of the 6,490 feet long cave tour, about one third, was under F. P. Lees land, and so he got about one third of the cave revenue. (Edwards v. Lee's Adm'r, 265 Ky. 418, 96 S.W.2d 1028, 1936).