Mammoth Cave Dispersed (Primitive) Camping – White Oak Campsite

In mid-May, my boyfriend Will and I adventured to Mammoth Cave National Park for a weekend, hiked the White Oak trail, and camped overnight. The hike and campsite weren’t exactly what we were hoping for, but all in all we had a nice time. I wish we had gathered more information about the campsite beforehand instead of blindly choosing it, so hopefully our experience can provide some insight for others in the future.

The White Oak Trail

After getting your backcountry permit from the Mammoth Cave Visitor Center, you’ll take 15-20 minute drive to the White Oak trailhead. The route is scenic and you’ll cross the ferry on the way.

Since the trail just goes to the White Oak campsite, you shouldn’t see any other hikers on the journey. Our hike was very quiet, save for the sounds of nature.

We were warned about ticks from a park ranger and did see a couple of them, so come prepared with long pants and bug spray.

One thing we didn’t anticipate was the mud – the first mile (of 2.6 miles) had some pretty muddy spots, and getting the edges of your shoes wet was unavoidable. I would recommend wearing boots for the hike, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.

The second mile was a lot nicer than the first (by “a lot nicer”, I really mean, “a lot drier”). No mud to be seen, and some very pretty stretches of forest. There were some downed trees here and there, but nothing too crazy.

The final stretch of the hike was a bit more difficult, with the terrain becoming rocky, hilly, and there being more tree roots to watch out for. It wasn’t too bad, but we were relieved when we finally arrived at the campsite.

The White Oak Campsite

We chose this campsite for its proximity to the Green River. The view did not disappoint.

However, it was difficult to go down to the river itself. There was a steep hill which you could scoot down to get the bank, which was also muddy and didn’t have a good spot to sit. We did manage to make it to a tree and sit there for a while, but it wasn’t the most comfortable.

Another downside is that the campsite is right across the river from a boat launch. A truck carrying kayaks could be heard jangling down the road every so often, and boaters could be seen and heard as they departed down the river. Since we were really hoping for peace and tranquility at our campsite, this noise was a big letdown. However, it started to quiet down in the early evening and we had a peaceful nighttime.

If you are visiting in the warmer months, an inflatable inner tube could be a fun toy to bring so that you can spend time on the river. We were only able to dip our feet into the muck at the edge of the river, and wished we could go swimming or float around. If you have a kayak or canoe, you could even drive to the boat launch and row across to the campsite if you aren’t into hiking.


Overall, we had a nice time at the White Oak campsite, but wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for something completely secluded. However, if you’re okay with some noise, it’s a truly beautiful spot to camp.