One of the best-loved things about Missouri is that we have all four seasons. One of the unpredictable – yet still lovable – things about Missouri is we sometimes have them all in one day. But never fear – we also have the perfect solution:

go underground.

In addition to our nickname “The Show-Me State,” Missouri is also known as The Cave State…and with more than 6,300 recorded caves, it’s an apt title. The ingredient list needed to create a cave is very short: limestone, water, uneven land – pretty much a description of the state, particularly the Ozarks.

Photo: Matthew Smith

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We’ve been giving cave tours in Missouri for more than 100 years. Onondaga Cave in Onondaga Cave State Park has been a tourist attraction since 1897 and is celebrated for its colorful dripstones and flowstones, and the spectacular “lily pad” room.

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Meramec Caverns was a successful saltpeter (an essential ingredient in black powder) mine in the 1720s and hosted cave parties to escape the summer heat in the 1890s. Jesse James is believed to have used it as a hideout. In 1933, Lester Dill bought the cave and opened it to public touring. Come marvel at the 70-foot-tall “Stage Curtain” formation in the Theatre Room, around which Dill built his show cave.

Speaking of marvels, the deepest cave in the state is Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City in Branson. With nearly 600 stairs leading to the depths – the Cathedral Room is 300 feet below the surface –the tour of this National Natural Landmark is very strenuous.

Photo: Silver Dollar City

If climbing all those steps doesn’t appeal, enjoy the opposite experience at Fantastic Caverns in Springfield – the only ride-through cave in America. Enjoy the constant 60-degrees from a propane-powered tram, as you admire soda straws, cave pearls, massive columns, stalactites and stalagmites, all beautifully stage lighted. By the way, here’s a great trick to remember which cave formation is which: stalactites cling TIGHT to the ceiling, while stalagmites MIGHT grow that tall in time.

For a “literary” twist on show caves, visit Hannibal’s Mark Twain Cave complex – made famous in the novels of Missouri’s best-known author. The cave is also a National Natural Landmark and has been offering organized tours since 1886. Unlike the rest of the state’s caves, Mark Twain and the other Hannibal area caves are maze caves – a basically horizontal network of interconnecting passage loops. Part of the complex, Cameron Cave, is the third largest maze cave in the northern hemisphere.



The Cave You Fear to Enter Holds the Treasure You Seek

JOSEPH CAMPBELL



Let Smallin Civil War Cave sweep you underground and back in time. Guides tell stories of Native Americans carving steps into the cave and of the encampments of Civil War soldiers at the mouth. Be sure to observe the sharks’ teeth and shells embedded in the walls from when region was under the ocean. Every Saturday in October, special Civil War Cave Tours include a campfire dinner with costumed guides telling stories, followed by a cave exploration by lantern light.

We’ve just scratched the surface of what lies beneath the Show-Me State. Missouri boasts numerous “wild” undeveloped caves as well. Before you explore, please check regulations on your choice of cave. Some have bat populations that require protection during winter hibernation and are only open seasonally.

And remember, nothing – not heat or cold, not rain or snow – keeps travelers from a great Missouri adventure, just below the surface.

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