Absolute darkness! That’s what you find in a cave. No matter how long you stare into the void, your eyes can never adjust to cave darkness; it will always be, well—dark. Exploring a cave sound exciting? Make no mistake; caves can be exhilarating, entertaining and educational.
Missouri is not known as “The Cave State” by mistake. The Show-Me State is home to thousands of recorded caves. Although the majority are not open to the general public, there are quite a few “show caves” in Missouri, where you can visit the ‘darkness’ as part of an escorted tour.
Marvel Cave, a Registered Natural Landmark, is deep beneath the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson. It is the deepest show cave in Missouri and has the largest tour-cave entrance room (the Cathedral Room) in the U.S. – fifth largest in the world. The cave’s entry room is 204 feet high, 225 feet wide and 411 feet long. In addition to the traditional guided tours, lantern tours into other regions of the cave are offered for a fee, by reservation. Read this VisitMO article to learn more: Marvel Cave is Truly a Unique Experience.
The most unusual cave tour in Missouri can be taken at Fantastic Caverns in Springfield. This is America’s only ride-thru cave – visitors take the mile-long, 55-minute tour in a Jeep-drawn tram which follows the path of an ancient underground river.
Four outstanding show caves are found within Missouri’s State Parks.
- Onondaga Cave is a National Natural Landmark located in Onondaga Cave State Park, five miles south of Leasburg, has been a tourist attraction since 1897.
- Cathedral Cave, also in Onondaga Cave State Park, offers slightly strenuous, lantern-light tours. Deep inside Cathedral Cave, you encounter a seismic station monitoring Missouri’s earthquake activity.
- Fisher Cave is one of more than 40 caves found in Meramec State Park, 10 minutes south of Sullivan. On these lantern-light tours, well-preserved bear claw marks, cave wildlife and massive columns 30 feet tall are a highlight.
- Ozark Caverns conducts tours by hand-held lanterns. In addition to the unique and breathtaking “Angel Showers,” bats, salamanders and interesting cave formations are features of this cave in Lake of the Ozarks State Park, nine miles east of Linn Creek.
Operated by the National Park Service, Round Spring Cavern, 16 miles north of Eminence, is a star attraction within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways National Park. Park rangers conduct two-hour tours by lantern-light.
The largest commercial show cave in Missouri, Meramec Caverns, three miles south of Stanton, is reputed to have been used as a hideout by Jesse James and his gang.
Scuba enthusiasts have a great opportunity at the world-renowned Roubidoux Spring Cave in Waynesville. The spring’s average daily flow is 37 million gallons, with water temperatures ranging from the upper 40s in winter to the low 60s in summer and fall. Roubidoux Spring is open to all certified cave divers.
Smallin Civil War Cave, 15 miles south of Springfield, was the first documented cave in the Ozarks. The regular guided tour lasts one hour. For a real adventure, Smallin Cave offers off-the-beaten-path wild cave tours, by reservation.
How about tying the knot inside Bridal Cave? More than 2,200 couples from around the world have exchanged their wedding vows in this stalactite-adorned, natural chapel (advanced planning is required). Regular cave tours are conducted. The cave, four miles north of Camdenton, is reachable by road and by water at the Lake of the Ozarks.
The Mark Twain Cave Complex, two miles south of Hannibal, is home to the cave author Mark Twain described in five of his books. Facilities include two very different caverns.
- Mark Twain Cave, first shown in 1886, is a Registered National Natural Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Cameron Cave remains the same as it was when it was discovered in 1925, with the exception of a few required safety features to satisfy Missouri’s show cave regulations. The cave is shown only by lantern-light.
Another unique experience is found in extreme southwest Missouri at Bluff Dwellers Cavern and Browning Museum, two miles south of Noel. Discovered in 1925, the cave has been open for tours every day since 1927. Substantial artifacts were discovered, including arrowheads, grinding stones, tools made of bone and skeletal remains of the early inhabitants, including American Indians; some items date to 5,000 B.C.
Here's a quick look at some other spectacular underground palaces listed on Missouri’s only official state tourism website, VisitMO.com:
Finding a cave to tour is an easy task in Missouri. As we said at the very beginning, Missouri is not known as “The Cave State” by mistake. Oh ... and all show caves, at some time during their tour, turn off the lights so you can experience absolute darkness.