10 Missouri Caves & Caverns to Explore For an Underground Adventure
Looking to take an underground adventure in the state of Missouri? There are many wonderful caves you can visit, depending on visitor ages, and skill levels. In this article, we take a deeper look at some of the most popular caves you can visit when looking for an outdoor adventure in Missouri!
Last updated: August 22, 2023
8 min read
Missouri, also known as the Cave State, is home to over 7,000 caves offering a plethora of breathtaking subterranean landscapes just waiting to be explored.
From intricate cave formations to the deep sense of history hidden within their walls, these underground wonders never cease to amaze both locals and tourists alike. This article will guide you through 10 must-visit caves in Missouri that promise unforgettable experiences.
Each of these caves showcases unique features and geological formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, and even rare species of bioluminescent fish.
No matter your goals, there are caves for a variety of different skill levels and interests. They provide a number of different of recreational activities, including guided tours, self-guided expeditions, hiking, photography, canoeing, and even spelunking for adrenaline-seekers.
Ready to learn more? Let’s jump in and unearth the hidden gems lying in the depths of Missouri’s bedrock, and prepare to immerse yourself in an otherworldly experience that will leave you in awe!
Marvel Cave is one of Missouri’s most popular underground attractions. Nestled beneath the beautiful Ozark Mountains, this breathtaking cave is a must-visit destination for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike.
The cave’s fascinating history dates back to the 1800’s when it was discovered by Henry T. Blow, a resourceful local hunter.
Visiting Marvel Cave is an exhilarating experience as it boasts an extensive labyrinth of chambers and tunnels. The most impressive of those is the Cathedral Room, which is one of the largest cave entrances in North America.
The cave itself measures about 204 feet high, 225 feet long, and 410 feet wide. Simply put, it’s massive.
Noteworthy features of Marvel Cave include:
- Spectacular formations such as the Liberty Bell, Crystal Palace, and Balloon Ballroom
- A 50-foot tall waterfall called Waterfall of Wonders
- Towering limestone columns reaching up to 70 feet
Marvel Cave offers guided tours that cater to various levels of fitness and interests. The Traditional Cave Tour is a one-hour walking tour involving over 600 stairs, making it suitable for those who are physically fit and are looking for an active exploration.
Another option is the Lantern Light Tour, which takes place in the evening and provides an atmospheric, old-fashioned experience using only lanterns to light the way.
Safety measures are in place during all tours, ensuring that visitors can fully enjoy the magnificent wonders of Marvel Cave without any concerns.
Located in central Missouri near the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks, Bridal Cave is a stunning natural attraction for cave enthusiasts and tourists alike. The cave takes its name from the Native American legend of a wedding ceremony held in the cave’s grand chamber, undoubtedly adding an element of romance to its story.
As visitors explore Bridal Cave, they’ll notice a plethora of fascinating geological features. The cave boasts a wide variety of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and soda straws, all of which reveal the passage of time through their colorful composition.
One of the noteworthy formations inside the cave is known as the ‘Mystery Lake,’ sparking the curiosity of explorers.
For those seeking an organized experience, guided tours are available daily throughout the year. Led by professional and knowledgeable guides, these 60-minute tours not only showcase the natural beauty and geological formations of Bridal Cave but also provide fascinating insights into its history and legends.
Accessibility is a key focus at Bridal Cave. The cave accommodates a well-lit concrete walkway, ensuring a comfortable and safe experience for visitors. Additionally, there are no stairs within the cave, making it easy for individuals of all ages and mobility levels.
Meramec Caverns, located in Stanton, Missouri, is a popular and fascinating destination for cave enthusiasts. With a rich history dating back to the early 18th century, this cave system boasts a variety of breathtaking formations and captivating underground features.
One of the cave’s main attractions is the “Wine Table,” a massive, flat-topped column more than 20 feet tall, resembling a fine banquet table. In addition, the “Mirror Room” leaves visitors in awe with its highly reflective pool of water, creating an illusion of a larger, more expansive cavern.
Meramec Caverns also played a significant role in American history. During the Civil War, the Confederate Army used the cave as a hideout and source of gunpowder. Later, the infamous outlaw Jesse James and his gang sought refuge within the caverns, utilizing its hidden passages and chambers to elude capture.
Guided tours of the caverns ensure that visitors have a safe and informative experience while exploring the wonders of this underground marvel. In addition to the tours, the surrounding Meramec Caverns park offers various outdoor activities such as camping, canoeing, and zip-lining for a complete adventure.
Onondaga Cave, a stunning natural wonder, is located in the heart of Missouri within Onondaga Cave State Park. This remarkable cave boasts an array of breathtaking underground rock formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones.
The cave’s history dates back to the early 20th century when its formation became known. Since then, it has been a popular destination for cave enthusiasts, due to the immaculate condition and impressive size of its features. The presence of an underground river, the Meramec River, further adds to the cave’s allure.
Some of the highlights of the Onondaga Cave tour include:
- King’s Canopy: a massive shelf of flowstone resembling a royal canopy
- Lily Pad Room: an area with calcite formations resembling lily pads
- Queen’s Canopy: a delicate and beautiful array of stalactites and draperies
The guided tours are suitable for visitors of all ages and take about 90 minutes to complete. They operate seasonally, from April to October, providing ample opportunity for exploration. Plan to wear comfortable shoes and bring a light jacket as the cave’s temperature remains steady around 57°F.
To ensure that the Onondaga Cave remains preserved for future generations, visitors are encouraged to respect the cave’s fragile ecosystem by adhering to the guidelines provided by the park staff.
Mark Twain Cave
Mark Twain Cave, located near Hannibal, Missouri, is named after the famous American author who immortalized the cave in his classic novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
The cave features hundreds of winding passageways, with beautiful formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors can enjoy guided tours that delve into the history of the cave and its connection to Mark Twain himself.
Along the tour, guests might learn about the outlaw Jesse James’ purported connection to the cave, and the many prehistoric artifacts found within its depths.
Image Credit: Jonathunder via Creative Commons (Image use allowed with attribution)
Cameron Cave, situated just a short distance from Mark Twain Cave, and is part of the same cave complex. It offers a different but equally fascinating experience. This cave is less developed and more rugged, providing a more natural experience for adventurous visitors.
Tours through Cameron Cave are conducted by lantern-light, adding an element of discovery and mystery to the experience. The cave boasts a large array of unique formations including flowstone, columns, and soda straws – providing a visual treat for spelunkers.
Stark Caverns are located near the town of Eldon, making it conveniently accessible for visitors. The caverns feature intriguing stalactite and stalagmite formations, which have formed over thousands of years.
Before it was discovered by Charles Stark, it’s believed that it was well known to Native American tribes who used it for food storage. It also housed cattle, and later on, church services were even held inside the cavern.
The cave has a clean water supply, which came in handy during the prohibition era in the United States. Moonshine makers used the freshwater pools to make moonshine, and the caverns were also used as storage.
The caverns offer guided tours that provide a wealth of information about the cave’s history and geology. The knowledgeable guides ensure that visitors have an engaging and informative experience while exploring the depths of Stark Caverns. In addition to the dazzling formations, the cave is also home to fascinating fossils and various cave-dwelling creatures.
For those seeking adventure, Stark Caverns offers more than just a stroll through the cave chambers. Visitors can sign up for the Adventure Tour, which allows them to crawl through passageways, traverse tight spaces, and uncover hidden sections of the cave. This thrilling experience is not for the faint of heart, making it perfect for adrenaline junkies and adventure-seekers alike.
When planning a visit to Stark Caverns, it is essential to be prepared for the cave’s conditions. The temperature inside the cave is consistently around 57°F, so visitors should dress appropriately with layers and comfortable footwear. The paths can be slippery, so it’s crucial to wear non-slip shoes for a safe experience.
Image Credit: bk1bennett @flickr (Image use allowed with attribution)
Fantastic Caverns, located near Springfield, Missouri, is a captivating, must-visit destination for cave enthusiasts. As the only ride-through cave in North America, it offers a unique experience through its underground beauty. The cave was discovered in 1862, but the thrilling tram tours began in the 1960s, allowing visitors of all ages to appreciate its natural formations with ease.
The cave’s temperature remains a constant 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it a perfect destination, regardless of the weather outside. The formations inside Fantastic Caverns are awe-inspiring, with stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones showcasing the power of time and geological processes. Gigantic limestone columns reach up from the cave floor, impressing visitors with their sheer size and weight.
One notable feature of Fantastic Caverns is its commitment to environmental conservation. The cave is home to several species, including three types of bats, opossums, and cave salamanders. To preserve the delicate ecosystems, the caverns are diligently protected and maintained.
In addition to the tram tours, Fantastic Caverns hosts numerous special events, such as educational programs, concerts, and private events. These events enable visitors to further experience the wonders of the cave and learn about the remarkable geology and history of Missouri’s caves.
Bluff Dwellers Cave
Located in the beautiful Ozark hills of southwestern Missouri, this cave system has been enjoyed by thousands of cave enthusiasts since its public opening in 1927.
The cave boasts a variety of unique attractions that are sure to impress even the most seasoned cavers. Inside, visitors are greeted by an impressive array of stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones that have been formed over millions of years.
The cave also features the “Mystery Lake,” a small underwater pool that reflects the natural beauty of the cave’s formations.
Visitors to Bluff Dwellers Cave can participate in guided tours offered daily. These tours last approximately 45 minutes to an hour and are led by experienced, knowledgeable spelunkers. They are designed for all ages, making it a great destination for families, school groups, and even experienced cavers looking to expand their knowledge about Missouri’s diverse cave systems.
Aside from its natural beauty, the cave holds a significant historical value as well. Artifacts discovered inside the cave indicate it was inhabited by prehistoric Native Americans over 12,000 years ago. These findings include arrowheads, pottery fragments, and tools, which serve as a testament to the area’s ancient and complex history.
Image Credit: WM Chamberlain via Flickr; Not modified (Use allowed with attribution).
Smallin Cival War Cave
This quaint cave is located in the Ozark mountains. The cave spans 55 feet in height, and is over 100 feet in width. Regular tours are hosted that are around an hour in length.
This cave tour is well known for it’s accessible features, including a paved area that winds through the cave. You’ll also see several historic artifacts for the history buff that decided to tag along for more than just the cave.
Now that you’ve learned about some of the most popular caves you can explore on your next visit to Missouri, it’s time to plot your course, and start exploring! No matter which caves or caverns you decide to visit, Missouri has plenty of different options for travelers of all skill levels.