Missouri, especially the Ozark Mountain area, is known as the Cave State – it has 6,000 explored caves. Except Riverbluff Cave, MO all other caves are popular tourist attractions and many are locations for concerts, weddings (popular at Bridal Cave), and other events. Caves are particularly popular during hot Missouri summers when entering a cave with permanently cool temperatures is a big part of the pleasure of visiting them. While most of the caves are explored on foot, some, like Fantastic Caverns, have jeep-pulled trolleys. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Hours/availability may have changed.
1. Bluff Dweller's Cave
2. Bridal Cave
3. Meramec Caverns
4. Devils Well
5. Fantastic Caverns
6. Mark Twain Cave
7. Marvel Cave
8.Meramec State Park and Fisher Cave
9.Onondaga Cave State Park
11. Riverbluff Cave
11 Best Caves in Missouri
- Bluff Dweller's Cave, Photo: Bluff Dweller's Cave
- Bridal Cave, Photo: Courtesy of macropixel - Fotolia.com
- Meramec Caverns, Photo: Meramec Caverns
- Devils Well, Photo: Courtesy of pramot48 - Fotolia.com
- Fantastic Caverns, Photo: Fantastic Caverns
- Mark Twain Cave, Photo: Courtesy of Bryan - Fotolia.com
- Marvel Cave, Photo: Marvel Cave
- Meramec State Park and Fisher Cave, Photo: Meramec State Park and Fisher Cave
- Onondaga Cave State Park, Photo: Courtesy of macropixel - Fotolia.com
- Ozark Caverns, Photo: Courtesy of tempus_fugit1980 - Fotolia.com
- Riverbluff Cave, Photo: Courtesy of macropixel - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Teressa - Fotolia.com
The caves have been used historically by the native peoples as homes and sanctuaries, and later as hiding places for outlaws such as Meramec Cavern. They were used as speakeasies during the Prohibition, which is true for Fantastic Cavern, and have served as sources of minerals. Today, they are enjoyed by thousands of visitors for their unsurpassed natural beauty and fascinating geological formations thousands of years old.
Attraction Spotlight: Marvel Cave
Marvel Cave is located on top of Rock Mountain in Stone County, near the city of Branson, Missouri. Human discovery of the cave dates back to the 16th century, when, according to legend, a group of local Osage indigenous people in pursuit of black bears fell through a sinkhole into what is now referred to as the cave’s Cathedral Room. The hunting group named the cave Devil’s Den for its population of bats and its high temperatures. Following the expedition, the cave remained unoccupied until the mid-19th century, when a group of vigilantes known as the Bald Knobbers were said to have used it to dispose of their victims’ bodies, though this claim has been disputed by local historians. The first known expedition setting out to purposefully explore the cave was embarked on in 1869 by mining magnate Henry T. Blow, who believed that the cave’s Shoe Room ceiling contained marble. Though the supposed marble deposits turned out to be limestone, the expedition earned the cave the name Marble Cave. Mining operations were temporarily set up in 1884 by the Marble Cave Mining and Manufacturing Company, which mined the cave’s limestone until 1889. During mining operations, the town of Marmaros sprung up around the cave, though it was destroyed by fire in 1889.
That year, the square mile of land surrounding the cave was purchased by William Henry Lynch, who converted the cave into a show cave tourist attraction. Following Lynch’s death in 1927, the cave’s name was changed to Marvel Cave. In 1950, the cave was purchased by Hugo Herschend, whose wife and sons took over daily tourist operations following his death in 1955. Throughout the next few years, the Herschend family recreated the nearby Marmaros mining village on top of the cave’s surface and opened it as the Silver Dollar City public attraction. In 1972, following Genevieve Lynch’s death, the cave was bequeathed to the First Presbyterian Church of Branson and the College of the Ozarks, though it continued to operate under the supervision of the Herschend family.
Today, Marvel Cave is operated by Herschend Family Entertainment as part of the Silver Dollar City amusement park. It is one of the state of Missouri’s largest caves and one of the Ozark Mountain region’s longest-running public tourist attractions, offering daily guided public tours. The cave is operated daily between mid-March and January and is available for tours only with paying Silver Dollar City ticket or season pass admission.
Notable features within the cave include the Cathedral Room, one of the largest entrance rooms of any cave in North America, which measures 411 feet long by 225 feet wide and is accessible via a 94-foot sinkhole. The cave’s Dungeon passage leads to its Mammoth Room, which is home to sizeable populations of Eastern Pipistrelle, little brown, and big brown bats. Past the Mammoth Room, a Lakes Passage showcases Genevieve and Miriam Lakes, while a Serpentine Passage connects to the Egyptian Room, which was mined for its limestone ceiling in the late 19th century. Other rooms in the cave include the Spring Room, which features waterfalls and orange calcite deposits, the Cloud Room, which showcases a dolomite ceiling, the Mystic River Passage and Mystic Pool Room, and the Waterfall Room, the cave’s lowest room which receives water from the Lost River. The cave is also home to the Gulf of Doom pit, the Harold Bell Wright and Mud Passages, and the Elves Chamber, which marks the cave’s exit. Notable formations within the cave include the Liberty Bell stalagmite, the Sentinel column, and Blondie’s Throne.
Two tours of the cave are offered, including a Traditional Tour that takes tour groups of 60 through the original cave tour route offered by the Lynches in the late 19th century. Traditional tours last approximately 60 minutes and explore the sights of the Egyptian Room, Lakes Passage, and Spring Room. Since 2006, a Lantern Light Tour has also been offered, which explores attractions via lantern light and lasts approximately 90 minutes. Lantern tours add exploration of the Mammoth and Waterfall Rooms and focus on the cave’s history and folklore.
Silver Dollar City
Marvel Cave is operated as part of the Silver Dollar City amusement park, which originally opened to the public in May of 1960 as an extension of show cave tours recreating the mining town of Marmaros. The amusement park has grown to become the Branson region’s top visitor attraction, offering more than 40 rides and attractions, including Time Traveler, the world’s fastest looping spinning coaster, and the looping wooden coaster Outlaw Run. In addition to high, mild, and family thrill rides, the 1880s-themed amusement park offers 12 restaurants, 60 shops, and crafting demonstrations by more than 100 southern crafters and tradesmiths. The park is operated by Herschend Family Entertainment, which also operates the Dollywood amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Silver Dollar City, 399 Silver Dollar City Parkway, Branson, MO 65616, Phone: 800-888-7277
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Attraction Spotlight: Bluff Dweller’s Cave
Located near Noel, Missouri, Bluff Dweller’s Cave is a 4,000-foot show cave offering public guided tours, a gem mining attraction, a natural history museum, and overnight inn lodging. Bluff Dweller’s Cave was formed during the Paleozoic Era from sediment deposits of Mississippian-age fossiliferous limestone, which was raised above sea level and carved by erosion during the Ozark Uplift.
Continued erosion from groundwater flows created a 4,000-foot-long series of passageways, which eventually became cavern pathways once the groundwater drained. The caves were first explored by the Bluff Dweller indigenous people, who sheltered in caves in the region during the Archaic Period as long ago as 8500 B.C. Approximately 2,000-3,000 years ago, the cave was sealed due to a landslide, capturing indigenous artifacts such as grinding stones and arrowheads within the cave. The cave was rediscovered during the modern era by Arthur Browning in 1925, who enlisted the help of highway department surveyors Bryan Gilmore and Bob Ford to excavate the cave’s entrance. Following its excavation, the region became a notable archaeological site within the Ozarks. In 1927, the cave was opened to the public for guided tours. In 1958, the attraction business was taken over by Browning’s daughter, Kathleen, who added the Browning natural history museum to the attraction. In 1991, Browning’s younger sister, Reita Bunch, took over business operations and added an inn to the facility for overnight visitor accommodations.
Today, Bluff Dweller’s Cave is owned and operated by third-generation Browning family members as a public attraction show cave, offering guided tours and a variety of family-friendly attractions. Only half of the cave is open to the public for tours, with the remaining half closed for preservation and archaeological reasons. The cave is open to the public throughout the year, with the exception of major national holidays, and offers seasonal summer and winter schedules for its attractions.
Guided tours of the cave are offered year-round, lasting approximately one hour. All tours are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, with tour group size limited due to the narrow size of some of the cave’s passageways. Group rates are available with advanced reservations for licensed nonprofit and educational organizations with 10 or more participants. The cave is kept at a constant 56 degrees Fahrenheit year-round and is not handicap accessible due to the narrow nature of its pathways.
A wide variety of natural features are showcased within the 4,000-foot-long cave, including stalagmites, stalactites, cave coral and sponge, flowstone, rimstone, and sawtooth draperies. The cave’s centerpiece is its 75-Foot Rimstone Dam, which forms the cave’s crystal lake. At 22.8 meters long and 30 centimeters high, the dam is one of the longest of its kind in the state of Missouri. Other notable features include the cave’s Musical Chimes, a series of draperies that produce a drum-like sound when reverberated, and a 10-Ton Balanced Rock which can easily be moved with two fingers. An Antique Cave Duck figurine has been placed within the cave for more than 75 years, perched along a naturally-formed “duck pond” area. Visitors may also spot several species of salamander within the cave, including Western slimy, grotto, dark-sided, and Oklahoma salamanders, along with tri-colored, big brown, and little brown bats and bristly cave crayfish.
In addition to the cave, several other family attractions are offered, including a gem panning activity area for young visitors to mine bags of cave dirt for gemstones or fossils. All bags are guaranteed to have at least one item to discover, and visitors may take home all finds from gem pans. The attraction’s Browning Museum offers a wide variety of natural history displays, showcasing indigenous Bluff Dweller artifacts collected from the cave and surrounding region, including arrowheads and grinding stones. Minerals, rocks, and fossils collected throughout the region and the country are also displayed, along with a variety of local artifacts and antique items connected to the Browning family and the history of the attraction’s operation. A gift shop offers a variety of unique souvenirs, including crystals, jewelry, and apparel.
Overnight visitor accommodations are available at the Cavern Inn, which is located within the renovated historic home of the Browning family. Four bedrooms are available at the inn year-round, with each suite offering a private bathroom. A handicap-accessible suite is available on the first floor, offering a queen-size bed. The inn features a fully-equipped kitchen, large front porch, and outdoor barbecue grill which may be used by visitors. Rentals for individual rooms or the full inn are available via phone or email.
163 Cave Rd, Noel, MO 64854, Phone: 417-475-3666
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Attraction Spotlight: Meramec Caverns
Located near Stanton, Missouri, Meramec Caverns is a 4.6-mile-long cavern system offering guided cave tours, family-friendly outdoor activities, and lodging and campground options. Meramec Caverns are a 4.6-mile-long cavern system located within the Ozark Mountains near the city of Stanton, Missouri.
The caverns were formed more than 400 million years ago from the erosion of limestone deposits within the Meramec Valley. Though the caverns had been used for centuries by indigenous Americans as a place of shelter, they were first discovered by European settlers in 1720, when a crew led by French explorer Philipp Renault found the caves after shoring off the Meramec River. Renault named the cave system Saltpeter Cave for its abundance of saltpeter deposits, and throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the cave was a disputed territory due to the mining of its resources. According to local legend, the cave was used by famed outlaw Jesse James as a hideout throughout the 1870s, though there is not historical evidence to support this claim.
During the 1890s, the cave was used as a location for summertime cave parties to allow local residents to avoid the region’s summer heat, which earned a portion of the cave the nickname “The Ballroom” due to its large open space used as a dance floor. In 1898, the cave was purchased by Charles Ruepple, who formed a dance committee that met within the cave’s ballroom. In 1933, Lester Benton Dill purchased the cave from Ruepple for the purposes of creating a family-friendly attraction offering guided cave tours. That same year, Dill discovered an additional wing of the cave, which was nicknamed the “Stage Curtain” and “Theatre Room.” Additional room discoveries in 1941 and 1947 led to the current formation of the cave’s public structure. Throughout the late 20th century, the cave was featured in several feature films, including 1972’s Tom Sawyer and 1998’s Deep Impact.
Today, Meramec Caverns is operated as a family attraction, offering educational guided cavern tours for visitors of all ages. All tours are led by trained rangers and take visitors along lighted walkways, offering information and anecdotes about the cave’s formation, history, and major structures. Notable areas within the cave include the fifth-level Wine Room, which is home to a rare onyx aragonite formation known as the Wine Table for its unique natural three-legged support. The room takes its name from its grape-like botryoid clusters and is considered one of the rarest cave formations in the world. A large sheet wall of formations is known as the Stage Curtain, which is located adjacent to the cave’s Theatre Room. Other notable rooms include the historic Ballroom, used for public parties and dances in the late 19th century, the reflective Mirror Room, which creates an optical illusion of a water depth of up to 50 feet, and a Hollywood Room, noted as the filming site for several films and television shows.
In addition to cavern tours, a variety of family-friendly outdoor activities are offered at Meramec Caverns, including a Zip Line Adventure, added to the attraction in 2018, that offers an hour-long course traversing the Meramec River region. Half-hour Riverboat Rides are offered aboard the Cavern Queen I and II, transporting 25 passengers for excursions available between April and September. Six or 11-mile Canoe Floats are also available, along with weather-permitting raft and kayak rentals. For young visitors, the Meramec Mining Company gold-panning attraction is available, allowing children to pan for pyrite rocks, fossils, and gemstones. A Mine Store also allows visitors to purchase gemstone jewelry and rock-related gifts.
Southern fare is served at the attraction’s home-style restaurant, which seats up to 250 and offers private rentals in a group dining room. Catering options are available for private special events, including outdoor barbecue and picnic catering options and box lunches for tour groups. Homemade fudge is served at Granny’s Candy Store, along with 28 varieties of homemade ice cream. Several lodging options are offered at the attraction, including the Meramec Caverns Motel, which is open between April and October and is located within nearby LaJolla Natural Park.Meramec Caverns Campground also offers trailer hookups, barbecue pits, showers, and restrooms for campers and RVs. A concession stand, sheltered pavilions, and a playground are available for use by all campground visitors.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Meramec Caverns offers a variety of educational programming for K-12 students, including curriculum-incorporated field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary school groups. All school tours last approximately 80 minutes and include a showing of an introductory speology documentary and a free miniature workshop on topics related to natural sciences and geology. Scouting programs are also offered for scouting troops of all ages and ranks, with activities tailored to meet requirements for geology-related badge completion.
1135 Highway W, Sullivan, MO 63080, Phone: 573-468-CAVE
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