Missouri is know as “The Cave State” because it contains the most caves of all America’s states, only second to Tennessee. Even so, Missouri contains 6,300 known caves that invite visitors to delve into an enchanting underground world of delicate wildlife, beautiful rock formations and striking colored minerals.
Spelunking and cave tours are a year round activity, especially for those in the Ozarks. If you’re new to the area or have never explored the underground caverns that span Missouri’s beautiful landscape, here are some answers to the questions you might be asking yourself.
Why does Missouri have so many caves?
The thousands of Missouri caves are a direct result of what’s known as Karst topography. Watersheds.org defines it as, “a landscape created by groundwater dissolving sedimentary rock such as limestone.” This kind of topography typically results in caves, sinkholes and tunnels but also makes for a strikingly beautiful landscape. Have you ever noticed the beautiful hills in Branson? That’s Karst topography for you!
Over the years, the many caves of Missouri did not remain empty but were rather filled with inhabitants of all kinds. Bears found them particularly inviting for hibernation, native Americans used them for shelter from harsh weather and moonshiners were able to maintain a covert operation under cover of the land. Today, some of these caves may be blocked off for the safety of the public and the wildlife within it but many of them are open for public tours, especially in the Branson area.
What kind of wildlife will I find inside a cave?
Some animals just use the entrances of caves for hibernation, safety or reproduction but don’t actually live underground. Mammals like raccoons, wolves and bears are examples of that. But there are many animals that actually thrive inside caves like snails, blind cave fish and spiders. Much of the wildlife inside caverns are almost too small to see but one microorganism you might be able to spot is actually a bacteria called actinomycete. If you happen to spot a group of florescent, shiny rocks, don’t think you’ve hit the jackpot and discovered diamonds. Because in reality, you’ve spotted actinomycete!
The Branson area offers a variety of cave exploration opportunities that are perfect for the whole family. Check out one of these great options, all in Branson or within 45 minutes of the city limit.
Located in Springfield, Missouri, these caverns offer the only ride-through cave tour in America. Perfect for young children or older guests who prefer to sit instead of walk through the caverns, you’ll hop on a Jeep-drawn tram and explore the beautiful rock formations beneath the Earth.
The foundation for the popular family-oriented amusement park Silver Dollar City is actually Marvel Cave. Long before the rides and attractions of Silver Dollar City were even built, visitors were flocking to the Ozarks to venture 500 feet below the earth’s surface. Today, you can still explore Marvel Cave when you visit Silver Dollar City. Just be prepared to climb nearly 600 stairs back up to the cave entrance.
Just 45 minutes north of Branson lies Crystal Cave, a fascinating historic underground structure. You’ll see colorful rock formations, Native American markings and some of the interesting wildlife that thrives in the dark corners of the underground.
This cave got its name because of a statement made by Waldo Powell that noted how the evidence and characteristics of the cave told him a story about how it was formed. Located in Branson, the sparkling crystals and comfortable year round 62 degree environment make this cave a popular tourist destination.
Next time you’re in the Ozarks, make it a goal to experience some of the beautiful caves of the area. I assure you, it will make for an experience the whole family will remember for a lifetime.