Caving, also known as spelunking, is a thrilling activity that involves exploring caves and other underground spaces. Missouri is home to some of the most beautiful and unique caves in the United States, making it a popular destination for cavers. Caving in Missouri can be a fun and exciting way to learn about the state’s geology, history, and natural beauty.
However, caving can also be dangerous if proper safety precautions are not taken. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about caving in Missouri, from the best caves to explore to important safety tips. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced caver, this guide will help you plan a safe and enjoyable caving trip in Missouri.
The Best Caves in Missouri
Missouri is home to over 6,000 caves, but not all of them are open to the public. Here are some of the best caves to explore in Missouri:
- Fantastic Caverns
As previously mentioned, Fantastic Caverns is the only ride-through cave in the United States. Visitors are taken on a guided tram tour through the cave’s passages and can enjoy the unique experience of viewing the cave’s stunning formations from the comfort of a tram.
In addition to the cave’s interesting history as a speakeasy and concert venue, it also has a connection to prehistoric times. The cave was formed over 500 million years ago and contains fossils of ancient sea creatures, which can be seen on the tour.
- Meramec Caverns
Meramec Caverns is one of the most visited caves in the United States and offers a variety of tours and activities for visitors. In addition to the classic one-hour tour, which includes a boat ride on the underground river, visitors can also take lantern tours and explore the cave on their own during the summer months.
The cave also has a campground and hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including concerts and festivals.
- Onondaga Cave
Onondaga Cave is a stunning cave system that is known for its unique and delicate formations. Visitors can take a guided tour through the cave, which includes a walk on a boardwalk over the underground river and stunning views of the cave’s formations, including the “Lily Pad Room,” which features delicate formations that resemble lily pads.
The cave is also home to several rare species of cave animals, including the grotto salamander and the blind cavefish.
- Mark Twain Cave
Mark Twain Cave is a popular destination for literature lovers and history buffs alike. The cave was first discovered in 1819 and has been mentioned in several of Mark Twain’s novels, including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Visitors can take a guided tour of the cave, which includes a visit to the “Indian Room,” which features Native American petroglyphs.
- Cathedral Cave
Cathedral Cave is a lesser-known cave in Missouri but is well worth a visit. The cave features stunning formations, including a massive stalagmite known as the “Cathedral Column,” which stands at over 30 feet tall.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the cave, which includes a climb up to the top of the “Cathedral Column” for a stunning view of the cave’s interior. The cave is also home to a variety of cave-dwelling animals, including bats and crickets.
Each of these caves offers a unique caving experience, from underground boat rides to stunning cave formations. Some caves even offer guided tours or special events throughout the year.
Caving Safety Tips
Caving can be a dangerous activity if proper safety precautions are not taken. Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind when caving in Missouri:
- Wear appropriate clothing
When caving, it is important to wear clothing that is comfortable, durable, and appropriate for the cave environment. This typically includes long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes or boots with good traction, and a helmet with a light.
- Bring necessary equipment
In addition to appropriate clothing, cavers should also bring necessary equipment, such as a map of the cave system, extra batteries, and a first aid kit. Some caves may also require specialized equipment, such as ropes or harnesses, so it is important to research the cave beforehand and bring any necessary gear.
- Travel with a group
Caving is always safer when done with a group, so be sure to travel with at least one other person. Larger groups can be even safer, as there will be more people to assist in case of an emergency.
- Follow established routes
Most caves have established routes for visitors to follow. These routes are typically marked with signs or arrows and are designed to keep visitors safe and prevent damage to the cave. It is important to stay on these established routes and not venture off on your own.
- Stay aware of your surroundings
Caving can be disorienting, so it is important to stay aware of your surroundings at all times. Pay attention to the route markers and be sure to take note of any landmarks or features that may help you navigate the cave.
- Be prepared for emergencies
Caving can be dangerous, so it is important to be prepared for emergencies. This includes carrying a first aid kit, extra batteries, and a flashlight, as well as knowing how to use any specialized equipment that may be necessary.
- Respect the cave environment
Caves are fragile environments that can be easily damaged by human activity. It is important to respect the cave environment and follow all rules and regulations designed to protect it. This may include not touching formations, staying on established routes, and not leaving any trash or other debris behind.
What to Wear When Caving
What you wear when caving is just as important as what you bring with you. Here are some tips on what to wear when caving in Missouri:
- Long pants: When caving, it is important to wear long pants that will protect your legs from scratches and cuts. Lightweight, quick-drying pants made of synthetic materials like nylon or polyester are a good choice, as they are comfortable and durable.
- Long-sleeved shirt: Like long pants, a long-sleeved shirt will help protect your arms from scratches and cuts. Choose a lightweight, breathable shirt made of synthetic materials that will wick away moisture and dry quickly.
- Sturdy shoes or boots: Caving can be rough on your feet, so it is important to wear sturdy shoes or boots with good traction. Look for shoes or boots with rubber soles that will provide good grip on wet or uneven surfaces.
- Helmet: A helmet is a must-have item for caving, as it will protect your head from bumps and bruises. Look for a helmet that is lightweight, adjustable, and has a chin strap to keep it securely in place.
- Headlamp or flashlight: Caves are dark, so it is important to bring a headlamp or flashlight to help you see where you are going. Look for a light that is lightweight, durable, and has a long battery life.
- Gloves: Caving can be tough on your hands, so wearing gloves can help protect them from scratches and cuts. Look for gloves that are lightweight, breathable, and made of durable materials like leather or synthetic fabrics.
- Backpack: Finally, it’s a good idea to bring a backpack to carry all of your caving gear, as well as any snacks or water you may need. Look for a backpack that is lightweight, durable, and has multiple pockets or compartments to keep your gear organized.
Caving Equipment and Gear
Having the right equipment and gear is crucial for a safe and successful caving trip. Here are some items you should consider bringing with you:
A helmet is essential for caving as it will protect your head from bumps and injuries from low-hanging rocks or cave walls. Make sure to choose a helmet that fits securely on your head and has a chin strap to keep it in place. Helmets are typically made of lightweight and durable materials like polycarbonate or ABS plastic.
- Headlamp or flashlight
Caves are dark, and you will need a reliable light source to navigate through them safely. A headlamp is an excellent choice because it leaves your hands free to climb or crawl. Make sure to choose a headlamp that is lightweight, waterproof, and has a long battery life.
- Batteries and charger
To power your headlamp or flashlight, you will need to bring extra batteries and a charger. Make sure to choose batteries that are compatible with your light and have a long battery life. It’s also a good idea to bring a portable charger in case your batteries run out.
- Climbing gear
Some caves require climbing, so you may need to bring climbing gear like ropes, carabiners, and harnesses. Make sure to choose gear that is appropriate for the cave environment and your skill level. It’s also a good idea to have experience using this type of gear or to hire a guide.
Gloves are important for protecting your hands from scratches, cuts, and cold temperatures. Look for gloves that are lightweight, breathable, and durable. Leather or synthetic fabrics are good choices.
- Knee pads
Some caves require crawling, and knee pads can help protect your knees from bruises and cuts. Look for knee pads that are lightweight, comfortable, and durable.
A backpack is essential for carrying your caving equipment and gear, as well as any food, water, or personal items you may need. Look for a backpack that is lightweight, has multiple compartments or pockets, and is made of durable materials.
By having the right caving equipment and gear, you can help ensure a safe and enjoyable caving experience. Make sure to choose equipment that is appropriate for the cave environment and your skill level, and don’t forget to bring essential items like a helmet, headlamp, and gloves.
If you’re not sure what gear you need, consider hiring a guide or taking a caving course to learn the basics.
How to Prepare for a Caving Trip
Preparing for a caving trip involves more than just packing the right gear. Here are some additional tips on how to prepare for a caving trip in Missouri:
- Research the cave
Before heading out on your caving trip, it’s important to research the cave you plan to explore. This includes learning about the cave’s history, geology, and ecology, as well as any potential hazards or restrictions. You can find this information online or by contacting local caving organizations or park rangers.
- Check the weather
Weather conditions can greatly affect your caving experience, so make sure to check the forecast before heading out. If there’s a chance of rain or flooding, consider postponing your trip or choosing a different cave to explore.
- Bring a map and compass
It’s important to have a map and compass with you when caving, especially if you plan to explore a large cave system. Make sure to study the map beforehand and practice using the compass to avoid getting lost.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks
Caving can be a physically demanding activity, so it’s important to stay hydrated and fueled. Bring plenty of water and high-energy snacks like trail mix or energy bars to keep your energy levels up.
- Dress appropriately
Dressing appropriately for caving is crucial for your comfort and safety. Wear lightweight, breathable clothing that covers your arms and legs, as well as sturdy, waterproof shoes with good traction. See the “What to Wear When Caving?” section above for more details.
- Tell someone your plans
Always tell someone, like a friend or family member, where you’re going and when you plan to return. This is especially important if you’re exploring a remote cave or going alone. Make sure to provide them with a map and your contact information in case of emergency.
- Practice safety skills
Before going on your caving trip, practice safety skills like climbing, crawling, and using your equipment. Consider taking a caving course or hiring a guide to teach you the basics and help you build your skills and confidence.
By taking the time to prepare for your caving trip, you can help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Research the cave, check the weather, bring the right equipment and gear, and practice safety skills before heading out. And don’t forget to tell someone your plans and stay hydrated and fueled along the way.
Caving etiquette is important to ensure the safety of yourself and others, as well as to protect the cave environment. Here are some guidelines to follow when caving in Missouri:
- Respect the cave environment
Caves are delicate ecosystems, and it’s important to respect the environment and leave it as you found it. Avoid touching or removing any natural formations, and be careful not to disturb any wildlife you may encounter.
- Stay on designated trails
Many caves have designated paths and trails to help preserve the cave environment and protect visitors. Make sure to stay on these designated trails and avoid creating your own paths or shortcuts.
- Pack it in, pack it out
Whatever you bring into the cave, make sure to pack it out with you when you leave. This includes trash, food scraps, and any other waste you may generate. Do not leave any trace of your visit behind.
- Be considerate of others
When exploring a cave with others, be considerate of their space and needs. Avoid making loud noises or shining bright lights in their eyes, and make sure to give them plenty of room to pass if needed.
- Follow park rules and regulations
Many caves are located within state or national parks, and there may be specific rules and regulations that visitors must follow. Make sure to read and follow all posted signs and regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all.
- Be prepared to wait
Popular caves may have limited access or require reservations, so be prepared to wait in line or schedule your visit in advance. And remember to be patient and respectful of others while you wait.
- Follow the “Leave No Trace” principles
The “Leave No Trace” principles are guidelines for outdoor enthusiasts to minimize their impact on the environment. These principles apply to caving as well, so make sure to follow them and leave the cave environment as you found it.
By following these caving etiquette guidelines, you can help preserve the cave environment and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all visitors.
Respect the cave environment, stay on designated trails, pack it in and pack it out, be considerate of others, follow park rules and regulations, be prepared to wait, and follow the “Leave No Trace” principles.
Caving Tours and Guides
If you’re new to caving or want to explore a cave with an experienced guide, there are several caving tours and guides available in Missouri. These tours can provide a safe and educational caving experience, as well as access to caves that may not be open to the public.
Caves are fragile environments that can be easily damaged by human activity. To help preserve Missouri’s caves for future generations, it’s important to be mindful of your impact on the cave environment. Here are some tips on how to minimize your impact when caving:
- Leave No Trace
The first and most important consideration when caving is to leave no trace. This means that visitors should pack out all their trash, avoid damaging or removing any cave formations, and avoid disturbing any wildlife they encounter.
Visitors should also avoid using any soap or other toiletries in the cave that could harm the delicate ecosystem.
- Stay on the designated path
When exploring a cave, it’s important to stay on the designated path to avoid damaging the cave environment. Off-path areas can be especially delicate and can take decades or even centuries to recover from damage caused by human activity.
- Avoid introducing foreign substances
Visitors should avoid bringing any foreign substances into the cave, including food, drinks, or any other items that could alter the natural environment. Even small items like crumbs or candy wrappers can attract insects and other animals that can disrupt the cave ecosystem.
- Follow park guidelines
Many caves are located within state or national parks, and these parks often have specific guidelines and regulations for caving. Visitors should read and follow these guidelines carefully to ensure that they do not unintentionally damage the cave environment.
- Use proper lighting
Visitors should use proper lighting when exploring caves. Bright lights can disrupt the natural rhythms of cave-dwelling animals and can damage delicate cave formations. It’s also important to avoid shining lights directly on bats, which can cause them to become disoriented and may even cause them to die.
- Respect wildlife
Caves are home to a wide variety of unique animals, including bats, salamanders, and other species that are adapted to the dark, damp environment. Visitors should avoid touching or disturbing these animals and should avoid introducing any foreign substances that could harm them.
- Be mindful of water sources
Many caves contain underground rivers and other bodies of water. Visitors should avoid contaminating these water sources by avoiding washing in the cave or introducing any foreign substances into the water.
Caving Laws and Regulations
In Missouri, there are laws and regulations in place to protect caves and ensure their conservation. It’s important to be aware of these laws and regulations when planning a caving trip in Missouri. Here are some key regulations to keep in mind:
- Federal laws and regulations
Many caves are located on federal lands, and therefore fall under federal jurisdiction. The Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988 provides protection for caves on federal lands and prohibits certain activities, such as damaging cave formations or introducing foreign substances into the cave environment.
- State laws and regulations
Each state has its own laws and regulations regarding caving. Some states require permits or have specific rules for visiting caves, while others may restrict access to certain areas to protect the cave ecosystem.
- Local laws and regulations
In addition to federal and state laws, there may be local regulations that apply to caving. For example, some counties or municipalities may have regulations related to park use or land management.
- Permit requirements
Some caves require permits for entry, especially those that are located on protected lands. Visitors should check with the appropriate authorities to determine whether a permit is required and how to obtain one.
- Access restrictions
Some caves may have access restrictions in place to protect the cave environment or for safety reasons. For example, some areas may be closed during bat hibernation season or during times of high water flow.
- Conservation easements
Some cave owners may place conservation easements on their property to protect the cave ecosystem. These easements can restrict certain activities, such as removing or damaging cave formations or introducing foreign substances.
- Liability concerns
Visitors should be aware of the potential liability risks associated with caving. Some caves may require visitors to sign liability waivers before entering, while others may prohibit certain activities or have age restrictions in place.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Is caving dangerous?
Caving can be dangerous if proper safety precautions are not taken. It’s important to always tell someone where you’re going, bring a reliable light source, wear a helmet, and watch your step.
- Do I need special equipment for caving?
Yes, having the right equipment and gear is crucial for a safe and successful caving trip. This includes a helmet with a reliable light source, knee pads and elbow pads, and a first aid kit.
- Are there guided caving tours available in Missouri?
Yes, there are several guided caving tours available in Missouri. These tours provide a safe and educational caving experience and can be a great option for those new to caving or looking to explore a cave with an experienced guide.
- What should I wear when caving in Missouri?
It’s important to dress in layers and wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes with good traction. Consider bringing gloves to protect your hands and knee pads and elbow pads for added protection.
- Can I bring food and drinks into the cave?
It’s generally not recommended to bring food and drinks into the cave as it can attract animals and cause damage to the cave environment.
- What should I do if I get lost in a cave?
If you get lost in a cave, stay calm and try to retrace your steps. If you can’t find your way out, use your emergency whistle to signal for help.
Caving in Missouri offers a unique and thrilling experience for those looking to explore the state’s natural beauty and geological history. However, it’s important to take proper safety precautions and be mindful of the impact you have on the cave environment.
By following the guidelines and tips outlined in this guide, you can plan a safe and enjoyable caving trip in Missouri. Remember to research the cave you plan to explore, bring the right gear, follow caving etiquette, and be mindful of your impact on the environment.
So grab your gear and get ready to explore the underground wonders of Missouri!