If you have driven around Missouri much at all, you have certainly seen the billboards and painted barns advertising Meramec Caverns. This attraction is a mix of natural wonder and road trip kitsch. As the cave is a constant 58 degrees year round, it also provides a perfect place to take a tour on a steamy summer day. Located about an hour west of St. Louis, the cave and other on site attractions make a great road trip destination.
Osage Indians first led a French explorer to the cave in 1720. The French explorer discovered that the cave contained saltpeter, a key ingredient in making gunpowder. Disputes arose over the years of control of the cave and this mineral until Confederate troops destroyed a Union-held gunpowder facility inside of the cave.
Starting in the 1890s, the cave gained popularity as a social attraction. Visitors could escape to the coolness of the cave for social gatherings. Over the years expeditions in the cave led to the discovery of more levels and chambers. One of these discoveries led to evidence that Jesse James once used the cave as an outlaw hideout. As the popularity of the cave rose, it also was used as the site of several TV shows and movies.
The cave can be explored on a guided, 80 minute long tour. The tour travels about 1.25 miles along gentle sloping paths with a few stairs. While strollers are not allowed, the pathway itself is an easy walk along lighted walkways.
The tour starts with the option to have a souvenir photo taken. There is also an old cabin to view.
The first main room on the tour is known as the ballroom due to the large size and the fact that it was once used by locals for dances.
The tour discusses the history and evidence that Jesse James used the cave as a hideout. The guide will also point out the locations in the cave where TV shows or movies were shot.
The tour passes through numerous rooms and passageways. The water along the side of the walkway provides perfect reflections of the formations above.
There are so many interesting formations to see along the tour. It’s amazing how the cave can form and change over time.
While none of the rooms or passageways on the tour are very low or narrow, a few places are short enough for tall people to watch their heads. Also use caution if you are carrying a child in a backpack style carrier.
One of the best parts of the tour, especially for kids, is the light show. Towards the end of the tour, visitors are able to view a computerized light show accompanied by the song God Bless America. The different colors and images with the cave formation as a backdrop are beautiful to watch.
At the cave entrance is a large gift shop and restrooms. There is also a restaurant, snack bar, candy shop, and ice cream available.
Outdoors there are several more activities available. Kids will enjoy the panning for gold at the Mining Company. The whole family can take a riverboat ride on the nearby Meramec River. For more adventurous types, there is a climbing wall and zipline available. If you wish to extend your stay, there is both a motel and campground on site.
Additional Things to Know
- The cave is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours vary by season but are currently 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Outdoor attractions are open seasonally.
- Tours run every 20-30 minutes. There are no reservations unless for a large group.
- The cave tour is $23.99 for adults, $20.99 for military, $12.99 for kids 5-11, and free for kids under 5.
- The cave is 58 degrees year round. A jacket is recommended as well as non-slip shoes.
- There are no bathrooms inside the cave but there are restrooms in the gift shop area just outside the cave entrance.
- Make sure to look and don’t touch. Touching the formations can damage them.
Have you ever toured Meramec Caverns or another cave?