Fantastic Caverns is one of fifteen caves that visitors can tour in Missouri. This number is small in comparison to the approximately 6500 known caves in the state. Because of it’s immense size, Fantastic Caverns has the unique distinction to offer guests a ride-thru experience. The cave is located just north of Springfield, Missouri at the end of a scenic side road.
Fantastic Caverns History
Although the cave was formed ages ago, it was only discovered around the start of the Civil War. The land owner did not want the cave to be used for wartime purposes, so he kept the discovery hidden. Just after the end of the war, the first official exploration party was allowed inside. A newspaper ad in the local Springfield paper had requested explorers. The ad was answered by 12 local women. Their names are visible during your underground journey. They lit their way with torches, which surely limited their scope of the immense underground structure. No traces of human habitation were discovered, so it is safe to assume the cave had remained undisturbed until this point.
A visit to Fantastic Caverns begins at the visitors center. They are open for tours almost every day of the year. The temperature inside the cave reflects closely to the average annual temperature of the local region. For this specific cave, it hovers right around a comfortable 60 degrees. In the visitors center guests can view some of the vehicles that were used in the past. It is interesting to see the progression of the technology used to take guests through the cave system. Being a ride through excursion, this cave is popular with many group tours.
The tours leave about each half hour, and soon it was our turn. We climbed on board a wagon that has bench seating along both sides. This is pulled by a Jeep driven by a tour guide. The first stop is just outside the cave entrance, Here the guide demonstrates an old steam power system that used to provide power to the cave. He stoked the fire, but the only thing it powers these days is a whistle. We entered the cave, and our eyes quickly adjusted to the lighting. The lighting used in the cave system does a wonderful job of highlighting the various underground formations.
I will share just a few pictures, since none of them do justice to this awe inspiring attraction. The cave system is quite large, and would require extensive time and stamina to tour on foot. The drive through feature helps open the experience to a wider range of people. It also helps limit the possibility of damage to the formations from human contact. Our guide did a great job of explaining the various formations, and helping us understand the length of time required for them to form. It was interesting to see how many of the formations are still growing today. This cave system is still alive, so they closely monitor the water entering and passing through the cave. Although we were not witness during our visit, there are some creatures that make the cave their home.
On The Outside
After our tour we decided to spend some time touring the grounds. We made our way down a steep incline to the Canyon Trail. Here visitors can hike to Indian Spring, which flows into the Little Sac River. The total round trip is just under 1/2 mile, but be aware that it does have a steep finish to the parking lot. The spring is very small, so it is not the main draw of the hike. The nature that surrounds you during the visit is the true draw. You will be entering a lush, moist area, so bug spray would be advised. We didn’t have any with us, and we survived, but I did see a couple of mosquitos. A good portion of the trail is paved or part of a long wooden walkway. It does spill out onto a gravel path that leads to the river, and the last portion is more of a nature trail to the spring.
At the end we did a little shopping in the gift shop. The prices are actually very attractive, and they have a good selection of souvenir items. They also have many natural stone and mineral items for sale, including jewelry. Being a fan of various rock formations, I picked up a little piece for my collection at home. We bid our goodbyes to the staff, who are all very friendly, and made our way back to our car. On our drive out of the grounds we were treated to a short show by some of the turkeys who live on the grounds. It was a nice ending to a very pleasurable visit. Be sure to add this place to your itinerary for your next trip to Springfield, Missouri. If it’s summertime you may want to save it for the hottest part of the day.