This article appears in Aug. 1 Travel page.
Ever watched a video underground at a “drive-in” theater? If not, a trip to Fantastic Caverns is a must.
These fantastic caverns in Springfield, Missouri, have super surprises and are perfect for all ages to enjoy and learn more about the amazing underground.
Fantastic Caverns are the only drive-through caverns in the U.S. There is no walking involved as cave dwellers ride though the incredible underground on a tram pulled by a Jeep. Riding through the caverns offers passengers of all ages and capabilities an easy view of what nature has to offer. The trams have pull-out ramps, making it convenient for wheelchairs, and are easily accessible for parents with young children and those with physical limitations.
The path travelers follow in the cave was created by an ancient underground river. Today it allows for the Jeeps to travel through so visitors can get an up-close view of the mystifying art created by just continuous drips of water.
It is an experience like none other. The caverns are a year-round 60 degrees and below the hills of the Ozarks. Visitors are pleasantly surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites, giant columns, the “draperies” and the “soda straws” that sparkle as the tours travel by the miraculous statuary.
The caverns were discovered in 1862 by a hunter and his dog. He kept the cave a secret until 1867 so the Confederate or Union governments would not know the cave was there. A dozen women from Springfield were the first to explore the caves. The guide will point out their names inscribed on the cavern walls as you travel through on the tour. The underground caverns made for the perfect place to have an active speakeasy during prohibition. At one time, the 1950s and ’60s, concerts were held in the caverns. Because of the popularity of the performances it became difficult to host those kinds of events.
The caverns are family-owned by the Campbells. The family had managed the property since 1966 and purchased the caverns in 1992. They recently added a boardwalk and an elevated observation deck that sits along the Little Sac River. The boardwalk and deck offer about 175 feet of views along the river with a quiet place for sitting and relaxing. Horseshoes are available in the valley close to the boardwalk.
Many educational materials are available through Fantastic Caverns. A list of opportunities is at cavescience.org.
The tour portion of the visit is about 55 minutes in length while traveling along a one-mile trail. Partway through the tour the tram parks at is called the underground “drive-in theater” for a video about the caverns. The tour guides are knowledgeable and are always ready to answer questions.
Springfield is also known as the birthplace of Route 66, and the caverns are located just off the historic road at 4872 N. Farm Road 125. They’re open 362 days a year — closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. FantasticCaverns.com offers times and prices, or call 417-833-2010.
A nice surprise is that everyone receives a group photo at the end of the tour.
It has taken thousands of years for the cave to become the beautiful display it is today, and it continues to change and grow.
For more information about the Springfield area, things to see, places to stay or where to eat, visit springfieldmo.org.