About Fantastic Caverns
Fantastic Caverns, America’s Ride-Thru Cave, lies beneath the rolling Ozarks hills just north of Springfield, Missouri. Approximately five miles off Historic Route 66 and about an hour north of Branson, Missouri, this North American cavern offers a completely ride-through cave experience. Propane-powered Jeep-drawn trams tour the path left behind by an ancient underground river. During the 55-minute all-riding cave tour, trams drive along a one-mile tour route providing guests an up-close look at beautiful cave formations, like giant columns stretching from floor to ceiling, delicate soda straws glistening with minerals and tiny cave pearls hidden in crystal-clear water. No walking is necessary and trams are equipped with pull-out ramps to accommodate wheelchairs, making the tour convenient for everyone, especially older visitors, parents with small children and individuals with physical limitations. Fantastic Caverns is an all-weather natural cave attraction open year ‘round, with the temperature inside Fantastic Caverns hovering at around 60 degrees F (15 degree C) all the time.
Touring Fantastic Caverns
Once inside Fantastic Caverns, tour guides explain the origins of the cave and its formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, columns, soda straws, flowstones, cave pearls and draperies. Water infiltrating the cave from above can be seen sparkling on the tips of stalactites and soda straws. In time – a few minutes, perhaps hours – the water droplets will fall, leaving a tiny trace of limestone. As one drop falls, another will take its place. This process, a blend of stone, water and time, created the beauty visitors see within Fantastic Caverns today. Since the flow of water and mineral deposits varied over the ages, it is impossible to determine the precise age of Fantastic Caverns or the formations the cave system houses. The exact age is known for only one formation – a tiny stalactite that began growing when a well driller’s bit accidentally pierced the cave’s ceiling in 1941.
Fantastic Caverns Cave Map
History of Fantastic Caverns
The cavern was discovered by John Knox and his hunting dog in 1862. Knox did not want the cave to be exploited by the Union or Confederate governments, so he kept the cave's existence quiet until 1867. Knox put an advertisement in the Springfield paper for someone to explore the cave. On February 27, twelve women belonging to the Springfield Women's Athletic Club explored Fantastic Caverns. These twelve ladies are considered the first explorers of the Ozarks cave. Their names are still visible on the cavern walls today and they were mentioned in an article published in the Springfield Tri-Weekly Patriot newspaper.
Over the years, Fantastic Caverns changed ownership and names. Some owners of the property chose to keep the cave private, others expanded the cave attraction business and some established a secondary business. The cave was used as a speakeasy during the Prohibition years and hosted live music concerts during the 1950s and 1960s. Live audiences came to see the “Farmarama” show, which was nationally broadcast on NBC radio stations.
America’s Ride-Thru Cave
In the 1950s, the name Fantastic Caverns was adopted. The first “Ride-Thru” tour at Fantastic Caverns was given in 1962. Prior to that, visitors toured the cavern on foot. By 1967, visitation to the cave had grown to a level that it was difficult to host events and the show “Farmarama” was canceled. With the focus being on cave tours, improvements were made to the tour route, and in the early 1970s cave lighting expert Roy Davis installed the cavern lighting system, which was upgraded to LED lighting in 2017. The Campbell family has managed the property since 1966 and in 1992 they purchased Fantastic Caverns.
Conservation is Good Business
However old the cave and its formations are, it is clear that their creation took a very long time, that they are irreplaceable, and that a moment’s carelessness or mismanagement could destroy them. Equally fragile are the species of wildlife that live in the cave, which include several rare or endangered animals. Creatures such as the Ozarks Cavefish, the Bristly Cave Crayfish and the Grotto Salamander are tiny, colorless and blind, having lost eyesight and body pigment after living in darkness for countless generations. Much of the cave life in Fantastic Caverns lives in the lower passage, a lower level of the cave that is inaccessible to visitors and that acts as a preserve. But, all those cave creatures have a direct link to the world above, and to us. Their food supply is washed down from the surface via groundwater.
Though it can be a massive undertaking for a small, family business, the current owners of Fantastic Caverns work daily to preserve the cave’s delicate system and encourage visitors to explore the relationship between cave life, groundwater and people. At Fantastic Caverns, all preservation and conservation efforts are funded through admissions. Within the cave, water and air quality is continually monitored for pollutants. Here at Fantastic Caverns we realize that only through wise stewardship of our natural resources, will the Ozarks stay a wonderful place for future generations to live and visit.