With only a few more weeks left in Missouri, Don and I have a few items we prioritized on our bucket list. Basically hiking was out of the question with a toddler and two babies plus this 90+ degree heat every weekend.
We’ve been tossing around the idea of heading to one of the underground caverns that seem to be everywhere in the Ozarks, but the more we researched, the more we realized it would be a challenge (maybe even a nightmare) to try to carry the boys and
keep up with Elizabeth is dimly lit, underground caverns.
Enter Fantastic Caverns, just outside of Springfield. Fantastic Caverns is the ONLY cave in North America (and one of only four in the world) that offers ride-through tour in trams driven by a tour guide. This was exactly what we were looking for! We loaded the kids into the car and headed for the caverns.
A Little History
I am a bit of a history nerd, so I love learning the background of places. The tour guide was great and gave us all sorts of tidbits during the tour. The caverns were discovered in 1862 by John Knox, but he kept his discovery hidden until after the Civil War (because gun powder is made out of bat poop and he knew both sides would try to take control of the cave since there’s a lot of bat poop in caverns!)
Once the war was over, he found a group of 12 women to explore the cave. The original opening was quite small, so he needed smaller bodies to go in first. The cavern was used as a Speakeasy during Prohibition and was also the site of many concerts in the 1950s and 1960s. A stage was even built in the cavern.
Getting there was super easy – there are signs at every turn, so even without our GPS we would have found it no problem. There was ample parking, and the main building was air-conditioned with bathrooms, a little gift shop (where you can buy $1 bags of popcorn), and several couches you can sit on while you wait for your tour.
Tours leave about every 20 minutes, so I didn’t feel stressed out to rush into the building and buy our tickets. Two trams can go into the cavern during each tour, and I would estimate each tram can hold at least 25-30 people. The tram has bench seats, so you’re facing in at the people across from you.
The tour is about 55 minutes long which includes several stops where the guide gets out and talks about the cavern. We were able to see the stage that was built for the concerts, the location where the first explorers “signed” their names, two sinkholes and much more. Like I said, the guide did a great job explaining all the history of the cave as well as the geological aspects of the cave. It was definitely an educational experience.
At the turn-around point, there is a short video that plays which talks about how water flows from the cavern and affects the environment around it. Fantastic Caverns is very committed to preservation and conservation, so I thought this was a nice touch. They also have a little classroom set up in the cavern for when they host school groups.
This was a no-brainer for us since it’s the only tram tour versus walking. The other cavern systems don’t allow strollers (because of the uneven cave floors and some tight squeezes) and one also advised against a hiking backpack because the ceiling of the cave was so low.
I knew I could carry the boys in my double carrier, but at about 14 pounds each, I get sore easily and knew I wouldn’t enjoy the tour as much. And that would leave Don to chase after Elizabeth who would have to be on foot. The idea of letting her run on her own honestly terrified me. Sink holes, finding tiny tunnels that only she could fit through…worst nightmare. Plus, a potential breakdown if she didn’t want to walk anymore.
The tram ride itself held Elizabeth’s attention. She couldn’t go anywhere, so she alternated between standing and sitting between Don and me. She loved looking at all the stalagmites and stalactites, and would gasp in excitement every time we started driving again. I easily held the boys on my lap, and we were comfortable the entire ride.
The staff was super helpful with all our kids. We were able to park the stroller right next to where the tram loads and unloads, and since only staff members are in that area, we didn’t have to worry about anyone touching the items we left in the bottom. We were also asked several times if we needed any assistance which I though was nice.
What You Should Know
- The cavern is 60 degrees year round. I brought hoodies for the kids and Don and I wore long sleeves. I was comfortable the entire ride, but I think I could have gotten away with wearing just my tshirt.
- Hours change based on the season, but you can find all the tour times here.
- Tickets are $24 (plus tax) per person, but children under 5 are free. While this may seem a little pricey, it’s only about $3 more than some of the other cavern tours and those don’t include a tram ride.
- After your tour, you can follow the sidewalk to some of the springs that are fed by the cavern. (We didn’t do this because it was lunchtime and pretty hot outside, but its a nice option.
I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone looking to visit the caverns, especially if you have young children, or adults who can’t/don’t want to do a walking tour.
Have you visited any underground cave systems?