Missouri Meramec Caverns

If you’re planning to take a road trip along Route 66 from Chicago, you’re probably keen to get some ideas of interesting places to stop. When you hit Missouri, one attraction you definitely shouldn’t miss is the Meramec Caverns – read on to find out why.

The history of the Meramec Caverns

A vast underground cave system hidden beneath Meramec Valley, the Meramec Caverns have a pretty interesting history. They were officially discovered in 1720 by Philip Renault, a French explorer, who was led here by stories he heard from Osage Indian legends.

He expected to find a cave filled with gold, but what he got was a cave brimming with saltpetre. Since this was a key ingredient in gunpowder, the find was still a pretty impressive one, and it led to around 140 years of mining here.

In the 1930s, the caves were purchased and prepared to be opened to the public as a commercial venture. During this time, a number of discoveries were made, such as the famous Stage Curtain, a 70 ft high structure that is one of the favourite attractions of the cavern, and among the top things to look out for during a tour of the site.

Fun facts

The caverns have a few quirky facts associated with them, especially when it comes to their history. A few of my favourites are:

  • In the 1940s, evidence was found that the notorious Jesse James, a local criminal, used the caverns as a hideout.
  • In the 1890s, the site was used to host ‘cave parties’, so people could dance and enjoy themselves away from the heat of the summer.
  • The caves are, in a way, responsible for the invention of the bumper sticker. Back when the site first opened as a commercial attraction, the owner, Lester Benton Bill, attached ‘bumper signs’ to visitors’ cars as free gifts – and publicity for the caves – while they took tours.

Special tours

Walking tours of the caverns are held throughout the day and typically last just under an hour and a half. Now, while these are always interesting, if you want a more unique experience, you should aim to visit in June.

This is when the lantern tours are held. A guide will lead you on a lamp-lit journey through the caves, during which time you will encounter various historical figures – such as the notorious Jesse James – who will tell you stories of local folklore and the caverns’ history. Bear in mind that these only take place on Fridays and Saturdays in June, and that booking ahead is essential, so you will need to get yourself organised if you like the sound of it.

Top 3 other activities to try here

If you have a little more time to spend at the caverns, there are a number of activities you can try. A riverboat ride is a pretty lovely way to spend half an hour, and will take you on a scenic journey down Meramec River. These run from April to September.

Alternatively, if you fancy giving something a bit more daring a go, you could head up into tree tops and have a zip-lining adventure over the river – but you’ll need to have a head for heights. If you manage it, head to Meramec Caverns’ restaurant afterwards as a reward – there are an impressive 28 flavours of ice cream to choose from!

 

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