Featured Photo by Meramec Caverns

Beautiful Caverns and Caves To Visit Along The Meramec River!

The Meramec River, a tributary of the mighty Mississippi and the longest free-flowing river in Missouri, is a popular water recreation mecca and camping river valley. Wandering 218 miles from its headwaters near Steelville, Missouri, the Meramec empties into the Mississippi River near St. Louis. While the Meramec is most well known as a haven for summer recreational activities, such as boating, swimming, kayaking, and fishing, the river valley is full of unique geological features including beautiful natural caves and caverns that are something to marvel at any time of the year. Known as the Cave State, Missouri is home to over 6,000 caves, and here are four of the best found in the Meramec River Valley.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River

Photo by Meramec Caverns 

The most unique and extravagant of the caverns along the Meramec River are the Meramec Caverns located in Meramec State Park. Featuring seven stories of some of the rarest and largest cave formations in the world and many additional recreational activities and excursions. The caverns are often called the Greatest Show Under The Earth. Here, you can take a guided tour and see the extraordinary formations, including the ancient Wine Table which is considered the world’s rarest cave structure. The Meramec Caverns also holds a computerized LED light show in the part of the caverns called the Theatre Room, where you can watch cave formations light up in different colors and patterns. Once you are done seeing the caverns, there are other options for fun including ziplining, panning for gold, a climbing wall, riverboat rides, and float trips, making a trip to the Meramec Caverns one to add to your bucket list.

5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River
Located in the Onondaga Cave State Park, Onondaga Cave is a National Natural Landmark and a must-visit attraction in the Meramec River Valley. Discovered in 1886, the Onondaga Cave features towering stalagmites, dripping stalactites, and active flowstone. When you descend into the depths of the cave, you may feel as if you’re dropping into a world of wonder, as your guide points out the various formations and geological features. Another great feature of the park is the Vilander Bluff Natural Area above the cave that provides a panoramic view of the Meramec River. Be sure to take advantage of the easy access to the Meramec River, where you can canoe or fish in a peaceful and scenic setting.
5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River
Along with the Onondaga Cave, the Onondaga Cave State Park is also home to Cathedral Cave, a 2.98 mile long cave beginning at Deer Run Trail within the park. If you’re looking for more of a wild cave experience, the Cathedral Cave is perfect as all the tours are led by flashlight instead of a lighting system. On the tour, you will see a variety of natural formations including speleothems, slump pits, stromatolites, stalactites, a natural bridge, and a nearly 80-foot-high ceiling. The tour ends at a formation named the Cathedral Bell, a large bell-shaped wall of flowstone that gave the cave its name. If you want to see even more of the cave, the stream passage continues another 4,100 feet beyond the tour route, out to the river entrance. However, the passage becomes more difficult to navigate and involves frequent stooping and dodging sharp formations off the cave walls. If you’re up for the challenge, this section is offered once a month as an off-trail tour throughout the summer for an authentic wild caving experience.
5 Ways to Get Outside on the Turtle River
If you do find yourself in Meramec State Park at the Meramec Caverns, nearby Fisher Cave is another great stop. With naturalist-led tours, the trip through the cave is an interesting adventure and once you are inside, you will find yourself squeezing through low, narrow streamside passages only to enter huge rooms filled with calcite deposits, demonstrating the unpredictability of the unique cave. Fisher Cave is truly unbeatable when you can venture from one outstanding cave scene to the next, with great views of well-preserved bear claw marks, cave wildlife, and calcite deposits ranging from small helictites to massive columns up to 30 feet tall. With its close proximity to the popular Meramec Caverns and unique cave experience, if you plan on traveling to this part of the Meramec River Valley, Fisher Cave is one adventure you don’t want to miss out on.

I am a student, aspiring writer, and avid reader of books. My favorite things in the world are my German Shepards and hiking in Colorado.

Maeve Miller

Writer , River Travel Magazine