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Meramec Caverns. A Day Trip.

Updated on July 16, 2009

An affordable Vacation to Remember

 Is the economy putting a damper on your vacation?  Well you shouldn't just hide in a cave.  Or should you?

Pink Geode
Pink Geode
The lazy Meramec River
The lazy Meramec River

Welcome to Meramec Caverns.

Nestled in them thar hills of Missouri, alongside the lazy Meramec River, just a hop skip and a jump from St. Louis, is a gem. That gem can be found in the gift shop at Meramec Caverns. The real gems are inside of the Caverns themselves. So strap on your boots and get on down to the caverns.

What is a cavern you might ask?

  • A cavern is a large underground chamber.
  • A cave.
  • The word "Cave" comes to us from the latin word, cavus, meaning- hollow.


Statue commemorating Jessie James
Statue commemorating Jessie James
My Gem
My Gem

Stalactites and Stalagmites

Basic Geology of the Caverns

Meramec Caverns has the largest single cave formation in the world. It has 26 miles of underground passages on seven stories. All but two of the levels are open to the public. The guided tour lasts about 90 minutes and will only take you about a mile round trip. The guided tour lasts about 90 minutes and will only take you about a mile round trip. The tour will take you through many of the caverns highlights, on well lit paths .

The cave was formed from erosion that took place over millions of years. Streams slowly ate away at the limestone until caverns were formed. Pre- Columbian Native American artifacts have been found in the caverns. There are many natural mineral formations including beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, unusual onyx formations and towering colorful formations.

Stalactites are formed when the mineral calcite is dissolved in ground water and deposited on the ceiling of caves as the water drips down. This is a very slow process. Stalactites form down from the ceiling of caves in icicle and cone shapes when formed from the outside. They can also resemble straws that allow the water to flow from the inside.

Stalagmites are formed from the floor up, when the calcite bonds to the floor of the cave from water dripping down.

Stalactites and Stalagmites can eventualy meet forming collums or curtains.

When in the cave, no matter how beautiful the mineral deposits are, remember not to lick them. However picture taking is acceptible.

"Stage Curtain", largest known cave formation in the world
"Stage Curtain", largest known cave formation in the world

The Caverns


Meramec Caverns is a "show cave" for turists with interior lights and paved paths They also have a light show at the Stage Curtain. However it is still a "living" cave with moving and dripping water which continues to alter it with the formation of new passages and the enlargement of old ones along with growing stalactites and stalagmites. But don't bother waiting around to watch them grow. The cave is populated with bats, but don't fear, they stay far away from the populated part of the cave. HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Meramec Caverns was the first major cave discovery on the North American continent.
  • The Caverns has the largest single cave formation in the world.
  • Tours of the cave take 90 minutes and cover about one mile. The cave is lighted and the trails are paved with railings in some areas. The temperature inside the Caverns is a constant 60 degrees year round.
  • The dramatic entrance to the cave is a huge ballroom where dances and parties have been held since the late 1800s.
  • The "Jungle Room" is so named because stone formations in it resemble jungle vegetation.
  • "Stage Curtain" is a 70-million-year-old, 70-foot tall, 60-foot wide and 35-foot deep vertical dripstone wall that resembles the curtain on a massive stage. It is the largest calcite formation in the world. With this backdrop, singer Kate Smith sang a stirring rendition of "God Bless America" some years ago.
  • "Wine Table" is a two-story tall ragonite formation, the largest of its kind in the world. It is so called because formations around it resemble grape clusters. Ragonite is the world's most rare formation.
  • The "Million and One Room" has countless deposits of dripstone in all stages of formation on the vast ceiling.
  • "Onyx Mountain" is a massive onyx formation 500 feet in circumference, 200 feet thick and 33 feet high. It is still growing.
  • The "Mother-in-Law's Tongue" is a long single stalactite that is one of the largest in the cave.
  • Several crystal clear streams flow through the cave. The largest stream "Mirror River" is named for its 18-inch deep pool which reflects the great hollow dome rising 35 feet above. Lighting on the ceiling is mirrored back to the viewer giving the river an appearance of depth with a vast underwater cavern.

A rendition of a the type of cabin that Jesse James would have stayed in, inside of the cavern
A rendition of a the type of cabin that Jesse James would have stayed in, inside of the cavern

A Tourist Trap worth all of the Trappings

Meramec Caverns are located in Stanton Missouri. The set up is a bit touristy, but well worth the bother. The temperature in the cave is a constant 58*, so is a great place to take a hot date no matter what the season.

$18 will get you a guided tour of the cave. ($9 for kids 5-11). There is a snack shop and a gift shop for your touring pleasure. $3.25 will get you a mean slice of Key Lime Pie. You can find all sorts of things in the gift shop to satisfy even the cheesiest of tourists.

Meramec Caverns' seven stories are composed of a series of natural underground openings, with another 26 miles of underground passages. One incredible speleothem, the Stage Curtain, measures 70 feet high, 60 feet wide, and 35 feet thick — the largest single cave formation in the world. Besides this 70-million-year-old, calcium-carbonate curtain, other notable formations in Meramec Caverns include the Wine Table and Onyx Mountain.

A famous Rt. 66 "Barn Sign"

Lester Dill leased the cave in 1933 with an option to buy. Dill turned the cave into a major tourist destination. This was amazing considering that it was during the Great Depression. He managed to do this even before Route 66, the famous cross country highway that pre-dated the Interstate Highways. Once Rt. 66 was established, it brought millions within 3 miles of the Caverns.

Dill was a pioneer in marketing. Meramec Caverns soon became famous. He placed signs all over Rt. 66 leading to the Caverns. He also painted the sides of barns in 26 states.

"Dill also pioneered the use of bumper stickers, then called bumper signs because the vinyl and adhesive used to attach stickers to cars had not yet been developed. While visitors toured the cave, Dill would have his children tie the Meramec Caverns bumper signs on their cars giving him free advertising and visitors a free souvenir." (

Meramec Caverns is the largest cave in the state. Missouri is know as the cave state, having over 6000 charted caves.

concentration of caves in the US
concentration of caves in the US

The James Gang


Fame hits the Caverns

"Jesse James Hideout". The caverns also provided the perfect post-heist hideout for Jesse James and his gang.

Next up was a drafty spot where someone named Art Linkletter sent a couple to “honeymoon” in the 1950s as part of a show called “People Are Funny.” After staying there in caveman outfits for 10 days, they were sent to Hawaii for being good sports.

In 1966 the TV show Lassie filmed on site in the cave for an episode.

In 1973, Meramec Caverns was transformed into Injun Joes Cave for a Hollywood adaptation of Mark Twains "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer".

A Trip Worth Taking

All in all, a great day trip from St. Louis. They have cabins avilable in spring as well as summer, as well as a park camping grounds right next to the caverns. You can also rent canoes to float down the lazy Meramec river. Major hotels can be found just down Interstate 44.

Missouri, the boot heel state.                                BOOTS!
Missouri, the boot heel state. BOOTS!


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    • srsddn profile image

      srsddn 4 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

      papermoon, Great formations. Nature is so great. Liked the video and thanks for sharing. Voted up.

    • MaritimeGem profile image

      MaritimeGem 7 years ago from Gaspe Quebec Canada

      Great hub! Added this to the list of places I would love to see.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 8 years ago from In the clouds

      Some of the formations are so beautiful, people want to lick them. :P

    • Hawkesdream profile image

      Hawkesdream 8 years ago from Cornwall

      When I first saw the photo, 'stage curtain' I thought it was a church organ, that is until I read the caption, beautiful example of natural art.

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 8 years ago from In the clouds

      Gypsy Willow- I don't really know if they have Key Lime Pie. LOL. Was in a mood for a min there when writing and took that one creative liberty. To the best of my belief, the rest is 100% accurate. It is a little cheesy (part of me loves it all the more for that) but truly amazing. I wish I could explore some of the other 26 miles of the cave. Glad you liked it.

      Iphigenia- There was much speculation back in the 1940's that Jesse James was still alive. A man in Oklahoma claimed to be him. He had identical marks on his body that coincided with doctors reports from the original Jesse James. The only living member of his gang also identified him as being the real mc coy. He said that Robert Ford had shot a member of his gang, but his family covered up for him so that he could have peace. This was all discredited officially in a court of law recently by affidavits from his surviving kinfolk. Ironic that you were watching that while I was writing and thinking about it. ;)

    • profile image

      Iphigenia 8 years ago

      Wow - those caves are amazing - just like nature herself. Weird connection - I watched "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" last night ... perhaps as you were writing about him hiding in the caves ...