Beneath Missouri, there are approximately 7,000 known caves. Each year more caves are discovered in the state.

No wonder Missouri is known as “The Cave State.”

Of the thousands of caves in Missouri, around 20 are open for visitation. These natural attractions, called show caves, tourist caves or commercial caves, allow visitors an opportunity to discover a world that lies out-of-sight and underfoot. 

An estimated 20 million people have toured the caverns of Missouri since the inception of tourist caves in the state. In 2016, roughly 750,000 people visited Missouri show caves, an eight percent increase in statewide attendance over 2015.

Fantastic Caverns in Springfield saw a 10 percent increase in visitation in 2016 compared to the previous year.

“With more people experiencing show caves in the state, we hope they leave tours with a better understanding of Missouri land and karst regions,” said Doug Campbell, president of the Missouri Caves Association and general manager of Fantastic Caverns.

Fantastic Caverns, the nation’s only ride-through cave, is a small family-owned business. The staff and management of the popular tourist destination work hard to preserve the cave and its fragile ecosystem so it will be in place for future generations to enjoy.

For more information on the Missouri Caves Association, please visit missouricaves.com.

Ozark Highlands Auto Tour reopens 

After a complete replacement of the Mingo Spillway, the Ozark Highlands Auto Tour in Puxico, Mo., reopened last month. The spillway is located at the beginning of the 14-mile auto route segment, which runs along the western side of the refuge.

       Jimmy Sexton

Ozark Highlands Auto Tour showcases variations in wildlife habitat and landforms from upland limestone bluffs to wilderness area to the impressive overlook of the Monopoly Marsh. The tour route provides access to the popular Stanley Creek and Sweet Cabin Trail.

Visitors can follow a self-led interpretive program by using the auto tour guide available at the Visitor Center and at kiosks on the refuge. The refuge has nearly 30 miles of auto tour roads in total.

The Ozark Highlands Auto Tour road will remain open daily to the public from sunrise to sunset for a majority of the year. Because of steep inclines on the roadway, it will be closed for the winter between Dec. 1, 2017, and Feb. 28, 2018. Occasional closures may occur for maintenance or management needs. Other roads on the refuge remain open year-round, including Red Mill Drive, Bluff Road, and Flat Banks.

The visitor center is open Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., through November.

Mingo National Wildlife Refuge is located one mile north of Puxico on State Highway 51.

By Jimmy Sexton

(Jimmy is owner and publisher of the River Hills Traveler. He can be reached at (800) 874-8423, ext. 1, or jimmy@riverhillstraveler.com.)