Caves and Caverns in the Ozarks

A regional writer from the first half of the 20th century, newspaper editor Tom Shiras, suggested that to see some of the most wondrous Ozark sites, you have to “turn the mountain inside out or penetrate to the inside.” We have to agree.

The natural geology of our area is made up of a good deal of limestone, which is porous and therefore prone to forming caverns. “Karst” geology is formed by softer rock layers dissolving or being washed away, leaving harder layers in place. Onyx Cave in Eureka Springs was the first cave opened to the public in 1893, followed by Diamond Cave in Jasper in 1925 and Cosmic Caverns in Berryville in 1927.

There are countless caves dotting the landscape across the region, with many being on private land and out of reach to the rest of us. But there are a few great options if you’re interested in taking a short drive and learning more about the local underworld.

One option is Blanchard Springs Caverns. The site, managed by the U.S. Forestry Service since 1973, is located just a few miles Northwest of Mountain View. There are three trails within the three-tiered cave system, and they’re open seven days a week from mid-March through October. The rest of the year, the trails are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. One of their trails is fully accessible, and the visitor center is as well.

The Onyx Cave just outside of Eureka Springs is not as polished as some, with self-guided tours rather than those conducted by trained park staff. However, don’t let that stop you from taking a look. It’s easily accessible with easy walking on paved paths throughout.

War Eagle Cavern on Beaver Lake is another accessible cave system that would be a good choice for anyone with older family members or young children.

The Cosmic Caverns are home to two bottomless lakes, one of which has been home to trout for over fifty years. As is typical for many creatures that live in cave systems, many of the trout have gone blind and lost their color. They also have a bat population that is returning after a 70-year absence.

Mystic Caverns are located 8 miles South of Harrison, just north of the Buffalo River. Their tours operate March – December.  The earliest known explorer in the caverns carved his name into a formation in 1919, but it’s assumed that there were people climbing into the sinkhole that served as the original opening in the 1830s when the region was originally settled.

Local caverns remain a chilly 58-60 degrees year-round, so be sure to take a light jacket with you on the tour. A light snack easily carried in a pocket is also a good idea, as is a pair of sturdy shoes or boots (call ahead to make sure what the trails are like). Most important of all, don’t forget your camera!


Blanchard Springs Caverns –

Cosmic Caverns –

War Eagle Caverns –

Onyx Cave –

Mystic Caverns –

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