Day Trippin' near southwest Missouri: Bridal and Bluff Dwellers Caves

Seth Kinker
Neosho Daily News

Over the course of this summer, I’ll be plotting out and exploring some day trips that can be made in the southwest Missouri area.

One of the things I learned shortly after moving to Missouri in March was that in addition to being called the Show Me State, it’s also known as the Cave State.

To that end, over the weekend I checked out to caves in the area in Bridal Cave in Camdenton and Bluff Dwellers Cave in Noel. It’s a great, family friendly day trip on these hot summer days that is educational as well as a nice break from the heat.

The trip to Bridal Cave was made on a whim as I was in the area and after taking that tour, decided to continue to expand the Day Trippin’ series after passing many signs on the highways advertising different caves in the area.

Cost: Bridal Cave: Adults (13 and up): $22, Children (5-12): $11, Children (4 and under): Free

Bluff Dwellers Cave: Ages 12 and older: $20, Ages 4-11: $10, Ages 3 and younger: Free

Time: As I said earlier, I was in the Camdenton area and didn’t realize that Bridal Cave was there, so it was just a happenstance type of situation. Once I got back home, I checked Google Maps and the trip has been comparable to most of the hiking trips I’ve taken down to Arkansas and the Ozarks at around 2 hours and 20 minutes and 151 miles one way.

For Bluff Dwellers Cave, it was a short trip to Noel, taking under an hour to get there from Joplin and a roundtrip total of 90 miles. 

What to look out for: I’ve been lucky enough to go to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, the worlds largest known cave system. But I haven’t really explored anything cave wise until earlier this year on the Lost Valley Trail, so I’ve been looking forward to exploring the opportunities here in Missouri.

Once you go through the giftshop down to the cave entrance after they take your ticket, you go to the first staging area where you meet your tour guide. As you enter, you can feel the temperature fall, with Bridal Cave remaining a consistent 60 degrees.

One of the first formations you see on the Bridal Cave tour, the guide showed just how loud the noise was made to celebrate a new couple that was married there in the past.

It was a perfect cooldown on a hot day, but bring a light jacket if you get cold easily.

Another thing to keep in mind is the trek through the cave, it’s well lit with handrails throughout but wet with water dripping from the hundreds of thousands of stalactites. I wore tennis shoes and didn’t have any issue with the small amounts of water that sometimes pooled along the path.

At a few points you may have to duck or shimmy to get through parts of the guided tour. 

A view looking up as you walk through Bridal Cave.

The calcite, stalactites and stalagmite formations were breathtaking to walk through and you also learn about the history of the cave, with the area inhabited by Osage Native Americans in the past and learning about how the cave got it’s name.

One of the first things you do is get your picture taken in front of a huge formation that can be purchased at the end of the tour, you learn about the different formations

Officially protected in 1948, the cave was continually explored and uncovered a massive cavern with a lake the size of a football field called Mystery Lake. Unfortunately, the tour doesn’t go to the end of the cave, our guide said only a handful had ever made it all the way through, but you are able to see a small pool of water that eventually leads to the cavern in the back as one of the last stops of the tour.

A view of one of the walls in the biggest room in the Bridal Cave tour.
A slim portion of the water in the Bridal Cave, on the left you can see a raft that was used in an attempt to get further in many years ago.

Thunder Mountain Park, part of the Bridal Cave experience, has the largest lake side gift shop with many different types of rocks as well as records of all those who have gotten married or renewed their vows in the cave, similar to the Native Americans that had done so in the past.

One of the reasons I combined this day trip with two cave explorations, I entered the tour around 4:30, I was back to my car by 5:30, so it was a quick trip.

For Bluff Dwellers Cave, another guided tour, you can purchase tickets in the gift shop. 

While waiting for the tour to leave, I checked out the museum attached to the gift shop with a wide range of rocks, minerals and artifacts that were displayed, collected or purchased by Kathleen Browning, the daughter of Arthur Browning who discovered the cave. 

Displays on the wall contained around 650 arrowheads and artifacts found in the area, some dating back 4,000 years!

The museum attached to the gift shop with tons of artifacts.

Bluff Dwellers Cave is home to many unique animals including salamanders, bats, crayfish, frogs and more. Right at the start of the tour, right within the doors to the cave, were a couple of small salamanders our tour guide pointed out to us. 

Prior to Browning's discovery of the cave in 1925, Native Americans originally explored the cave that was sealed shut from a landslide 2000-3000 years ago. 

One of the first stops on the tour, where Native Americans had used the area thousands of years ago.

Still owned and operated by grandchildren of Browning, Bluff Dwellers Cave opened to the public for tours in 1927. 

Large portions of the cave remain unopen to the tour to keep it natural but you are shown through many of the areas that Browning came through when originally exploring the cave. 

There were only a few areas where you had to duck or shimmy to make sure you didn't touch the cave walls, but it was really interesting to learn about the history of the cave. 

A pool near the end of one of the tendrils of the cave on the tour. Beyond that pool lies another 275 feet of cave to keep natural for animals that may inhabit the area.
A view down one of the many pathways taken throughout the Bluff Dwellers Cave tour, be careful some of it requires ducking!
A view looking up on the Bluff Dwellers Cave tour.

From most of it being filled with water when it was originally being explored to the amount of space that was now open to the public compared to the first room past the main chamber that was as far as the Native Americans went when they first used it all those years ago. 

Although there aren't as many stalactite or stalagmite formations as Bridal Cave, the dripping calcite led to multiple unique formations pointed out during the tour by the guide, like the coral rocks. 

The coral rocks shown on the tour.
A column formed by stalactite and stalagmites reaching out towards each other for many, many years.
A view of one of the walls within Bluff Dwellers Cave.
Various formations throughout the cave were available to see up close and personal.

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