Things to Do

Find Hidden History in Crystal Cave

After being closed to the public for nearly a decade, Crystal Cave’s new ownership is once again offering public tours, creating lasting family memories for the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.

By Colin Shea Denniston

Jul 2022

crystal cave
Photo by Brandon AlmsStalactites and stalagmites light up yellow and red in the cave, inviting visitors in. Purchase Photo

With a landscape consisting heavily of porous limestone and dolomite, Missouri is rich with more than 7,000 caves, earning it the name, “The Cave State.” It’s no surprise that as a graduate of the Springfield Public Schools system, I recall multiple elementary school field trips spent cruising through Fantastic Caverns. Later in a high school earth science class, we even went spelunking through an off-the-beaten-path cave formation where the only way through certain passages was to quite literally lay on your back and log roll for your life.

Coming in somewhere between these two extremes lies Crystal Cave. Nestled on the north edge of Springfield, Crystal Cave opened in 1893 becoming the second commercial cave in the state of Missouri. After decades in operations, countless tours and multiple changes of ownership, the cave eventually closed to the public after previous owners Edith and Loyd Richardson passed away in the early 2010s. The cave was boarded up and neglected until the Dole Family purchased the property in 2021. After extensive cleanup, refurbishments and repairs, the cave reopened public tours in the spring of 2022.

I never toured—or even learned about—the cave under previous ownership, so I was eager to visit this somewhat forgotten piece of Springfield history. Upon my visit, I was initially struck by two things, the first being just how close it is to the business and residential districts of Springfield. From southeast Springfield, the trip was an easy 23-minute drive north. The second was the charming aesthetic of the grounds surrounding the cave. I was instantly drawn to the lush green landscape and large vintage signs welcoming you to your trip down memory lane.

The cave’s entrance gives off a delightful secret garden vibe, with stone steps, mossy surround and perfectly patinaed iron gates. (Fun fact: The gates came from the original Springfield jail house.) Once inside, I was swept away from Springfield and eager to climb farther into the geological landmark.

Each tour is led by one of Crystal Cave’s expert guides who’s quick to point out the cave’s unique features like carvings, upside down wells, rare helictites and the formation referred to as “The Washington Monument.” (Fun fact No. 2: This formation was so popular that in the early part of the 20th century, representatives from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. visited the cave and eventually created a replica, which was displayed in their Museum of Natural History for years).

Most of the cave’s rooms are quite spacious and easy to move through. I wore chunky outdoor boots assuming I’d be sludging through mud, so I was pleasantly surprised by the newly paved walkways making most spaces easy to navigate.

Since reopening, the guides have seen visitors of all ages, many of whom visited the cave as children decades ago. But with that said, there are areas of the cave with low clearance (the shortest being 39 inches high), which require bit of crouching. While few and brief, if you aren’t comfortable with moments of enclosed spaces or struggle with mobility, this may not be the tour for you. Tours last between 45 and 55 minutes depending on your number of questions and the amount of photos you want to take. The tour ends in The Cathedral Chamber, which is large, ornate and practically begging to be your next Instagram post.

For me, the tour was the perfect mix of adventure, geology and local history—making my long-awaited return to the Missouri cave scene a highly enjoyable one. But what I really left thinking about was the number of older guests I saw taking young children with them along the tours. I imagined grandparents sharing with their grandchildren a bit of their childhood history and in turn, helping inspire the next generation of 417-land explorers. And for that, I’d say we’re pretty lucky to have this piece of Springfield history reopened and ready for the next hundred-plus years of memory making.