Exploring the world of underground caves is like being transported to another planet. The humidity, wet conditions, towering rock formations, and unique wildlife all make a cave tour a memorable experience. Although Tennessee has about 10,000 caves and Kentucky is home to the famous Mammoth Cave, another state has spectacular underground caves. Let’s look at the best caves in Arkansas!
Are There Underground Caves in Arkansas?
When you think of Arkansas’ natural features, the state’s hot springs, the Ouachita National Forest, or the Ozarks may come to mind. But did you know that there are approximately 2,000 documented caves in the Natural State?
Although there are many caves throughout the Ozark Mountains, most remain off-limits to the public to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome. The white-noise syndrome is a fungal disease that causes hibernating bats to lose the stored fat they need to make it through the winter. Only a few caves are open to the public.
The caves in Arkansas are formed by erosion, primarily due to water dissolving limestone and other soluble rock over time. Many of these caves are located throughout the Ozark and Ouachita regions.
What Is the Biggest Cave in Arkansas?
Berryville sits in the Ozarks in northwest Arkansas between Eureka Springs, AR and Branson, MO. It is home to Cosmic Cavern, the largest cave in the state. Cosmic Cavern is also the warmest cave in the Ozarks, holding a constant temperature of 64°F year-round. In addition, it has a 9-foot soda straw formation, the longest in the Ozarks. People also know Cosmic Cavern for its two bottomless lakes. This cave is privately owned, and the tour takes about 75 minutes to complete.
Are the Caves in Arkansas “Living” Caves?
A living cave is one where the formations are still changing. All the caves in Arkansas with public tours are living caves. They’re humid, wet, and muddy because of the constant dripping water.
Generally, the inside temperatures remain between the upper 50s to low 60s, a welcome coolness from the heat of summer. It’s a good idea to bring a jacket when touring the caves in Arkansas.
Pro Tip: While in Arkansas, spend the night at one of these 9 Best Hot Springs Arkansas RV Parks for Enjoying the National Park.
Is Cave Exploration Safe?
Taking a guided tour through a cave is very different from exploring a cave alone. Caves are inherently dangerous. You should never go caving, also known as spelunking, without at least one other person, but it’s best to have a group of at least four. This way if someone is hurt, someone can stay with the injured person while two others seek help.
However, these guided tours through the caves in Arkansas are for the public. Officials regularly evaluate the safety of the caves to protect visitors. They also inspect caves to ensure visitors don’t destroy the natural resources.
If you go on a cave tour, wear appropriate shoes and a jacket. The ground may be uneven, muddy, or rough. A cave isn’t the place for a pair of sandals. With the cooler underground temperatures, you’ll want an extra layer even if it’s 90°F outside.
The 7 Best Caves in Arkansas
Arkansas is home to beautiful natural features. We think these seven caves are the best options for exploring underground in the state. They’re also the safest. If you’d like an otherworldly experience while visiting the Natural State, consider booking a tour at one of these locations.
1. Blanchard Springs Caverns
The U.S. Forest Service manages Blanchard Springs Caverns in Stone County, in north-central Arkansas. There are two tours. The Dripstone Tour is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers but includes some steep inclines. It travels about half a mile through two huge rooms before visitors turn around to exit the cave. The Discovery Trail is longer at 1.2 miles and more strenuous, with nearly 700 stairs to climb.
Tour reservations are a requirement. You can make reservations on Recreation.gov. This cave in Arkansas features stunning limestone formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, cave bacon, and columns. Although the cave system is three levels, the public is only permitted on two levels.
2. Cosmic Cavern
Randy and Anita Langhover own Cosmic Cavern, discovered in 1845. In 1993, Randy found another passage of over 1,000 feet and an additional subterranean lake. Cosmic Cavern is the largest privately-owned cave in Arkansas. Over 50 years ago, the owners of South Lake stocked it with trout. Today, some of the trout have gone blind and lost their color as a result of living in the cave. The Ozark blind cave salamander also lives here.
The 75-minute tour is about one-third of a mile long. Although it’s not steep, there are some stairs. Adult tickets are $20, and children’s tickets are $10. Wild cave tours are also available and include exclusive access to other parts of the cavern. Guests must be 16 or older and must have previously done the regular tour prior.
3. War Eagle Cavern
One of the most interesting features of the War Eagle Cavern is its natural entrance. Unlike other caves in Arkansas where you enter through a visitor center, War Eagle Cavern sits in a boxed canyon on the edge of Beaver Lake. The paved walking trails are accessible for all guests and lead visitors through underground domes and spacious rooms. You’ll also see beautiful scenic lake views along the tour. This cavern remains around 58°F year-round, and tours leave about every 20 minutes. Adult tickets are usually around $22, and children’s tickets are typically a reduced price.
There’s also a Lantern Tour through the War Eagle Cavern where visitors use handheld oil lamps to explore the cave and listen to stories not on the other tour. Tickets are around $30/person and are available for people aged 13 and up. In addition to the cave tours, visitors can enjoy a maze, mystery shack, gemstone panning, and fish feeding.
4. Onyx Cave
Onyx Cave Park is less than 30 minutes from Cosmic Cavern. These cave tours are radio-guided rather than person-led and last about 30 minutes. It’s a non-strenuous trail that passes through beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. Discovered in 1891, the Onyx Cave features natural onyx, a crystalline, translucent stone.
Like the War Eagle Cavern, Onyx Cave Park provides above-ground fun for the family. Play a game of ax-throwing, try panning for gems, or smash some glass items in the rage room. Cave tours are around $13-14 with discounted prices for kids.
5. Old Spanish Treasure Cave
Want to search for hidden treasure? The Old Spanish Treasure Cave appears in legends of hidden treasure the Spanish Conquistadors supposedly buried. Another cave in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas, the Old Spanish Treasure Cave has rooms and passageways with stunning rock formations. During the 1-hour tour, guests learn more about the hidden treasure and attempt to find it. The tour is about one-third mile one-way and costs around $21/adult and $12/child.
6. Bull Shoals Caverns
Bull Shoals Caverns is in Bull Shoals, Arkansas. Unlike some other caves in Arkansas, Bull Shoals Caverns doesn’t require reservations. One of the world’s oldest limestone caverns in the Ozark mountain range, the caverns date to approximately 350 million years ago.
A waterfall lies at the deepest part of the cave, and you can see stalactites, stalagmites, drapolites, box work, columns, cave pearls, and flow stone. Bull Shoals Caverns is famous for its stunning cathedral room. Adult tickets are usually around $20, and children’s tickets are at a discount. The tour lasts about 45 minutes.
7. Mystic Caverns
The Mystic Caverns may be experiencing a closure during an ownership transfer, so please check its status before planning a visit. It’s a cave in Arkansas that you could visit on the same day as the Cosmic Cavern since it’s less than an hour away. The owner, Steve Rush, has been trying to sell the cave. Inside the Mystic Caverns, there’s a 30-foot-tall calcite formation people call the “Pipe Organ.” The 70-foot-high Crystal Dome includes a dripstone of pure white calcite. Once it opens, this is a cave in Arkansas you don’t want to miss!
What Else Is Arkansas Known for?
Besides touring underground caves, visitors to Arkansas also enjoy soaking in the hot springs of Bathhouse Row at Hot Springs National Park. The rich history, grand architecture, and mountain views lure about two million visitors each year.
The Ouachita National Forest and the Ouachita Mountains also draw visitors to the Natural State. The forest encompasses almost two million acres in Arkansas and Oklahoma and offers plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities like hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, boating, camping, picnicking, swimming, hunting, fishing, and ATV riding.
Finally, Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro is a one-of-a-kind experience. Visitors can search for diamonds in a volcanic crater and keep anything they find. The park also educates guests about rocks, minerals, and proper diamond mining techniques.
Pro Tip: Don’t want to go below ground? Make a splash at one of these 5 Amazing National Seashores You Need to Visit.
There’s a Reason Arkansas Is Called the Natural State
Arkansas is the home of President Clinton and the site of the historic Central High School and the famous Little Rock Nine. However, it’s also a state with spectacular scenery. From pristine lakes and lush valleys to breathtaking fall colors, Arkansas is aptly named the Natural State.
Part of its stunning landscape is the underground world of caves. Whether you want a strenuous hike, to crawl through passageways, or take a stroll through grand rooms, the caves in Arkansas won’t disappoint!
Which cave will you visit the next time you’re road-tripping through the Natural State? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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