8 Route 66 Hidden Caves & Caverns Explored

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Ever wonder what incredible sights lie just beneath the surface along Route 66? Get ready to uncover some mind-blowing hidden gems in the form of jaw-dropping caves and caverns that will take your breath away.

And the best part? Most of them are just a short detour from America's Mother Road, making it easy to add some serious adventure to your road trip.

So buckle up, grab your sense of curiosity, and get ready to go underground on an unforgettable adventure!

1. Meramec Caverns, Missouri

Meramec Caverns, Missouri

In the heart of Missouri, directly on the historic Route 66, Meramec Caverns offers visitors a unique blend of natural beauty and intriguing history.

This vast limestone cave system, renowned for its role in Native American lore and as a hideout for the infamous outlaw Jesse James, invites exploration with its guided tours that delve deep into the earth.

The caverns are illuminated by modern lighting to reveal stunning formations and the underground river that carved them over millions of years. Visitors should dress appropriately with comfortable walking shoes and a light jacket, as cave temperatures are consistently cool regardless of the season.

The tour paths are well-maintained, making them accessible for most visitors, including those with limited mobility. Beyond the natural allure, Meramec Caverns plays host to a variety of events throughout the year, including spectacular light and sound shows that bring the cave's history to life.

With a restaurant and gift shop on site, guests can enjoy a full day's adventure without venturing far from the iconic Mother Road. Before visiting, you should check the official Meramec Caverns website for the latest information on tour schedules, event timings, and any potential restrictions or tips to enhance your visit.

2. Fantastic Caverns, Missouri

Inside the Fantastic Caverns in Springfield Missouri. This is shot in portrait.

Following the underground trail along Route 66 brings us to Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, Missouri. This unique geological marvel stands out not only for its natural beauty but also for its accessibility.

Fantastic Caverns, proudly positioned directly on the historic Route 66, is distinguished as America's only ride-through cave. This one-of-a-kind feature was discovered in 1862 and has since provided an opportunity for visitors of all ages and abilities to explore the underground world in a comfortable Jeep-drawn tram.

This ride-through experience is not just about convenience; it offers an insightful journey through the cave’s wide passageways, adorned with vast formations of stalactites and stalagmites, without the physical demands typically associated with cave exploration.

This makes Fantastic Caverns an ideal stop for families, elderly visitors, or anyone looking for a less strenuous adventure. The cave's constant temperature offers a cool respite during hot summer days and a warm escape during the colder months, making it a year-round attraction.

History enthusiasts will appreciate the cave’s unique lore, being first explored by a group of twelve women in the late 19th century, and its significance during the Prohibition era.

Make sure to wear comfortable clothing suitable for the cave’s natural, cool environment, and check the official website for tour times and any special events or educational programs.

3. Onondaga Cave, Missouri

Onondaga Cave in Onondaga Cave State Park in Leasburg, Missouri

Venturing further into Missouri's underground treasures along Route 66, Onondaga Cave is a testament to the state's rich geological and natural heritage.

Just a short drive south of Interstate 44, which mirrors the historic Route 66 corridor through Missouri, Onondaga Cave is a breathtaking showcase of stalactites, stalagmites, and active flowstones, offering visitors a vivid portrait of nature's underground artistry.

Designated as a National Natural Landmark, this cave is not only a geological wonder but also a place of serene beauty, where the quiet murmur of the underground river accompanies your exploration.

Visitors to Onondaga Cave can look forward to guided tours that illuminate the cave's history, formations, and delicate ecosystem. These tours are designed to be educational, making it a fantastic destination for families, school groups, and anyone with a keen interest in geology or natural history.

The cave maintains a cool temperature throughout the year, providing a refreshing escape during the heat of summer and a cozy haven during the chill of winter. Tour paths are well-maintained, ensuring accessibility for most visitors, though comfortable walking shoes and a light jacket are recommended for the best experience.

Beyond the cave itself, the Onondaga Cave State Park offers a variety of outdoor activities, including camping, hiking, and picnicking, making it a perfect spot for a full day's adventure or even a weekend getaway.

4. Jacob's Cave, Missouri

Jacob's Cave, within the rolling hills of Missouri, offers another fascinating stop along the Route 66 corridor, albeit with a slight detour into the heart of the state's geological splendor.

Positioned within a reasonable distance from the historic highway, Jacob's Cave is particularly renowned for its extensive display of speleothems, including mirror-like pools, massive geodes, and an array of stalactites and stalagmites that create a mesmerizing underground landscape.

This cave is not just a natural wonder but also a historical and educational journey, with evidence of prehistoric animal bones and early human activity offering a glimpse into the past.

One of the cave's most striking features is its accessibility. The pathways within Jacob's Cave are notably flat and well-lit, making it an excellent choice for visitors of all ages and abilities, including those with mobility challenges.

The cave's constant, cool temperature provides a comfortable exploring environment year-round, inviting guests to escape the outdoor weather and enter a serene, ancient world beneath the earth's surface.

Beyond the cave tour, the surrounding area offers picturesque landscapes. It is a short drive from other attractions and amenities, making it a perfect addition to a Route 66 adventure through Missouri.

Check the official Jacob's Cave website for up-to-date information on tour availability, special events, and educational programs that might coincide with their visit.

5. Turner Falls Park, Oklahoma

The Beautiful Turner Falls a Seventy-Seven Foot Waterfalls in Turner Falls Park West of Davis, Oklahoma

Just a stone's throw from the heart of Route 66 lies Turner Falls Park in Davis, Oklahoma, a natural paradise known for its stunning 77-foot waterfall, the tallest in the state.

This scenic park offers a perfect blend of outdoor adventure and relaxation, with its clear, cool streams, natural swimming pools, and picturesque hiking trails that invite exploration and discovery.

Visitors can marvel at the geological wonders, including caves and rock formations, and enjoy picnicking, camping, and cabin rentals within the park's lush landscapes. Turner Falls Park is an ideal spot for families, nature enthusiasts, and photographers looking to capture the beauty of Oklahoma's natural scenery.

Beyond the falls, the park's unique flora and fauna add to its allure, making it a haven for wildlife watching. Whether you're seeking a tranquil retreat in nature or an adventurous day out, Turner Falls Park provides an enriching experience that complements the historic and cultural journey along Route 66.

Before visiting, check the Turner Falls Park official website for entry fees, park rules, and the best times to visit to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience amidst Oklahoma's breathtaking natural beauty.

6. Tulsa Tunnels, Oklahoma

Just off the historic stretches of Route 66 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, lies a mysterious and intriguing underground world known as the Tulsa Tunnels.

Unlike the natural caves previously discussed, the Tulsa Tunnels are a network of man-made passages that run beneath the city's downtown area, offering a unique peek into an often overlooked aspect of urban history and architecture.

Originally constructed in the early 20th century, these tunnels were meant to connect various buildings for easy access during inclement weather and have since been shrouded in urban legends and tales.

The intrigue surrounding their purpose—ranging from pedestrian pathways to prohibition-era bootlegging routes—adds to the allure of exploring them. Today, parts of the tunnel system are open for public tours, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience a piece of Tulsa's hidden history firsthand.

When visiting the Tulsa Tunnels, wearing comfortable walking shoes is important, as the exploration involves walking on paved surfaces and checking in advance for tour availability and booking requirements.

The tours are an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding of Tulsa's development and the role these tunnels have played in the city's history.

7. Apache Death Cave, Arizona

Continuing the exploration of Route 66's proximity to captivating historical sites, the journey leads us to the enigmatic Apache Death Cave, located in the stark and stirring landscapes of Arizona.

Positioned at a distance that could vary between 75 to 100 miles from the famed Route 66, depending on the chosen path, the Apache Death Cave offers a darker, more haunting slice of American history and folklore.

Situated near the ghost town of Two Guns, the cave has been shrouded in legends and tales of tragedy that trace the conflicts between settlers and Native American tribes in the late 19th century.

The name "Apache Death Cave" itself evokes the grim story of a bloody encounter between the Apache and Navajo tribes, where it is said that a group of Apache warriors hid in the cave to escape retaliation from the Navajo, only to be discovered and suffocated as the entrance was sealed off.

While archaeological evidence to fully substantiate these tales is sparse, the cave and its surrounding ruins have become a somber point of interest for those drawn to the more somber aspects of the Old West and Route 66 history.

Visitors drawn to the Apache Death Cave should approach with a sense of respect for its historical and cultural significance. The site, while offering a poignant reminder of the turbulent history between Native American tribes and European settlers, also provides an opportunity for reflection on the complexities of American history.

The area around Two Guns, where the cave is located, offers additional ruins and historical sites, including remnants of old Route 66 attractions that add layers of intrigue for visitors.

Sturdy footwear, water, sun protection, and perhaps a guide or detailed map are advisable, as the terrain can be challenging and the site is relatively remote.

8. Grand Canyon Caverns, Arizona

A rock arch in the Grand Canyon Caverns near Peach Springs AZ along historic route 66 at mile marker 115

Diverge slightly off the historic highway to explore the Grand Canyon Caverns in Arizona, located just a short drive from the main route. Grand Canyon Caverns, located on Historic Route 66 in Arizona, invites visitors to explore one of the largest dry caverns in the United States.

This natural wonder, formed over 65 million years ago, lies 21 stories beneath the Earth's surface, offering a unique underground adventure. Visitors can descend into the caverns via an elevator, embarking on guided tours that cater to various interests and physical abilities.

The Standard Tour, suitable for all ages, takes approximately 45 minutes and showcases the cavern's vast history and geology. For the more adventurous, the Explorer Tour and the Wild Tour offer an in-depth spelunking experience, requiring reservations and physical fitness to navigate through less explored cavern sections.

In addition to the cavern tours, Grand Canyon Caverns provides accommodations, dining options, and an RV park/campground, making it a comprehensive stop for travelers seeking to immerse themselves in the beauty and mystery of the Arizona landscape.

The constant temperature inside the caverns provides a cool escape from the desert heat, making it a year-round destination for families, history buffs, and adventure seekers alike.

For those planning a visit, it's crucial to check the latest information directly with Grand Canyon Caverns, as some visitors have reported temporary closures and communication issues.

For more information on tours, accommodations, and reservations, you can visit the official Grand Canyon Caverns website at Grand Canyon Caverns & Inn.

Don't Miss Out on These Unforgettable Underground Adventures

As you plan your Route 66 road trip, remember to leave some room for spontaneity and a sense of adventure.

These incredible caves and caverns offer a unique opportunity to step off the beaten path and experience the natural wonders that lie beneath the surface. Don't let them slip under your radar, including these other must-visit Route 66 spots in our list: 10 Hidden Gems Along Route 66 For Your Bucket List.

A few final tips: Pack comfortable walking shoes, a light jacket, and a spirit of exploration. Check opening hours and tour schedules in advance, but also be prepared to embrace the unexpected. Read our guide for more information: Packing Essentials for Your Route 66 Road Trip.

These underground marvels have been around for millions of years – they're not going anywhere. So take your time, savor the experience, and create memories that will last a lifetime. The open road and the mysteries beneath await!

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