Caves and Karst
Over 300 caves have been identified within the boundaries of Ozark National Scenic Riverways, ranging from not much more than a rock overhang to one cave with almost seven miles of identified passages. Eight caves, including an open sinkhole, have been designated as outstanding natural features.
The Ozarks is an area typified by what is called "Karst Topography." This means that the geologic structures underneath the earth are made of soluble limestone and dolomite. Water has been at work underground wearing away passages- waterfilled ones we call springs and formerly water-filled ones we call caves. A karst landscape is one in which caves, springs, sinkholes and losing streams are found. Due to the porous nature of the ground, and the movement of water underground over sometimes great distances, groundwater in karst areas is particularly vulnerable to pollution.
Cave ecosystems are unique and delicately balanced, with major changes possibly occurring from relatively slight disturbances. Geologic formations in some caves are quite fragile, easily damaged by vandalism or visitor overuse. Their formation is extremely slow, and physical damage may remain in evidence for generations. Some caves have been used by man and animals since prehistoric times, and evidence of this use and artifacts may be easily obliterated. Some Ozark caves, which are better known or more easily reached, have received considerable visitation, and more damage and site deterioration have occurred. Caves may contain unsuspected hazards to visitors unfamiliar to such alien environments, and the threat of serious injury or death from falls or drowning is always present. Several caves have been identified as having critical habitat for the endangered Indiana and gray bats. Some of these caves are gated or signed to protect bat habitat. Presently ALL caves in the park, with the exception of Round Spring Cave and Devils Well, are CLOSED. This is to protect bat populations that are at risk from White Nose Syndrome, a disease killing millions of bats across the United States. Please respect these closures.
Tours of Round Spring Cave are offered daily during the summer months at 10:00 and 2:00. Tickets go on sale thirty minutes before each tour, and reservations are not accepted. Please do not wear or bring anything that has been in other caves. This is to help prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome.
Both the Federal Government and the State of Missouri take protecting caves seriously. To review the applicable state and federal laws click:
In many cases the Endangered Species Act and other laws may also apply.
Some Cave Links
Did You Know?
Ozark National Scenic Riverways' glades are rocky, desert-like area on hilltops. Kept open by periodic fires, they are home to collared lizards, tarantulas, scorpions, cacti and other species more typical of the desert southwest. More at www.nps.gov/ozar More...