What do weddings, an escape room, and classic American literature have in common? In Missouri, also known as the Cave State, you’ll find the answer underground.

Thanks to its karst-heavy landscape, Missouri is home to a vast network of more than 6,000 caves, both natural and human-made. These subterranean landmarks are natural playgrounds for geology buffs, but all visitors will be fascinated by their limestone and dolomite formations. What’s more, many of the state’s caves hold their own exciting, unexpected claims to fame.

From a tram ride that makes caving both fun and accessible to a superlatively deep cavern hidden below a theme park, here’s why a visit to Missouri isn’t complete until you head below the surface.

Underground tours to remember

Start your Missouri caving adventures with something unexpected at Bonne Terre Mine, one of the most impressive human-made caves on Earth. This site was once the world’s largest producer of lead ore. The mine closed in 1962 and has since filled with spring water, creating a massive underground lake you can explore on a guided boat tour. You’ll see the remains of the mine’s top two levels and learn about the site’s history.

Swap the boat for an electric golf cart and zoom along the 2.5-mile Nature Trail to reach Lost Canyon Cave, part of Top of the Rock Ozarks Heritage Preserve. Admire mesmerizing waterfalls and geological formations, then stop at the cascade-side Bat Bar for a Bat’s Blood (vodka and strawberry peach lemonade) as the watering hole’s namesake mammals fly around. Tickets include access to the nearby Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum.

To add some fitness to your cave experience, head to Crystal City Underground just south of St. Louis. There, you can paddle on a 150-acre subterranean lake with Marsan Kayak and Canoe Tours. The journey takes about three hours as you float through the abandoned and flooded Pittsburgh Plate Glass silica mine. Along the way, keep an eye out for memorable landmarks such as the Birth Canal, Gilligan’s Island, The Squeeze, The Car Wash, and the largest opening in the mine, Townsend Center.

Across the state in Springfield, Fantastic Caverns was discovered in 1862 when John Knox and his dog came across an ancient underground river. It’s the only cave in North America with a complete ride-through tram. On the 55-minute tour, you’ll traverse the riverbed and pass fascinating rock formations and sinkholes.

One-of-a-kind caving experiences

The entrance to one of the deepest caves in Missouri (500 feet) passes through an 1880s-themed park. Beneath Branson’s Silver Dollar City lies Marvel Cave, a registered National Natural Landmark so enormous a hot-air balloon once floated inside. Guided tours are included in your park admission and run every half hour. To start, you’ll walk through the grand Cathedral Room, the largest cave entrance room in the US (look up to admire its 20-foot ceiling). Later, keep an eye out for the 40-foot underground waterfall.

Stark Caverns, near Lake of the Ozarks, has two unique underground offerings: a blacklight tour and an escape room. In the blacklight glow, you’ll watch as kaleidoscopic calcite-rich fluorescent minerals light up the caverns. Be sure to book a full tour to see all the incredible geological formations, including Moonshiner’s Dam and the Wishing Well.

In Missouri, real cave fanatics can hold their nuptials inside a show cave at Bridal Cave, a breathtaking display of nature near Lake of the Ozarks. Ceremonies take place in a dramatic chapel with stalactites serving as a natural wedding arch. Packages start at $795, complete with a Champagne toast and a lifetime cave pass for the newlyweds.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to sleep in a cave — but without sacrificing comfort — you’re in luck. Caveland, a 15,000-square-foot cave in Festus, is launching soon on Airbnb. Its former skating rink has been reimagined as a three-bed, one-bath rental, positioned in the front of the cave’s chambers.

Another adventure awaits fans of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at the Mark Twain Cave Complex. Twain grew up in Hannibal, where the labyrinth-style cave system is located, and visitors will discover a whole new underground world. It’s the oldest operating show cave in Missouri and has been a National Natural Landmark since 1972. It’s said that this cave, originally known as McDowell’s Cave, inspired “McDougal’s Cave” in Twain’s iconic novel — and the renowned author left behind his signature there.

Brews and bites below the surface

The Cave. Photo: Lake of the Ozarks CVB

At the oldest bar in Missouri, you can enjoy a pint 50-plus feet below Earth’s surface. O’Malley’s Pub in Weston operates out of a subterranean limestone brewery cellar (and hosts tours on Saturdays). Be sure to check the pub’s events calendar to catch live music when you visit.

For a chill afternoon, head to Cave Bar and Grill, a seasonal establishment located within a 3,300-square-foot-cave near Camdenton. Dock your boat at the lakefront and go for a swim in the site’s massive pool. This is the largest swimming pool in the south Lake Ozark area and extends into a natural cave. Once inside, dig into a gluten-free “grotto style” catfish po’ boy, fried cheese curds, and a Caesar salad while live music sets the vibe.

There are countless reasons to love Missouri, but the Cave State’s unconventional underground experiences are high on the list. Talk about getting a deeper look at a destination — literally.