It’s not easy to find a place that each of my three kids love, especially when we’re in unfamiliar territory and they’ve had to share not just a hotel room, but also a bathroom. Thank goodness we found Bridal Caves during our Lake of the Ozarks vacation.
I didn’t know until we visited that Missouri is more than the “Show Me State.” It’s also the Cave State. There are more than 6,300 recorded caves, many of which are in the Ozark area. Located on Thunder Mountain, Bridal Cave is rich in history. Tour guides and store clerks will gladly share the stories of Conwee, Chief Neongo, Wasena and Elkhorn, Chief of the Little Hills.
They’ll tell you that Wasena chose death over a life with someone she did not love and that later her companion, Irona, married Prince Buffalo in the cave in which she and Wasena had been held captive. The room was called “Bridal Cave” and is now known as the Bridal Chapel, where more than 2,500 weddings have taken place. People come from all over the world to pledge their undying love for one another amid the beautifully unique—and damp—stalactite studded walls.
What Kids Love about Bridal Cave
My kids, however, couldn’t care less about Wasena or the weddings or the folklore. They were far too mesmerized with the soda straws that hang from the walls, the hidden river that is so crystal clear and achingly turquoise that it looks like it’s been plucked straight from a tropical paradise and the chance to maybe see a live bat fly above their heads.
I loved all of that too, save the potential bat sightings, but what I love more is that each time we visited (we’ve been twice) it seemed almost like a different tour. Sure, it’s the same cave and the same bacon drapery and stalagmites and soda straws. But each tour guide brings his or her own unique interests and knowledge to the tour.
Our first time through, the tour guide couldn’t answer my question about why one spot looked green and another looked copper, but she mesmerized my daughter with sightings of cave cupcakes, a Dr. Seuss hat, an angel and a bunny rabbit. The same tour guide indulged my son’s seemingly endless questions about bats. She promised him he’d see one at the end of the tour, and she was true to her word. It wasn’t live, though; it was preserved in casing and passed around in the same way specimens are passed around in science class.
Returning to Bridal Cave on our Lake of the Ozarks Vacation
On our second visit, our guide knew much more about the scientific and geological specifics of the cave itself. This was fantastic for my oldest son, who, at 17, couldn’t care less about bunnies or cupcakes. Even with her more technical approach, however, she still kept my younger two engaged with the tin can flashlight trick and by fully capitalizing on the mystery of just how that hidden river got there in the first place.
The tour through the cave is comfortable, though anyone with claustrophobic tendencies might want to think twice. Calling some of the passageways narrow is being generous, and depending on the day and the number of people on your tour, you could be packed quite tightly into small areas. The guides will give you a chance to assess your comfort level and turn back, if necessary; on both tours, each announced the last chance to turn around before being ‘stuck’ for the duration.
I wish I’d known to wear closed shoes, as I don’t enjoy getting my feet wet unless I’m dipping them in the lapping waters of a sandy shore. I also wish I’d known to bring a light jacket; not only is the cave cool, but it’s drippy. A hood would have been nice.
We also had fun sluicing, which means the kids get to dump a bag of lots of different sizes and shapes of rocks into a mesh container and rinse them in a running stream of water. The water washes off the dirt and reveals which rocks and gemstones the kids get to take home. The $10 bag was a bargain for how long it kept my kids too busy to bicker. My son especially got a kick out of cracking geodes in the gift shop After choosing a rock, the staff places it inside a cage and breaks it open to reveal a gorgeous inside that the kids can bring home with them. I appreciate that the gift shop isn’t priced the way so many gifts shops are; there were choices that cost my kids just a dollar or two, and nicer options for rock lovers looking for a unique gift.
Oh, and cold sodas and ice cream treats, too.
More information is available online at bridalcave.com. Our Lake of the Ozarks vacation was sponsored by The Benders-Walkers Group. We received complimentary admission to Bridal Cave and free geodes and bags to sluice. Opinions, experiences, and photos are my own.