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From the pages of Camping Life Magazine
If you’re looking for an outdoor vacation that’s truly different, try these unique indoor locations
When you think of the Ozarks, visions of picturesque mountains, clear, flowing streams and beautiful scenery instantly come to mind. After a recent trip there, however, I now not only picture those images, but also visions of beautiful caves filled with impressive formations that truly dazzle the eye.
The most well-known and recognized cavern in Arkansas’ Ozarks is, without a doubt, Blanchard Springs Caverns, and there are three different tours available for exploring them. The easiest tour is the Dripstone Trail. It travels through two large rooms filled with a variety of formations that range from small soda straws all the way to gigantic columns. This relatively short trail takes you a half-mile, one way through the Caverns. This trail is handicapped accessible and all of the 50 stairs can be avoided if necessary, but strong assistants are advised for wheelchair control. Dripstone Trail is open every day from April through October. It’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays from November through March, as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. .
The second, more strenuous tour available is the Discovery Trail. This trail follows the course of the cave’s first explorers through water-carved corridors, along a cave stream, and through several stunning rooms. This longer tour is 1.2 miles long with nearly 700 stairs and is only open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
The third tour that takes place at Blanchard Springs Caverns is the Wild Cave Tour. This tour takes visitors into the undeveloped middle section of the Caverns. It’s limited to at least three, but no more than eight people, and “is for novices and families interested in a more adventurous cave experience,” said the Caverns’ manager Bob Reeves. The Caverns supplies hard hats, lamps, belts, gloves, kneepads, and a souvenir T-shirt for participants. The tour is 3 miles round-trip and participants need to wear long pants and sturdy boots – and should be prepared to get dirty.
Blanchard is owned and operated by the U.S. Forest Service and is located 13 miles north of Mountain View, between Alison and Fifty-Six, along Highway 14. For more information about the tours and rates for Blanchard Springs Caverns, call 870/757-2211 or 888/757-2246
The best base for your trip to Blanchard Springs Caverns is Blanchard Springs Recreational Area. Blanchard and Gunner Pool are two campgrounds located in this area that offer shady, private campsites, but have no hookups or electricity. Trout fishing, hiking, swimming, and picnicking are just a few of the many activities you can participate in while camping near Blanchard Springs Caverns. For reservations or more information, call the District Office at 870/269-3228.
When you finish looking at all the formations in Blanchard Springs Caverns, your next stop should be Hurricane River Cave. This show cave is located 16 miles south of Harrison, between Western Grove and Pindall, along Highway 65.
Hurricane River Cave’s entrance is at the base of a cliff with a 50-foot waterfall overhead. Visitors walk a serpentine path through the cave. It’s easy to lose your sense of direction as you walk along a quarter-mile underground riverbed. After walking through the maze-like passageways, visitors end up in a large room that houses many formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, and columns.
Hurricane River Cave is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., March 1 to October 31. If you came during winter, the schedule varies, so call 800/245-2282 or 870/429-6200 to learn when the cave is open.
From Hurricane River Cave it is a short drive to Mystic Caverns, located on Arkansas’ National Scenic 7 Byway, 8 miles south of Harrison, in Marble Falls. While visiting Mystic Caverns, you’ll have the opportunity to see two beautiful caverns.
The first cavern to visit is Mystic, the home of several huge formations, with a wide variety in a relatively small area. The cavern has some extremely rare formations such as spherical stalactites, thousands of helictites (tiny stalactites that spiral from the ceiling due to exposure to air drafts while forming) and cave coral.
The other cavern is Crystal Dome Cavern. It wasn’t discovered until recently and has suffered no damage from collectors. This is a living cave with nearly 90 to 95 percent of the formations still growing. At the culmination of the tour, visitors get to see the spectacular eight-story dome and a combination of formations that include stalactites, flowstone and drapery.
These two caverns are not handicapped accessible. The caverns are open March 1 to December 31 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and are open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call 888/743-1739 or 870/743-1739;
A perfect place to stay for visitors to Mystic Cavern and Hurricane River Cave is along the Buffalo National River. There are National Park Service campgrounds located along the Buffalo National River. They include Buffalo Point Campground (83 RV hookups with water and electricity); Erbie (14 RV sites with no hookups); Kyle’s Landing (33 tent sites); Ozark (35 tent sites); Steel Creek (26 tent sites); and Tyler Bend (28 RV/tent sites with no hookups). For more information about camping along the Buffalo National River, contact the park superintendent at 870/741-5443.
After touring Mystic Caverns, you should visit Cosmic Cavern located on Highway 21 North, near Berryville, Arkansas. As you walk through the cavern, you will see many formations and two lakes. The first lake, or south lake, has had trout in it for nearly 50 years. Some have gone blind and most have lost their color. At the end of the tour, you will see a newly found room that is the home to the largest soda straw formation in the Ozarks.
Cosmic Cavern’s schedule varies each month. Call 870/749-2298 to find out when the cavern is open. The average tour lasts one hour and 15 minutes and covers a total distance of one-third mile.
Located near Cosmic Cavern, Onyx Cave is found 6 miles east of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Visitors take a self-guided tour through the cave and see stalactites and stalagmites with names like the “Onyx Elephant,” the “Friendly Dragon,” and the “Witches Fireplace.” Easy access ramps take you to the cave entrance and an easy trail leads you through the cave.
Tours take about 30 minutes and there is no waiting since there are no guides. Onyx Cave is open daily at 8 a.m. and closing hours vary. For more information, call 501/253-9321.
War Eagle Cavern should be the next stop on your tour of show caverns. It is located on Highway 12, midway between Rodgers and Eureka Springs. You have to walk 300 yards down a hill to find the wild cavern entrance. At the mouth of the entrance, visitors learn about its history and get a sense as to what it feels like to enter a wild cavern. Tours last about 45 to 55 minutes and visitors get to explore a half-mile into the cavern. At one time, Native Americans used this cave.
Humans aren’t the only creatures that inhabited the War Eagle. It is one of only a few show caverns that have a resident population of bats. Between 250,000 and 500,000 bats call War Eagle home. The two resident species are Arkansas brown and Arkansas gray bats. The Arkansas gray bats are on the endangered species list and both species grown only to be around 2 ½ to 3 inches long. These bats are insect eaters so people should not worry about being bitten by them.
Another special feature of this cavern is that it can be accessed via boat by way of Beaver Lake when the water is high. A finger of Beaver Lake (Devil’s Gap Inlet) goes directly to the mouth of the cavern. Last year, the operators of the cavern built a dock for boats to use and this inlet can be found south of marker “6” on Beaver Lake.
From mid-March to November 1, War Eagle Cavern is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cavern is handicapped accessible and there is sufficient parking for buses, RVs, and campers. For more information about War Eagle Cavern, visit
, or call 501/789-2909.
Cosmic Cavern, Onyx Cave, and War Eagle Cavern are situated near campgrounds that can be found in the Beaver Lake area. Beaver Lake is located in the northwest corner of Arkansas, on the headwaters of the White River. This area is known for its smallmouth bass fishing, so bring your fishing pole. Camping on the lake is coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and reservations are available from April 1 to October 31. For reservations contact the National Recreation Reservation System at 877/444-6777, or
Some of the campgrounds located near or on Beaver Lake include the dam site on the lake (48 RV/tent sites with electricity); dam site on the river (55 RV/tent sites with electricity); Hickory Creek (61 RV/tent sites with electricity); Horseshoe Bend West (125 RV/tent sites with electricity); Rocky Branch (47 RV/tent sites with electricity) and War Eagle (26 RV/tent sites with electricity).
Nine developed caves are scattered throughout the Ozarks. Each cave is unique, so if you’ve hear the saying “seen one, seen ‘em all,” about caves, you have been misinformed. Each is a magnificent natural structure with a unique personality all its own. A tour of the Arkansas “show” caves will make your next outdoor vacation and indoor adventure, too.