Bearing names like Mystic, War Eagle, Crystal Dome, Cosmic, Spanish
Treasure, and other flights of imagination, eight of these caves
currently are open to visitors. Each cave is distinctly different.
The U.S. Forest Service operates mammoth Blanchard Springs Caverns
at Mountain View. The others are commercial tour caves open to the
Visitors who venture below ground will find glistening fossils;
popcorn, flowstone, helictite, stalagmites, stalactites, and other
formations; sometimes narrow passageways; and deep pools that are
home to blind salamanders or trout. There are vast rooms glittering
with massive formations as well as tiny niches which might hold just
one corkscrew-like piece of geological history.
Inside temperatures stay the same year round, usually ranging from
the upper 50s to lower 60s, depending on the cave. During frosty
weather, interiors feel gently warm, while in summer, they provide a
cool respite from the heat.
Arkansas's caves are living, which means the formations, caused when
minerals are deposited by dripping water over long periods, are
Nearly all the caves provide guides who assist with safety as well
as with cave lore. The guides also keep watchful eyes on the
Randy Langhover, who with his wife and son operates three tour
caves, always tells his visitors to Cosmic Cavern near Berryville
about the fragility of caves.
He points out damaged areas, then contrasts them with lacy soda
straws and fronds from intact formations. Even the lightest touch
can sometimes break a delicate strand so he cautions cave explorers
against feeling the rock.
As visitors venture deeper into the cave, strategic illumination
casts lights and shadows onto a wonderland of shapes, colors, sizes,
There are frozen waterfalls, cabbage heads, draperies, columns,
flowers, cones, and other formations, all created by the action of
water on stone. Light dances around the cave walls, wet floor, and
formations, scattering and then re-forming in a rainbow of colors.
Although the tour doesn't actually enter it, visitors may view the
cave's newly discovered "Arkansas's Silent Splendor" room. First
explored in 1993, the 200-by-20-foot room is an example of "what a
pristine cave looks like," with nine-foot-tall "soda straws" and a
giant onyx flowstone on the east wall, among other attractions.
He points out that once the formations and living organisms that
inhabit caves are gone, "they're gone forever. We need to protect
these eco-systems for future generations."
An "ancient river" carved Hurricane River Cave, located on U.S. 65
at Pindall, says Roby Szlemko, who operates the cave with his
mother, Barbara Szlemko. Visitors can take a 45-minute tour into the
cave, traveling about one-fourth of a mile.
The serpentine trail, which "is mostly level," passes three springs
as it works back to two four-story rooms named the Cathedral Room
and the Theater Room.
Szlemko likes to tell about the cave's skeletons, including a
saber-toothed tiger skeleton found in 1978. There are tales that
Cole Younger, one of the notorious Younger Brothers, may have used
the cave as a hideout.
At Bull Shoals Caverns, located just off Ark. 178 at Bull Shoals,
Confederate soldiers "pulled clay out of the cave to make
gunpowder," says Harold Graham. Graham, along with his wife Millie,
operates the cave as well as Mountain Village 1890, an above-ground
Concrete walkways form the one-third mile trail, which is about 100
feet underground. Three bridges mark the spots where an underground
river crosses the trail.
Conquistadors led by Hernando de Soto left stolen gold in the Old
Spanish Treasure Cave on Hwy. 59 at Sulphur Springs, says Paul
Linscott, who operates the attraction.
Many explorers have come looking for the gold, which remains hidden
if, indeed, it ever existed. However, an oak tree still bears
remnants of a map rumored to have been carved over 200 years ago.
Mystic Caverns, eight miles south of Harrison on Scenic 7 Byway, is
actually two caves separated by 60 feet of rock.
Mystic, which has been opened to public tours since the 1920s,
contains one large room featuring a 28-foot "pipe organ" among its
formations. The cave was cleaned in 1994, stripping away layers of
soot caused by years of moonshining operations.
Crystal Dome Cavern next door was discovered in 1967. Because of its
later discovery, the eight-stories-high cave is more pristine than
Visitors to Onyx Cave, located six miles east of Eureka Springs,
take self-guided tours. Electronic messages point out different
formations such as the Witches Fireplace and the Friendly Dragon.
An underground stream runs through War Eagle Cavern on Scenic Hwy.
12 near Rogers. The cave contains unusual dome pits, some reaching
60 feet in height; abundant crinoid fossils; and other attractions.
The entrance, which is surrounded by plantings, is located on Beaver
Discovered in 1963, Blanchard Springs is filled with unspoiled
formations such as the 65-foot-high "The Column," as well as another
huge formation named "The Flowstone." The cave was opened to the
public in 1973.
The 1.2-mile Discovery Trail, which follows a stream in the lower
depths, contains nearly 700 stairsteps. The .7 mile long Dripstone
Trail leads through the upper portion.
Several of the caves are open all year, but days open vary by
season. Some are open from spring until fall only. Visitors should
check with individual properties before planning a visit.
Some caves offer other on-site attractions, such as gift shops,
museums, snack bars, and more.
Access varies by cave, as some contain stairs, steep or uneven
walkways, narrow passageways, or ramps. Some caves can accommodate
wheelchairs. Visitors with questions about access should check with
cave operators before planning a visit.
For more information, check with individual caves or local chambers
of commerce. Cave telephone numbers include: Blanchard Springs
Caverns, (870) 757-2211; Bull Shoals Caverns, (870) 445-7177 or
1-800-445-7177; Cosmic Cavern, (870) 749-2298; Hurricane River Cave,
(870) 429-6200 or 1-800-245-2282; Mystic Caverns, (870) 743-1739;
Old Spanish Treasure Cave, (501) 787-6508; Onyx Cave, (501)
253-9321; and War Eagle Cavern, (501) 789-2909.