Silver Dollar City's greatest treasure may be lie 300 feet below its surface.
Branson's pre-eminent theme park is best known for its rides, entertainment and 100 artisans who demonstrate Ozark Mountain crafts for visitors. But the park got its start because of Marvel Cave, a limestone cave that was first discovered by Osage Indians around 1500 A.D. In 1894, a local man bought the property that the cave is located on and opened it as a tourist attraction; he and his daughters continued to operate tours of the cave for the next 50 years. In 1950, the Herschend family leased the land built a few buildings around the opening to the cave. Their small development has grown into Silver Dollar City, an attraction that vastly overwhelms the popularity of Marvel Cave itself.
The presence of a theme park doesn't make Marvel Cave any less marvelous, though. Silver Dollar City admission tickets entitle visitors to free tours of the cave, which take around 40 minutes. I joined a cave tour during my day visiting the park, and was amazed by what I saw.
We descended into Marvel Cave on foot, slowly making our way down the more than 450 steps that lead to the bottom. The descent was slow and easy, though, and we were treated with spectacular views along the way. One of the most memorable sights is the Cathedral Room, a 200-foot-high cavern that is the largest entry point of any cave in North America. This huge room is spectaclar is scope, large enough to house the Statue of Liberty, and makes a wonderful introduction to the sights to come.
After walking across the floor of the Cathedral Room, we continued along a half-mile path that took us past spectacular rock formations and waterfalls. Many of the rock formations were created by the slow drip of water over thousands of years. They have been lit in dramatic fashion to help highlight the stunning beauty of this secret underground world.
At the end of the tour, we ascended just a few stairs, and then boarded an incline railway that took us the rest of the way up to the surface. Though thousands of visitors were having a great time above ground, I think those of us that took the time to tour this fantastic cave got the best experience of all.
Descending into the Cathedral Room
Marvel Cave's spectacular waterfall
The cave tour highlights otherworldly rock formations.
Unique geological features