The cave was discovered by a hunter in 1819 when his dog chased a cougar into it. The cave has mostly a soft limestone, Louisiana Lithographic Limestone, that is found in a 35-mile area in Hannibal and in Louisiana, MO. The limestone is estimated by geologists to be 350 million years old and the winding passages in the cave 100 million years old. There are four entrances and 260 passages in the 6.5-mile long cave. It is 52 degrees year round (so bring a jacket).
The cave was purchased by James McDowell in 1848 and remains privately owned. It is featured in five of Mark Twain's books, but most prominently in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
The entrance to the cave is through the visitor center where tickets are sold. It has some historic information about the cave; a gift shop; and, a theatre where "The Life and Times of Mark Twain" performance is held Wednesday through Thursday at 2 pm (Memorial Day through October 1). Tickets for the one hour 20 minute tour of the nearby Cameron Cave are also purchased here.
Tours run on the hour until 7 pm and sometimes more frequently if there are enough visitors. Our guide, Evan (who was great!), began our tour at this map of the cave. We entered at the 1890 entrance.
There are many signatures on the walls of the cave (most made when it was still legal). There are none of the traditional stalagmite or column formations that we have seen in other caves but mostly winding passages through the limestone.
Jesse James reportedly used the cave as a hideout for a few days after robbing a bank in Saverton, MO, in 1879. His signature with the date is still visible in the cave (although not along the tour).
The cave is lit by electrical lights that enable the visitor to get a look at the many passages seen along the way.
This part of the cave is called the "Post Office," and is a place where you will find many visitor names on the walls. It is estimated that there are 250,000 names on the rocks of the cave!
These dark stains in the ceiling are evidence of bats that used to make the cave their home. Humans have made this cave an undesirable habitat for the bats and they have found more favorable locations in the area.
This part of the cave is called "The Parlor" and everyone in our tour sat on the "benches" here with the kids climbing up on the higher "shelves." The second photo shows the "sign of the cross" in the ceiling referenced in the Tom Sawyer book.
Here are a few more shots of the interesting rock formations of the Mark Twain Cave: Devil's Backbone, The Spring, and Aladdin's Palace.
The Cave Hollow Winery makes cheese that is aged a passage in the cave. Very cool!
Admission to the Mark Twain Cave is $18.95/adult which I initially thought was pretty pricey. But we really enjoyed the tour and it was well worth it! This is only a short description of all of the interesting stuff you will see and learn on a tour of the cave.
We owe a debt of gratitude to RV friends, Ed and Marilyn, we met in Colorado who told us about the Mark Twain Campground. Ed is a tour guide at the cave when they visit here. Everyone knew them when we signed up for our tour!
Check out their web site for additional information about the various attractions and activities at the Mark Twain Cave Complex.