Tumbling Creek Cave

Bear Cave - Ozark Underground Laboratory

Useful Information

Location: Near Protem.
Open: After appointment
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Guided tours:  
Bibliography: Holly D Neill (2003): The Effects of Land Use Practices on Tumbling Creek Cave in Taney County, Missouri, Proc of The Geological Society, North-Central Section, 37th Annual Meeting, March 24-25, 2003
William R. Elliott, Ph.D., Thomas Aley (2005): Karst Conservation in the Ozarks: Forty Years at Tumbling Creek Cave, Proc. National Cave And Karst Management Symposium 2005.
Address: Ozark Underground Laboratory, Inc., Protem, MO 65733, Tel: +1-417-785-4289.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1974 cavesnail population estimated at 15,000 individuals.
1996 periodic sampling of a section of the cave started.
1997 1,166 individuals surveyed.
2001 no snails found, species endangered.
2004 large chute gate built on the natural entrance to restore the gray bat colony.


Tumbling Creek Cave is a famous educational and research cave. This means, it is not a tourist cave at all, although its is "developed" to a certain extend. There are paths in the cave which are used by the researchers, and which were built to protect the cave from damages by the researchers. However, the cave is somewhat public as it is accessible for educational tours after appointment. Those low-impact educational tours for college and professional groups are lead by the owners, Tom and Cathy Aley. They include both the surface karst features and the cave. They also run the Ozark Underground Laboratory (OUL), the only such underground hydrogeology laboratory in the United States. And it is as far as we know the only such institution which is privately owned worldwide.

Tumbling Creek Cave is of specific interest because of the rich diversity of its cave fauna. It has the highest cave biodiversity west of the Mississippi River, with 111 species, including 12 troglobites. The most famous species of the cave is the tumbling creek snail (Antrobia culveri) which is an endemic, endangered species. This aquatic snail is the center of a lot of research, as it serves as a marker for water quality and allows the monitoring of the recharge area of the cave. Other endangered species found in the acve are the gray bat (Myotis grisescens) and the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). Because of this it has been designated as a Natural National Landmark by the Department of the Interior and is listed as a significant cave by the U.S. Forest Service.

Tumbling Creek Cave is located in Taney County, a karst area with at least 130 known caves according to the Missouri Speleological Survey. It has been known to the native Indians who named it Bear Cave. When the white settlers arrived, they used the cave entrance as a shelter. Later the cave was also used as a hideout after a bank robbery.