Cathedral Cave

Useful Information

Location: 1 hour south of St. Louis. I-44 west to Onondaga 130 km, exit 214 (Leasburg). Turn left on ramp (Highway H), 11 km to Onondaga Cave State Park.
Open: APR to Memorial Day Sat 13, Sun 10.
Memorial Day to Labor Day Sat 10, 13, Sun 10:30.
Labor Day to OCT Sat 13, Sun 10.
Other times, for groups only, by special arrangement.
Fee: Adults USD 6, Children (13-19) USD 5, Children (6-12) USD 4, Children (0-5) free, Seniors (65+) USD 5.
Groups (10+): Adults USD 3, Children (13-19) USD 2.50, Children (6-12) USD 2, Seniors (65+) USD 2.50.
Groups must be scheduled two weeks in advance.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave Eminence and Gasconade dolomite (Ordovician, approx 450 million years old).
Light: Park furnished kerosene lamps
Dimension: L=4,766 m, T=13 °C.
Guided tours: L=2,670 m, D=120 min., V=5,000/a [2005].
Bibliography: Kenneth Thomson, Ronald L. Martin (1976): A Biological Study of Cathedral Cave, Crawford County, Missouri., Missouri Speleology, Vol. 16, No. 4, Missouri Speleological Survey, Fall 1976, ISBN: B000ECQ59E.
Address: Cathedral Cave, Onondaga Cave State Park, 7556 Hwy. H, Leasburg, MO 65535, Tel: +1-573-245-6600.
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.


1914 Lester Dill discovered the entrance.
1919 first entered by Fair and Everett Pinnell.
1930 current artificial entrance dug, show cave managed by Al Keber for the owner Timmerman Neilsen.
1947 first surveyed by Florence Robinson and Florence Rucker.
1950s acquired by Lester Dill and Lyman Riley, closed.
1970s upstream parts explored and mapped, .
1973-75 cave developed with concrete walkways, handrails, and light fixtures.
1975 cave opened.
1973 cave closed.
1981 acquired by the State Missouri, became a State Park.
1984 reopened to the public.
1989 CCM Seismic Station installed.


Cathedral Cave was discovered through a low entrance which is unstable and dangerous. That is why it is generally avoided, and it is gated for many years now. There is a whole part of the cave, including Upstream Cathedral which was not mapped until the 1970s, due to the fact of being intermittently detestable. The cave was intensively explored, surveyed and an extensive biological inventory made by John Schwartz, John Oberschelp, Gary Weinhold and others. The results were published in 1976.

The show cave section is dominated by the Cathedral Column, a huge mass of flowstone. The whole cave contains much flowstone, especially great amounts of cave coral. Other highlights are a natural bridge and stromatolites, fossilized algal beds. The passages are up to 25 m high. Frequent winds in the cave are responsible for wind-bent stalactites.

The cave was first developed in 1930, when the artificial tunnel was built to avoid the unstable entrance. But compared to the nearby Onondaga Cave it never earned much money. So it was finally closed. The second development and opening in the 1970s was triggered by the plans to build Meramec Dam. The owner Lester Dill expected to lose the cave, which would have been flooded by the rising ground water. It is unclear why exactly he developed it, probably to get compensation from the dam. As he expected the destruction of the cave, no care was taken to preserve speleothems or even clean up the construction debris. In 1978 the proposed dam was defeated in a referendum, and commercial operation of the cave ceased immediately.

In 1981 the cave was broken into and vandalized. The light fixtures and wires were stolen, apparently for the scrap value. The walkways and railings were left untouched. Soon after the cave was purchased by the state and became part of the park. The cave was left as it was and so when it was reopened there were paths but no light. The Cave is still toured with hand held kerosene lanterns provided by the park staff.

356 m from the entrance the St. Louis University installed an underground earthquake monitoring node. The CCM Seismic Station is connected to the visitor center via fiber optic cable, where the data is processed by a minicomputer and uplinked by satellite to the National Earthquake Center in Golden, CO. Seismometers are installed on concrete pads attached to bedrock. The big pros of the cave are temperature and humidity are stable and there are little disturbances around which would interfere with the measures.