If you love adventure, nature, kayaking, and caves you can combine all of those into one fantastically unique cave kayaking activity at Crystal City Underground in Crystal City Missouri.
This underground lake is located less than an hour south of St. Louis, it’s one of Missouri’s best kept secrets, and an experience worthy of a spot near the top of any bucket list!
Missouri is known as the cave state because it boasts almost 6,400 beautiful caves! Let’s explore this one!
Cave kayaking at Crystal City Cave with Crystal City underground kayak tour
This adventure can only be undertaken with a guide. Don with Marsan Kayak and Canoe tours will guide you deep into the depths of this enormous cave, one of the largest cave formations in Missouri.
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crystal city underground reviews, a first hand account
Don’s job (and what a job he has!) is to guide you through a seemingly never-ending labyrinth, down to an eventual depth of 400 feet underground. You’ll experience 2.5 hours of unadulterated joy on this expansive subterranean 150-acre lake. Don won’t cut you any slack, but he’s a great guide and knows this cave!
Grab a paddle and let’s get to exploring Crystal City Cave! The perfect place for an adventure!
You paddle at a leisurely pace explore all of the nooks and crannies of this extensive cave system while getting informative commentary all the while from Don Marsan.
My husband and I after making it out on the other side of the Squeeze Box (see the “tight spaces” section below.) Notice he’s smiling…notice I look as if I just barely escaped with my life….
And just like that, we’re back to the wide open spaces!
and then back in we go….
Gilligan’s Island was my favorite part of the cave. There’s a large hole in the roof of the cave where daylight shines through and it is magnificent! There’s a little trickle of water and you’ll see some daylight, particularly pretty on a sunny day!
Crystal City Cave video
It can be hard to get the real feel of a place through pictures. Here are 3 short video clips from inside Crystal City Underground.
Cave Kayaking Video Crystal City Cave: Notice it’s an easy paddle, there are no ferocious currents here!d
How to book a tour
To book a Crystal City Underground kayak tour, you’ll need to book with Marsan Kayak & Canoe Tours direct. As of publication, Marsan Kayaks does not have a website. Just give Don a call to schedule your tour. Don Marsan at 636-208-5026. This has become a popular destination and so they get a lot of calls. You will likely need to leave a message. Calls are returned Monday-Friday from 4:00-8:00 p.m. Deposit required on day of reservation.
Tour times: (Updated my Marsan Tours on 10/24/22)
Wednesday – Friday: noon
Saturday & Sunday: 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
how much does it cost?
The cost to go cave kayaking at Crystal City Cave is, as of the date of publication, $45 per person, CASH OR CREDIT CARD, deposit required on day of reservation. Prices are always subject to change. Ask Don for the current rate.
Ask about the group rate: there may be a discount if your group has 8 people or more.
how to get to Crystal City Cave
My Google maps GPS took us right there. (yay! good job Google!)
Address: 700 Crystal Ave, Crystal City, MO 63019 (this is where you turn down the gravel road, look for the Marsan Kayak sign)
coordinates to the cave: 38.214473638997625, -90.36963446473482
or you can use the instructions for reaching Crystal City Underground from their website:
These are the only good directions according to them: “Go to 61/67 and Bailey Road in Crystal City. Turn East. At the 3rd stop sign turn Right on Mississippi Ave and follow the signs to the city dump. Right before the dump, turn left onto the gravel road. It will take you to Crystal City Underground. Cross the tressle bridge and through the tunnel. You are there.
GOOGLE SOMETIMES GIVES YOU WRONG DIRECTIONS. DO NOT TURN ON ST PIUS DRIVE , VFW DRIVE OR RIVER HILLS RD. GO INTO CRYSTAL CITY TO BAILEY RD.” -Crystal City Underground
Crystal City Underground Parking
Now don’t panic if it seems like you have arrived at the city dump. It has a rough exterior, but you’re in the right spot! And yes, you MUST drive over the wooden bridge…yikes! continue driving through the small cave. Don was waiting on us on the other side. Go slow, your car will thank you for it.
about the kayaking tour
experience level for this cave kayaking tour:
The tour is suitable for all ability levels and no prior experience is required. Don says he has had people take the tour who have never been in a kayak. I would recommend that you go at least once prior to taking this tour. You will probably enjoy yourself more if you already have a feel for the kayak.
what to bring:
Nothing much is required. Marsan Canoe and Kayak will provide gloves (2 sets in case you get one set wet,) a life jacket, a head lamp, kayak and paddle. You could bring your own gloves, head lamp and life jacket.
what to wear:
Cool temperatures in the Underground? It’s 61 degrees in the cave, year-round. I wore long pants (Don will give you a trash bag to put over your legs to keep your pants more-or less dry). I also wore waterproof hiking boots and waterproof neoprene socks. My feet never got wet, so just wear a pair of comfortable shoes.
I wore a light jacket for the 1st half of the trip and added a fleece jacket over the top about half-way through. Next trip I would wear something under my pants for warmth and maybe a second pair of socks. By the end my legs and feet were a bit chilly.
Nope, no potty breaks. Go before you leave, and don’t drink a lot leading up to your tour because you will have to hold it for 2.5 hours. There is a porta potty in the cave for use before or after the tour.
when to go:
This is a year round activity. Since the cave is a constant 61 degrees it would be a perfect winter activity since it’s technically indoors. From what I ascertained, there are times when the cave is closed to kayakers due to flooding, maybe mid-April through sometime in June or July?
Don did mention that in winter there is a mist over the water, so that would add a certain ambiance.
BUT….Time of day MAY matter:
The early tour is a great idea if you are looking for a more personalized experience. We chose the early tour. We were a group of 4, and 3 other people joined us on the tour. It felt as if we were getting a personalized tour of the cave, simply amazing. The afternoon tour consisted of over 30 people. If you’d prefer a small tour, you might shoot for the first tour of the day…no guarantees but it’s worth a shot!
Let me start by saying I am extremely claustrophobic. The majority of the cave is wide open. However, there are some low spots. As you can see in some of the photos, we put the paddles down and moved along with our hands at times. A little outside of my comfort level but nothing I couldn’t deal with.
The Squeeze Box
IF you are uncomfortable with tight spaces (or they cause you all out panic like they do me) you should be aware of what they have dubbed The Squeeze Box. You will come to a spot where the ceiling of the cave gets very low. You will be instructed to lay back in your kayak (WAY back) and Don will escort you for a distance that is about the width of a cave column.
Let your imagination go and picture yourself a real trail blazer, exploring a cave for the first time. For a few minutes imagine what it would be like to explore the small recesses of a cave, anticipating some new discovery just on the other side of that tight “squeeze.” So….I didn’t die, and I didn’t cry either, but I’ll stick to wide open spaces from here on out!
Not ready to face those fears, but still want to go?
If you really don’t think you are up for that type of fun, I would discuss it with Don before you book your tour. I think you may be able to talk him into letting you skip the Squeeze Box.
a few photos of me and my crew having the time of our lives!
Crystal City Underground is one of the few places to cave kayak in the US! It’s natural beauty makes it an awesome place to spend a few hours. We drove 6 hours for this tour and it was honestly worth the drive! Schedule a tour now!
Other fun activities at Crystal City Caverns
Note: at last check (1/28/23) the sports complex was still closed due to flood damage. Always check the website before heading out. Some activities may not be available.
Crystal City Underground is open for Special events only: Disc Golf and Pole Vaulting are not available at this time.
where to stay
Looking for hotel accommodations?
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Festus-South St. Louis, an IHG Hotel. It’s just 3 miles from the cave and has a 9.0 user review rating!
book it here on booking.com!
other must see and do things in the great state of Missouri:
Nature Lovers: check out these great hiking options in southern Missouri:
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