Kayaking an underground Lake in Crystal City Cave
Updated: Sep 1
If you love adventure, nature, kayaking, and caves you can combine all of those into one fantastically unique activity at Crystal City Underground in Crystal City Missouri. 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!
Don with Marsan Kayak and Canoe will guide you deep into the depths of this enormous cave. 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 going!!!
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!
Eventually, you come to an opening in the cave.
and back in we go....
Gilligan's Island was my favorite part of the cave. There's a little trickle of water and you'll see some daylight, particularly pretty on a sunny day!
Stunning in person
It can be hard to get the real feel of a place through pictures. Check out my Youtube channel here for three short video clips from inside the Crystal City Underground Cave.
How to book:
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.
As of the date of publication the rate was $45 per person, CASH ONLY. Prices are always subject to change. Ask Don for the current rate. Also, there may be a discount if your group has 8 people or more.
My Google maps GPS took us right there. (yay! good job Google!)
or you can use the instructions for reaching Crystal City Underground from their website: "Directions to the cave. 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 fence line. It will take you to Crystal City Underground."
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.
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 Kayak and Canoe will provide gloves (2 sets in case you get one set wet,) a lifejacket, a head lamp, kayak and paddle. You could bring your own gloves, head lamp and lifejacket.
what to wear:
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, still the chance is there. 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:
Since the cave is a constant 61 degrees the time of year doesn't matter too much. 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:
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!
other must see and do things in the great state of Missouri:
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