If you find yourself in the middle of the continental United States, there’s an unexpected place to visit outside of a quiet college town. Missouri has the Ozarks, Kansas City, and St. Louis, but there’s also more to the Show-Me-State than meets the eye, although it may take a drive or a long biking trip.
In the middle of the Rock Bridge Memorial State Park just south of Columbia, Missouri, the Devil’s Icebox is a above and below-ground landscape connected by delicate wooden bridges and pathways. Why “devil’s icebox”? It stays a cool 56 degrees all year long. Students used to travel from Columbia to visit the cave to hang out around its cool temperatures.
Visitors can explore dark terrain underneath a natural rock bridge, as well as venture unaccompanied into the complete darkness of Connor’s Cave. You’ll want to wear galoshes to wade through the cool spring water and wear a headlamp. The Ice Box itself—a complex of caves spanning seven miles—is now closed to the public to protect bats from the spread of white-nose syndrome.
The caves and the surrounding park are an example of karst topography, which is characterized by sinkholes, water flowing through these sinkholes, and soil slumping. In order to not completely delve scientifically into the cave, it was basically formed by a slightly acidic water flow that collapses bedrock to create a canal-esque cave.
The walk to the cave is beautiful, and the environment is peaceful and quiet. The day after a rain reveals the power of the cave, with rushing waterfalls that crash powerfully into the river. It’s an intimidating piece of geography, but it’s fantastically intriguing. The state park itself is just as interesting - you can hike, explore, or just take a day off to see the Gans Creek Wild Area. It’s a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere, and if you manage to make your way out to the frontier-land, the Devil’s Icebox is a natural wonder worth seeing.
Know Before You Go
Follow U.S. Highway 63 south, turn right on Rd 163 west towards Pierpoint to the park. Signposted.
Connor's Cave can be explored without a tourguide, but be sure to wear waterproof boots and bring your own light.