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Backpacker Magazine – May 2000

Staying Cool In Missouri's Caves

In Whites Creek Cave you can explore in nature's own cooling system, and observe its grateful inhabitants.

by: Kim Rogers

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As Tom Sawyer discovered when he ventured into McDougal's Cave near Hannibal, Missouri, nature's own cooling system has been offering relief from summer's suffocating heat since long before the advent of air conditioning. With more than 5,500 caves tipping the mercury at a refreshing 50-odd degrees Fahrenheit, following in Tom's footsteps is easy. Just wait for the bats to clear out, or you may end up having a Tom Sawyer-style adventure.

Whites Creek Cave, along the 18.6-mile Whites Creek Trail loop in the Irish Wilderness of Mark Twain National Forest, is home to endangered Indiana bats during their winter hibernation (September 15 to May 1, when the cave is closed). But each summer the bats head north, clearing the way for hikers to explore the cave's cool, massive, 1,600-foot-long, cathedral-like cavern. Pick your way past stalactites, stalagmites, and other subterranean statuary-some as tall as 25 feet-formed by thousands of years of calcium carbonate buildup.

The Whites Creek Trail begins amid tall oaks and pine trees, and undulates through dry creek beds, grasslands, and glades. Two springs en route serve up water so chilly that it tastes like it just came out of the refrigerator. After cooling off in the cave, don't miss the spur trail at Bliss Springs, which leads to a limestone bluff overlooking the Eleven Point National Scenic River. At dusk, watch for gray bats darting over the river as they forage for insects, and keep an eye out for Tom and his buddy Huck, passing like a memory on the swirling current.

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Reader Rating: -


Feb 21, 2011

I hiked this trail with my daughters Feb. 18-19 2011. I have hiked it several times. It's a great hike, if you do it in the right season: Late fall to early spring. I woudn't hike any Ozark trail in the summer.

Feb 21, 2011

I hiked this trail with my daughters Feb. 18-19 2011. I have hiked it several times. It's a great hike, if you do it in the right season: Late fall to early spring. I woudn't hike any Ozark trail in the summer.

ShowMe Hiker
Oct 06, 2009

Perhaps the previous reviewer wants to keep this place a secret but I just hiked the Whites Creek Trail loop this past weekend (less than 2 months from the previous review) and had a wonderful experience. Beautiful clear springs, the Eleven Point River (yes only one view along the trail) and the rugged country make it a beautiful remote hiking destination. Keep in mind in regards to trail maintenance this is a Wilderness Area but I did not find it difficult to navigate with map only. If bugs bother you, I recommend the Fall or Spring seasons. See my full trip report at

bubba gump
Aug 19, 2009

Hiked this trail Aug13-14 2009. The cave is now closed the entrance is blocked with bars. The trail has not been maintained, there are entire sections obliterated by the storms in early july. You will find yourself leaving the trail many times to circumnavigate large streches of downed trees and be forced to circle around trying to find the trail again. Some sections you will be doing a little rock climbing where this has happened on the side of a hill. The ticks, spiders, mosquitos, horseflies and chiggers are unreal. Some of the worst Ive ever found in Missouri. The river is virtually unfishable without a boat. The trail really only offers on view, which is very limited because of the trees. Unless you like hiking extremely rugged chigger infested country for no real rewards, do yourself a favor and avoid this one.


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