Caves all over the Midwest offer a short journey to another world filled with vast underground chambers, mineral formations, unique ecosystems and atmospheres that can instantly knock 30 or 40 degrees off a summer afternoon. Our favorite caverns promise all that, plus creative ways to tour them: on ziplines, in Jeeps, in boats, by the flickering light of a candle. Explorers of all abilities can find a way to go caving that (dare we say it?) really rocks.
McGregor, Iowa: Spook Cave Glide in an aluminum boat along a tributary of Bloody Run Creek as your tour guide spins ghostly tales. Settlers around the Mississippi River town of McGregor noticed haunting sounds coming from a small opening in the sheer, 90-foot-tall limestone bluffs. When townspeople finally discovered the cave hiding behind the wall, naming it was easy. Spoiler alert: The movement of wind and water had a lot more to do with the eerie sounds than spirits. (563) 873-2144; spookcave.com
Bedford, Indiana: Bluespring Caverns Myst’ry River Voyage Boarding a boat from underground docks invites comparisons to the River Styx, but this tour proves lively. Guides use flashlights to illuminate rock formations like the Elephant Head and pyramid-shape Rock of Gibraltar. (812) 279-9471; bluespringcaverns.com
Springfield, Missouri: Fantastic Caverns Almost everyone can enjoy the hour-long rides on Jeep-pulled trams passing through brightly lit caverns, past curtains of stone and near ponds inhabited by Ozarks-only creatures, like blind grotto salamanders. (417) 833-2010; fantasticcaverns.com
Louisville, Kentucky: Louisville Mega Cavern Zips Most zipline tours boast about their heights; not this one. Six ziplines and two suspension bridges plummet 70 feet below ground. Other tours include a ropes course. (877) 614-6342; louisvillemegacavern.com
Hot Springs, South Dakota: Wind Cave National Park Park rangers lead tours of this cave named for the winds blowing through its natural entrance. Candlelight tours venture into remote areas of the cave showing very little signs of human influence. (605) 745-4600; nps.gov/wica