COURTESY OF BRIDAL CAVE
Making your way down into the depths of Bridal Cave with a tour guide named Lindsey and two good ol’ boys, both of which will probably hit their heads on the low mineral ceilings, a first-time visitor is rendered speechless as the cave’s constant drip drip marks your forehead as part of its creation.
Located at the Lake of the Ozarks two miles north of Camdenton, the cave dips into the hillside and is topped by the windy Thunder Mountain nature trail and a gift shop featuring old-fashioned candy and hand-carved stone animals. Down below lies a boat dock where visitors who prefer the lake commute can tie up their crafts to enjoy the cave.
The cave is world-famous for its wedding possibilities, which stem from the legend of an American Indian wedding that took place inside the cave in the early 1800s. The story tells of Conwee, son of an Osage tribe chief, who had eyes for Princess Wasena. Unfortunately, she and her father, chief of another Osage tribe, opposed their marriage. Not one to be discouraged, Conwee kidnapped Wasena and her companion Irona late one night and hid them in the cave. Wasena managed to escape and chose to throw herself over a cliff and into the Niangua River rather than live miserably. After the requisite period of mourning, Irona revealed her love for Conwee, and they married in the cave where she and the princess were held captive.
In 1949, a year after the cave was open to the public for tours, a couple inspired by the legend used the cave as the location of their nuptials. Others followed suit, and today, more than two thousand couples have recited vows in the now dubbed Bridal Chapel, the cave room featuring the tall Pipe Organ drapery.
A few steps into the next cave room through the Lemon Squeezer, a mineral-made hallway named for its tight fit, reveal a wall to the right coated with white drapolite deposits reminiscent of candle wax and a small Wishing Well, complete with real pennies and dollar bills, to the left. “Soda straws,” which are mini-stalactites and stalagmites, and “bacon flaps,” mineral formations that look like wavy, fatty strips of bacon, give unique form to the cave walls.
Also to the right, hidden high above a stone bridge, lies a crude hand-made wooden ladder, used by unnamed explorers in the early sixties to find out what was beyond the then dead end of the cave. In 1988, explorers discovered three more rooms and three air pockets—mini-rooms, more like large bubbles in the mineral only about four feet by four feet—and a pool of water; they decided to dig out a pathway through to the other side. Thousands of pounds of debris and two years later, a six-foot-tall tunnel was dug to accommodate tourists. At the end of the tour down below the concrete path sits a glowing pool of water. An old ladder rests beneath the eerie blue-green water, whose level often fluctuates but never completely dries. The pool is named Mystery Lake, since it is unknown how or why the ladder fell.
One of the most scenic caves in America, Bridal Cave entertains thousands of school children each year through its Discovery Tour, which is part of many state-wide educational programs. The tour includes a half-hour walk through Thunder Mountain Trail and informational guided tours through Bear Cave and Bridal Cave, during which caving safety and how and why Missouri came to be known as The Cave State are discussed.
Bridal Cave is located at 526 Bridal Cave Road north of Camdenton on Route 5. By water, the cave is on the 10-mile marker on the Big Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks.