Courtesy of Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Explore the depths of Devil's Icebox and Connor's Cave Located Near Columbia
Below the surface of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, Devil’s Icebox and Connor’s Cave, two wild caves in their natural state, transport visitors back to the original spelunking trips that led to the caves’ discovery.
A nature trail and a boardwalk lead sightseers to the natural rock bridge that gives the park its name. It was created when a portion of the cave’s ceiling collapsed after years of water drainage. While hiking in the area, visitors can view foundations of buildings and the stone dam on Devil’s Icebox Spring Branch. The stream flowing through the cave system emerged at Connor’s Spring and provided energy to area settlers throughout the 1800s. The town of Rockbridge Mills initially occupied the space, and a gristmill, paper mill, whiskey distillery, and several shops and homes plastered the land around the caves.
Eventually, the trail leads to the cave entrance. As visitors descend the stairs, the temperature slowly changes to match that of the caves’ consistent 56 degrees year-round. Once visitors enter the cave entrance through the shallow stream, they discover Connor’s Cave to their left, downstream, and Devil’s Icebox to their right, upstream.
Flashlights, helmets, and good footwear are the only thing needed to investigate Connor’s Cave. Explorers travel through the cave by following and wading through its stream. Centuries-old formations and glistening, work-in-progress formations adorn the walls, ceiling, and floor. Connor’s Cave comes to an end about 55 yards later with a deep pool of water in an open room. From there visitors can begin the retreat back the way they came or explore further by climbing a near- vertical crevice, which opens to a smaller room roughly 22 yards above the main cave.
For more experienced and adventurous cave explorers, Devil’s Icebox cave provides quite a challenge. At 6.25 miles, it is the seventh largest cave in the state and can only be entered through a supervised Wild Cave Tour. For a majority of the year, Devil’s Icebox remains closed to protect two types of endangered bats on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services threatened and endangered species list.
The attractions of Devil’s Icebox cave and Connor’s Cave are many, but the wildlife ranks among the best. The cave system is second in the state behind Tumbling Creek Cave in Taney County when it comes to wildlife diversity. Among the common cave inhabitants, such as bats, insects, and seasonal dwellers, the Devil’s Icebox cave system has a unique inhabitant known as the pink planarian, a flatworm that lives in the caves’ stream. The cave system is the only known home in the world to the organism.
Although countless explorers have traveled the caves’ nooks and crannies for centuries, the undomesticated nature of Devil’s Icebox and Connor’s Cave make visitors feel like they are discovering something for the first time. There are no lighted underground pathways, no rail cars, no bells and whistles — nothing comes between guests and the rugged beauty of nature.
“People have to experience caves to appreciate them,” says Kathryn DiFoxfire, a Rock Bridge Memorial State Park cave tour guide. “Once people experience something like this, they are more inclined to protect it.”
For more information, call 573-449-7402 or visit www.mostateparks.com/rockbridge.htm.