Missouri is well-known as the “Cave State” and with the hot weather in the forecast, families might want to head up to Fantastic Caverns, near Springfield, where it is always 60 degrees – year round.

“There is more than 6,500 caves in Missouri,” said Kirk Hansen, public relations manager for Fantastic Caverns. “Some of those are open for tours, but Fantastic Caverns is the only cave in North America that you can ride all the way through.”

The cave was founded back in the mid 1800s.

“The cave has kind of an unusual history, it was discovered in 1862, by a farmer’s dog, out hunting one day and the dog chased a critter of some sort into a small natural entrance,” he said. “That point, the guy knew that he had a cave, he didn’t want to mess with it because the Civil War was going on. He let it sit for about five years, then in 1867, he ran an ad in the local newspaper, wanted people to come explore the cave. The surprising thing was that there was a group of 12 women that showed up that were the first cave explorers.”

Hansen said that those 12 women explorers went in about the first half of the cave.

“They went back and wrote a newspaper story about it, that point on, the cave kind of took off,” he said. “It was used in a lot of stuff before it was used for tours: it had a speakeasy during Prohibition, in the 1960s there was a music show…”

Today, visitors to the cave ride through the 55-minute tour, with a cave guide to tell them about the cave, the cave formations, the animals such as the cave crayfish and the eastern pipistrelle bat – which weigh about the same as a nickel.

Throughout the tour, visitors can also take photographs but cannot leave the tram.

“We have about four miles of known passage way,” Hansen said. “Our tour covers about a mile of the cave. I think that the deepest part on the tour is 130 feet (below ground).”

Hansen said that the cave will probably see just shy of 140,000 visitors. It has been as high as 145,000 people

Admission prices are: adults $23.50, children 6-12 $15.50 and there are group rates.

Hours are from 8 a.m. to dusk, seven days a week. Fantastic Caverns, 4872 North Farm Road 125, Springfield, 65803. Phone: (417) 833-2010.