An aerial view of the Grand Gulf, a collapsed cave system that stretches for nearly a mile in southern Missouri.

KSNF/KODE — A state park in Missouri is staking claim to the nickname, “America’s Little Grand Canyon.” Grand Gulf State Park, located in South Central Missouri (along the Missouri/Arkansas state line), is one of the natural wonders of the Ozarks. The highlight of the park is the collapsed cave system (one of the nation’s largest) known as the Grand Gulf. It stretches for nearly a mile between 130 foot high walls, making it deeper than it is wide. The cave’s roof forms one of the largest natural bridges in the state, spanning 200 feet with an opening 75 feet high and 50 feet wide.

Visitors of Missouri’s Little Grand Canyon will come across a variety of natural wonders. Inside the 322-acre park, boardwalks and overlooks have been installed so that visitors can get a view from the edge of the cliffs and descend partway into the canyon without endangering themselves or the environment. Many of the outdoor exhibits tell the story of the Grand Gulf and helps park visitors understand how it was formed. Visitors can also travel along several hiking trails, which all offer great views of the canyon from above. As a word of caution: There is no trail leading to the gulf’s bottom, so approach with caution if you attempt to go there.

A boardwalk extends along the top of the canyon at Grand Gulf State Park.

While the cave is inaccessible now, it the late 1800’s, early explorers had entered it and discovered a very low ceiling and several small, white eyeless fish. By the 1920’s, a severe storm washed many downed trees and other debris into the gulf, filling the cave and leaving it impenetrable. In the early 1990’s, a robot with a digging tool and remote camera was able to make it into the cave, determining it was not feasible to gain access through the massive blockage. Even now, heavy rains will fill the gulf to depths exceeding 100 feet with water slowly draining out over a period of weeks.

In 1971, Grand Gulf was designated a National Natural Landmark. In 1984 the property became a Missouri State Park through a donated lease with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. In July of 1986, a 60-acre portion of the L-A-D Foundation property was designated as a Missouri Natural Area.

Grand Gulf State Park is located near the town of Thayer on Missouri State Highway W.

You can find more information on Grand Gulf State Park, HERE.