When most people think of diving they don’t think of Missouri in America. At least I didn’t when I lived in St. Louis for nearly 5 years, about an hour north of the Bonne Terre mine. I did not dive once while I lived there! It wasn’t until I moved away from Missouri to Connecticut that I helped organize a trip with Hamden Scuba to visit the mine. Little did I know we’d return the next year and the next year…. This trip is still going on every October. Contact Hamden Scuba if you live in the Northeast and want to get in on the next one. Watch my video from our first trip here!
The Old Mine
The Bonne Terre Mine was a working mine back in the early to mid 1900’s. Then one day in 1962 the workers left for the day and the mine was shut down. With no active pumps to get the water out, the mine eventually flooded. That means everything was left in place from the once working mine.
You will find ore carts, shoes, papers, pencils, railroad tracks, a locomotor, an elevator shaft…All the workings of a once functioning mine. This is a scuba divers paradise! A place to explore the depths of a mine.
The water is 60°F year-round and boasts that there are no thermoclines! We dove mostly in 7mm wet suits, but if you have a dry suit that would be even warmer. The Bone Terre mine is considered a national historic site, and on their website they claim it is “the world’s largest fresh water dive resort”: a billion gallon lake to be exact. With 100 foot plus visibility, this place should be on every diver’s list!
How it works is that the mine provides guides for each group. You need to make reservations in advance. They have you start on trail 1 and work your way up from there. Trails 1 and 2 are required for all new divers of the mine. The higher trail numbers offer deeper dives and overhead environments. You do each trail in order, sometimes there’s an exception depending on the group. Make sure to log your dives so that you can return and start on the trail number you left off on!
How cool would it be to be one of the lucky divers that get to go into the mine and explore the new areas?! These dedicated divers are actively exploring more and more of the mine which means more and more trails are constantly being added.
We started our trip by renting an RV, picking everyone up, and heading west. Since we were starting in Connecticut this was going to be a long haul. We planned to drive straight through and take shifts. We made it to St. Louis for a quick stop at a local watering hole, Schlafly (which was one of my favorite places when I lived there), for some dinner. The next hour we drove straight to our campground, St. Francois State Park. This was a great campathroom and showers and even had a swing set that we got to enjoy. After a little bonfire, we were off to sleep in our quarters of the RV. We did RV’s two years in a row, but there are other places that offer accommodations such as some at the property of the Bonne Terre mine or nearby hotels.
The next morning we were up early with excitement to get to the mine and go diving! Upon arrival to the property, it was very evident that this was a small, old mining town. The property décor was spot on.
The Bonne Terre Mine
There are locker rooms on site. At the time I was there, they did have coin operated showers as well. There is a lounge to hang out during surface intervals that offer a selection of hot beverages and snacks with a place for money donations. Across the way from there is a general store for your souvenir needs. The dive shop is where you check in for diving and get a little orientation before heading off with your guide.
All that is required to dive in the Bonne Terre mine is open water scuba certification. It is not considered an overhead environment because you can ascend to the surface from anywhere in the mine. However, if you make your way on some of the advanced dives you will swim through tunnels which would be considered overhead. Consult with the guides before your dive if you are uncertain of some of the areas you will be taken to.
As soon as we entered the mule entrance, excitement rushed in…. We were now underground. We had to carry our gear with the exception of tanks and weights which were generously provided by the company and waiting for us on the dock. The cave was more massive than we dreamed it would be. We enjoyed the walk down the stairs to the water’s edge. There were the usual stalagmites and beautiful formations within the cave. There was even a little plant nursery in the corner. As we got closer to the water, we saw the many scuba tanks and now it felt real!
There was a nice dock to gear up and even take a seat. An easy giant stride later and we were on the surface of the water staring up at huge pillars that stem from somewhere deep below the water and rise up to the ceiling of the cave. Dive number 1 consisted of a few check out skills to make sure all of the divers are safe to continue on. After that, the dive guide led us on an exhilarating tour through some of the rooms of the mine. There was even a safety diver that trailed the group to make sure no one got lost. Each trail after that gets more and more advanced adding swim-throughs and deeper areas of the mine.
It is very dark in the mine. That is why my video is kind of dark. They do have 500,000 watts of lighting above the water, but some areas of the mine the light does not reach. However, this adds to the overall feel of the mine. Dive lights are not allowed in the mine because it takes away from the ambiance. Also, the guides use the light to guide where your eyes should be looking so it helps add to the show of it all.
On some of the trails we were taken by stairs that once had people walking up and down, now covered in water with many fun signatures in the dust of the many divers that have now visited. There were many open areas where you can really see just how massive this mine was.
One of my favorite trails took us a little deeper to an area of sand where you could see old railroad tracks. Then swimming along through the waters out of nowhere a locomotive! Yes, there is a locomotive tipped on its side. What a sight to see!
Tunnels and Rooms
Another dive we ventured through a tunnel which became tight at times as we had to slip past an ore cart that was in the middle of the tunnel. We came out to another room. One room we were even able to surface in during our dive! How amazing! We were able to see a place that not many people get to see. A flooded mine and now this inner room that still has an air pocket. Looking at the walls was amazing.
Some places in the rooms were so shallow we were crawling over the rocks to keep going. Most places though were just big columns of water and some places you couldn’t even see the bottom. There was a giant elevator shaft known as the structure that we ventured past and through a few times. Another area had old pieces of dynamite cartons (4:22 in my video). This mine was truly the place to go for the scuba diver seeking adventure and something totally out of the norm.
This mine is visited by people from all over the world, has been featured on many news and t.v. outlets, and was even once visited and filmed by the renowned Jacques Cousteau. Not a diver? Don’t worry! They also offer boat tours for the non-divers just wanting to see the mine.
Bonne Terre mine: diver meet adventure.