World’s Largest Underground Lake is a Missouri Must-See

OK, as a Missouri resident, I know I am biased, but Bonne Terre Mine is absolutely one of my favorite places to visit. Formerly known as St. Joe Lead Mine, Bonne Terre Mine is a popular tour site in Bonne Terre, Missouri. With seventeen miles of shoreline, a diving platform, and twenty-four dive trails, it's also a hit with divers. The water is amazingly blue, and the mines are literally and figuratively cool year-round, making it one of my top places to visit in the summer.

Doug and Cathy Goergens, the owners of West End Diving in St. Louis, bought the mine and turned it into a diving site in 1981. While tours are still available, diving has become quite an attraction at the mine.

“(It’s) a year-round open-water training site, in the heart of the Midwest,” Doug Goergens says of his mine. All levels of divers are accepted at the mine, with a C-card as the only requirement prior to diving.

The mine began in 1870, and when mining ceased there in 1961 it went from the largest underground mine in the world to the largest underground lake. After joining the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the mine was open for tours of its mining effects, deep blue waters and sparkling geode walls.

With depths as deep as one hundred feet, and waters clear enough to see farther than one hundred feet, it is an ideal place to learn to dive. Such clear visibility can help less advanced divers learn to dive better.

While there are no animals to see, there are ore carts and an elevator shaft left over from mining days, as well as falls of calcium, interesting staircases, grating, and pillars. It is probably as close as one could get to an underground, ocean community in Missouri--like the Atlantis of the Midwest.

I can still remember my first visit there. I was in the fourth grade and was simply awestruck. I remember a fish they had on-site that would come to eat with the ring of a bell. It really was a magical experience, and afterward I bought an agate souvenir from the gift shop that I still have to this day.

The mines are open from 9 AM to 4 PM every day from May to September. Diving packages, boat rides, and walking tours are all available. The mine also has rental equipment for those who need it.

For more information, please call West End Diving at (314) 209-7200, or visit their website.


Carl B's picture

Carl B

Yes it is an awesome place. I visited there as part of a school field trip in either 1969 or 70. It was with the old Lead Belt Area Vocational Technical School. It's a funny thing but I can't remember now whether it was the entire school or just my Electricity class that went.

I remember those big pillars that basically support the entire town of Bonne Terre . Some of them had steel cables wrapped around them to keep then from crumbling and collapsing. Our tour was conducted by an old miner who worked that mine for many years. I wish I could remember his name and I am sure he has long since passed away.

My relatives worked the mines at Mine La Motte which closed in the mid 50's. My brother Paul Belken who owned Belken Salvage had the contract to remove the old buildings there in the 80's.

My uncle John Belken worked at the Flat River mines until his retirement. I attempted to go to work at the mines in Viburnum but was not hired. I was going to try again but my family and several other old miners talked me out of it. It was the old miners who did it. They told me that the mines even with all the safety improvements were not a good place to work. They were right. I later discovered that my grandpa had died of Nephritis. Kidney disease brought on by exposure to lead.


Anonymous's picture


I'm sure they told you it was the world's largest subterranean lake but it's not.
Larger bodies are known in Namibia and Antarctica.


Anonymous's picture


You phucking troll. I was looking forward to traveling hundreds of miles to see the largest underground lake.