Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

In the area

From Explore MN Tourism

Park Info

Image of Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Quick stats

3,583 acres
117,276 annual visits
26,771 overnight visits


The best way to learn more about Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park is to stop at the park office for a map and information about the park. The park provides weekend summer interpretive programs on Friday night and Saturday. For a small fee, enjoy a tour of Mystery Cave every day during the summer and on weekends in the spring and fall (mid-April to mid-October).


The great variety of habitats supports remarkably different wildlife ranging from rare glacial snails to timber rattlesnakes. While a few rattlers live in the park, they are of very little threat if left alone. Please report sightings. Other wildlife of note include deer, raccoon, beaver, mink, opossum, woodchucks, four species of squirrels, red and grey fox. Coyote numbers have grown in recent years and can often can be heard at dusk. Several species of reptiles and amphibians are also present. At least 175 species of birds have been recorded in the park including several important neotropical migrants (scarlet tanager, oven bird, redstart) and a sizeable population of wild turkeys. Barred owls often wake campers with after dark calling and soaring turkey vultures delight summer visitors.


In the center of the park, along the South Branch of the Root River, is the townsite of Forestville. Founded in 1853, the village emerged as a rural trade center, typical of hundreds that emerged across southern Minnesota during the 1850s. Area farmers came to Forestville to trade their farm produce for goods and services. By 1858, Forestville numbered 100 inhabitants and had 20 buildings including two general stores, a grist mill, a brickyard, two hotels, a school, and mechanics of several trades. Forestville prospered until the first area railroad, the Southern Minnesota, bypassed the community in 1868. Village residents watched their town struggle to survive, while towns served by the railroad boomed with prosperity. By 1890, Thomas J. Meighen, son of one of the town's founders, owned the entire village. The 50 residents made their living on Mr. Meighen’s farm. In return for their work, his employees received housing, board and credit in his store. Mr. Meighen also maintained a post office, the school, a feed and a saw mill.


Two to five hundred million years ago material was deposited in the bottom of shallow seas which intermittently covered large portions of North America. As the deposits increased in thickness, the layers on the bottom were compressed to form limestone, shale and sandstone. Today in the park, these rocks are 1300 feet above the sea. They are an important factor in the development of the terrain which exists now.

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park is located within the karst region of Minnesota. Karst occurs in areas of soluble rocks, usually limestone or dolomite. As rainwater percolates through the soil, it is rendered slightly acidic as it picks up carbon dioxide from microbial decay of organic soil material. This fortified water has the capacity to dissolve the rock. The effects of this dissolving action are minute from the perspective of a human’s lifetime. However, over the course of many thousands of years, dramatic changes occur; the typical features of karst develop – caves and sinkholes form; underground drainage occurs. The park exhibits many karst features including one of the most outstanding karst features in the state, Mystery Cave. The cave is a maze of linear corridors. Over twelve miles of passage exist in two rock layers with strikingly different compositions. During dry years, the entire South Branch Root River sinks into the cave through gravel filled crevices in the river bottom.

Forestville also exhibits features of the unglaciated or “driftless” region. Of the four major glacial advances during the last million years, only the first two covered the vicinity of Forestville. Downcutting of stream valleys by powerful glacial meltwater created the steep hills and bluffs we see in the park and surrounding area today.


The steep bluffland topography has created a marked variety of localized climate conditions. South-facing slopes are warmer and drier. North-facing slopes are cooler and wetter. In addition, Forestville/Mystery Cave is located at the edge of two great biomes: the tallgrass prairie to the west, and the eastern deciduous forest. This combination has resulted in a striking mosaic of plant communities included prairie, savanna, oak woodland, maple/basswood forest, and even white pine and fir. Three spring-fed streams converge in the park, providing habitat for a rich variety of stream life. These streams are rated among the best trout waters in Minnesota.