Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park Snapshot Tour

Welcome to the Lake Vermilion State Park virtual tour! One of the newest state parks, Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine is located just south of the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This virtual tour explores mining history and exciting underground tours tell the story of iron mines and mining communities. Explore the trails near wetlands, stunning overlooks, and beautiful shoreline. We hope it prompts you to visit the park in person sometime soon.


Photo of Armstrong Bay, on Lake Vermilion.
1 of 34

Armstrong Bay

Armstrong Bay is on the east end of the park. Across the bay (to the west) is Lake Vermilion State Park’s new day use area, complete with three picnic shelters, water, a vault toilet, a boat dock, and a fishing pier. As of the summer of 2013, this area is best accessed from the water by boat, but road access may be available by fall. This tour showcases what Lake Vermilion State Park looks like as of 2013, but you can expect continued additions and changes as the park is developed.


Photo of one of the islands within Lake Vermilion State Park.
2 of 34

Small Island in Cable Bay

While this island is part of Lake Vermilion State Park, most of the islands in Lake Vermilion are not. Some of the islands are state owned, some are private, and some are owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Maps are available showing which islands are acceptable for mooring a boat.


Photo of a hiking trail view of a beaver dam.
3 of 34

Beaver Dam – Core Trail

Hike this established core trail at Lake Vermilion State Park and you will encounter this lovely wetland. Beavers have been very active damming this area. The result is a wetland that yields excellent waterfowl throughout the year. Bring a pair of binoculars and see how many you can spot! As of 2013, the best place to start a hike into Lake Vermilion State Park is from the office at Soudan Underground Mine State Park.


Photo of shoreline along Cable Bay.
4 of 34

View of Cable Bay – Shore

Lake Vermilion State Park encompasses approximately 3,000 acres of stunning, rugged landscape. The park has ample shoreline and numerous rocky islands coated with lichens and studded with trees.


Photo of an wooded island within Cable Bay.
5 of 34

View of Cable Bay – Water

A wide swath of water dotted with rocky islands meets the horizon at Cable Bay. The bay received its name from cables once used to assist lumbermen and miners with their work. If you look in the water you can still see the metal rings that secured these cables years ago.


Photo of a wetland complex created by beaver activity.
6 of 34

Beaver Dam

An incredible wetland complex was created here by a dam that sits level with the trail. If you walk along a nearby wooden bridge, you will get a better perspective of how immense the dam is. River otters have been spotted playing here in the winter.


Photo of a rocky overlook offering a stunning blue and green vista of Lake Vermilion.
7 of 34

Mattson – Vermilion View

This side of this rocky overlook offers a stunning blue and green vista of Lake Vermilion and its many islands. The vegetation here is fragile, so please tread carefully.


Photo of a skyline where on clear day you can see the headframe at Soudan Mine along the ridge line to the west.
8 of 34

Mattson – Soudan View

This rocky overlook offers a vast green vista dotted by water. The overlook is a unique natural area, so please tread carefully. On a clear day you can see the headframe at Soudan Mine along the ridge line to the west.


Photo of a large beaver wetland complex located below, viewed from a high, rocky outcrop.
9 of 34

Beaver Wetland Complex

A two mile hike from Soudan Underground Mine State Park brings visitors to this sensational view of a large beaver wetland complex.  The wetlands were created by beavers building dams in key spots. Birds are also active here, including swans, which have been spotted on the waters each summer.


Photo of Mattson Bay on Lake Vermilion.
10 of 34

View of Mattson Bay

Combined, Lake Vermilion and Soudan Underground Mine State Parks offer approximately 10 miles of stunning shoreline. The goal of the park management plan is to keep much of the shoreline looking as it does in this scene of Mattson Bay… lush and wild.


Photo of a view around the Lily Lake picnic area.
11 of 34

Lily Lake Picnic Area

This beautiful lake, rimmed with evergreen trees, is easily accessed through the trail system at Lake Vermilion State Park. A nearby picnic table provides the perfect spot to eat a meal or rest.


Photo of the trail system between Soudan Underground Mine and Lake Vermilion state parks.
12 of 34

Hiking Trail between Soudan and Vermilion

This is the start of the trail system between Soudan Underground Mine and Lake Vermilion state parks. Notice a difference in the forests of the two parks. During the years of U.S. Steel ownership, the Lake Vermilion State Park property was logged several times. This has resulted in younger, smaller trees. In contrast, Soudan Underground Mine State Park contains many old pines. From this trail you can access several other trails in the park.


Photo of No. 8 Headframe shaft, one of the deepest in the mine.
13 of 34

No. 8 Headframe

There were approximately 18 shafts on the property, but No. 8 was the deepest. Guided tours use the No. 8 shaft to access the underground. The shaft is set up with three compartments: east, west, and manway. East and west compartments hold two sets of cages which once took miners to the different underground levels where they worked and now take visitors to level 27. The manway houses the utilities for the mine: electric wiring, compressed air pipes, etc.  It also houses a ladder system that runs from the surface to the 27th level.


Photo of the 27th Level, and area called the Shaft Station.
14 of 34

27th Level – Shaft Station

Shaft Station is what the miners called the area where they got off the man cage and where the ore would be loaded into the ore skip and hauled to the surface. This is also where visitors load onto train cars and prepare to head down the drift (tunnel) to the stope during guided mine tours. The miner’s lunchroom is located here.


Photo of the area where the train ride takes visitors to the 27th level stope.
15 of 34

27th Level – Drift

The train ride takes visitors to the 27th level stope. The miners would have walked this ¾ mile distance. Once they arrived at the stope, the miners would have climbed the “manway” or ladder to reach the stope, which is about 30 feet above the drift. The entrance into the stope has been made easier by adding a 30 plus step spiral staircase. There is an elevator in this area for those who are not able to climb the spiral staircase.


Photo of the area where the miners drilled and blasted the rock.
16 of 34

The 27th Level – East Stope

The stope is the area where the miners drilled and blasted the rock and then removed it from the mine. Nothing is needed to support the back (what miners called the ceiling). The pillars are left in the stope because they contain waste rock (lacking iron ore). After the rock was blasted, it was scraped down a hole in the floor, called a raise (see the wood crib and metal grate on the floor).


Photo of the West Stope on the 27th Level.
17 of 34

The 27th Level – West Stope

In order for the miners to reach the back (ceiling), they would stand on the rock that they just blasted. This was much easier than erecting scaffolding. The scraper would help drag the rock to the hole in the floor (known as a raise), so it could be loaded into an awaiting ore car and transported back to Shaft Station.


Photo of the University of Minnesota's high energy physics laboratory, located underground.
18 of 34

Soudan Underground Lab

The University of Minnesota has a high energy physics laboratory underground. The MINOS experiment consists of the far detector (the large, black stop sign looking object) which is collecting information about neutrinos. A second experiment is looking for hypothetical particles called WIMPS. The artwork displayed on the wall is an artist’s rendering of the search for the neutrino. Guided tours of the lab are offered.


Photo of the Engine House building.
19 of 34

Engine House

On your way to the visitor center, where the underground tours begin, you’ll walk past the Engine House. You will also pass the sheave wheel, part of the equipment that helps move hoist cables. The Tower Pit, one of approximately thirteen mine pits in the park, sits to the north of this Engine House.


Photo of the place where the hoistman controls the movement of the cages underground.
20 of 34

Engine House Interior

The Engine House (and the hoisting system within) is a must see when you visit the park. The hoistman sits in front of the two large dials and controls the movement of the cages underground. Looking at the dials that read east and west, one can determine that the west cage is near the surface and the east cage is near level 27. The hoist has two cables that wind or unwind from a large drum. As one cable is unwound (the cage is lowered into the mine), the other side winds on the drum (the cage is brought to the surface).


Photo of the former location that miners would raise their wet clothes up into the rafters to dry, but is now a visitor center.
21 of 34

Visitor Center – Dry House Interior

Guided mine tours begin in the visitor center. You may also explore displays with photographs, mining artifacts, and rock samples or find unique souvenirs in the Nature Store gift shop. Historically the visitor center was known as the Dry House, as this is where the miners prepared for work and cleaned up at the end of the day. The structure did not have the ceiling seen today, so miners would raise their wet clothes up into the rafters to dry-- hence the name Dry House.


Photo of railroad tracks where ore would enter the Crusher House.
22 of 34

Crusher House and Tracks

When ore reached the surface, it would follow the railroad tracks from the headframe to the Crusher House. The ore would then enter the Crusher House on one of the two rail routes seen in this view. Once in the Crusher House, the ore would be crushed into seven inch chunks and then sent onto the Trestle to be dumped into the awaiting train cars or onto the stock pile.  You can access this side of the Crusher House from behind the visitor center.


Photo of the equipment where ore was crushed.
23 of 34

Crusher House Interior

Ore came in one side of this Crusher House building and was dumped onto a conveyor that fed two jaw crushers. Look down and you’ll see the opening of these jaws that once crushed ore from the mine into seven inch chunks. The Crusher House was the heartbeat of the community. As long as the community heard the crusher working, they knew there were no problems at the mine. The crusher operated year-round, but the building was not heated. Crusher operators had to warm up in the enclosed area by the stairs.


Photo of where ore would travel along a conveyor belt, which was housed in the Trestle.
24 of 34

Trestle and Crusher House

Once the ore left the Crusher House, it would travel along a conveyor belt, which was housed in the Trestle (the long metal compartment). The seven inch chunks of ore would be dumped into the train cars or off the edge onto the stock pile.


Photo of where ore came down the chute above.
25 of 34

Trestle – Ore Loading Pocket

Ore came down the chute above. It then either continued down through a hole in the floor (area now covered by the grate) to an awaiting train car, or was loaded into an ore car and transported by the tram (mining train) to the stock pile area for storage.


Photo of a view of landscape from the trestle.
26 of 34

Trestle Overlook

During the winter, when Lake Superior was closed to boat traffic, the iron ore would be stored in the stock pile. This was located on the flat land beneath the Trestle. Railroad tracks would be extended past the end of the trestle as the stock pile grew. In the spring, the ore would be loaded by hydraulic shovels into train cars and shipped to Two Harbors. On a clear day you can see the mining operations in the towns of Virginia and Aurora from this overlook.


Photo of the shop where drill bits were sharpened and replaced.
27 of 34

Drill Shop Interior

After drilling rock underground, drill bits and drill steel needed to be repaired at the Drill Shop. Sharp drill bits were important, so miners picked up a fresh supply before heading underground. The type of rock drilled determined how quickly the bits were dulled. Banded iron was the hardest and caused drillers to go through many bits, while greenstone was softer. Though the floor of the Drill Shop looks as though it is made of bricks, you are actually seeing wood planks standing on end.


Photo of various mining equipment on display.
28 of 34

Mining Equipment

Here visitors can see the larger pieces of equipment needed to operate an underground mine. The equipment includes ore cars used to haul ore from the stope to the shaft station, so it could be transported to the surface. In the distance is a drill used to drill holes for blasting rock, as well as the tugger and scraper which helped move rock around the stope. Visitors can also read about the National Historic Landmark status that the park received in the 1960s.


Photo of the West Tower Mine Trail.
29 of 34

West Tower Mine Trail

Located just off the northwestern end of the parking lot, a 0.2 mile wooded hike takes visitors past the deepest mine pit on the property. Upon seeing the pit, one might gain a better appreciation for the work of early miners and understand why it was safer to mine underground than in open pits. If you visit in the summer, be sure to look for snow in the pit, as it sticks around well into June.


Photo of the Breitung Pit, where iron ore for the first railroad shipment was mined.
30 of 34

Breitung Pit

The Breitung Pit is where iron ore for the first railroad shipment was mined. The ore was stockpiled until the railroad was completed in 1884. On July 31, 1884, the first shipment of ore left Soudan bound for Two Harbors.


Photo of the mile Hiking Club Trail.
31 of 34

Hiking Club Trail

There are over 5 miles of trails in the park, including the 2.5 mile Hiking Club Trail Loop. Trails go through old growth pine stands and a variety of mixed forest habitats. Look for signs of wolves, bears, and deer along the trails, as they are present in the forest.


Photo of the Stuntz Bay Boat Access on Lake Vermilion.
32 of 34

Stuntz Bay Boat Access

The Stuntz Bay Boat Access is one of the many access points to beautiful Lake Vermilion. There are over 140 historic boat houses that line the shore here in Stuntz Bay. The boathouses are wet storage areas for boats and were constructed by many of the former miners at Soudan. The area received National Historic District status in 2007.


Photo of a tall chimney, built in 1887.
33 of 34

Compressor House Chimney

A tall chimney, built in 1887, stands near the water. The chimney was used by a compressor house that once pulled water from Lake Vermilion to make steam power. This steam power ran equipment that created the compressed air which was piped up the hill to the mine facilities.


Photo of a sample of the Soudan Iron Formation.
34 of 34

Soudan Iron Formation

The Soudan Iron Formation is a mecca for geologists throughout the United States.  Observant visitors will notice unique patterns in the rock here. There are many theories as to the creation of this local “swirly rock,” but the most common involves the ebb and flow of bacteria dying in ancient oceans.


Virtual Tours

Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park home page

Legacy Amendment logo

This program is made possible by funds from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.