News release: Minnesota state park summer tours now taking reservations

April 1, 2024

This summer, Minnesota state parks will offer tours introducing visitors to the Iron Ranges’ mining history, prairie life, and the longest cave in the state.

Reservations are now available for tours at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine, Blue Mounds, and Forestville/Mystery Cave state parks. Schedules and reservation information are available on the state park tours webpage of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.

Returning in 2024: Soudan Underground Mine tours at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park

Minnesota has been a powerhouse in the production of iron ore starting with the state’s first iron ore mine, the Soudan Mine, which opened in 1882 and operated until 1962. Underground mine tours will return in May after being closed the last two years due to an extensive restoration project. The mine shaft restoration was completed in December 2023 and new interpretive exhibits are coming to the visitor center in April. In addition, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the installation of the mine shaft hoist in the engine house.

“The Soudan Mine is a living memorial that honors all who immigrated to the Iron Ranges of Minnesota to seek a better life for themselves,” said Sarah Guy-Levar, interpretive services supervisor at the park. “We are eager to share the major improvements with our visitors and help people fully immerse themselves in the authentic experience of an underground miner.”

The Soudan Underground Mine offers historic tours where visitors travel 2,341 feet — nearly one-half mile — underground by cage on authentic, expertly maintained hoisting equipment. Once underground, participants board a train and ride nearly a mile to the last and deepest area of the mine. On the tour, visitors hear true stories of the miners and learn firsthand about the working conditions that made this underground iron mine the safest of all the Iron Range mines. 

Historic tours run daily from Memorial Day weekend through the end of September. In October, tours are offered on weekends through the third weekend of the month. Mine tours are fully accessible. Reservations are highly recommended as tours frequently sell out.

Prairie and bison tours at Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds State Park, in the state’s far southwest corner, offers a 90-minute bus tour into a vast prairie that might include the sighting of the park’s massive bison herd. These powerful wild animals can be elusive, so there’s no guarantee of seeing one. However, prairie life — such as grasses, prairie flowers and other wildlife — can easily be seen on the tour.

“The bison's story of resilience shows us just how powerful the prairie can be,” said Tiffany Muellner, interpretive naturalist at Blue Mounds State Park. “Taking the tour is a great way to experience some of that story and discover how the prairie is so much more than grass."

Tour reservations are required. Prairie and bison tours run Thursday through Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and weekends from mid-September to mid-October. The tour bus is equipped with a lift and can accommodate one wheelchair per tour.

Mystery Cave tours at Mystery Cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park 

Covering 13 miles, Mystery Cave is Minnesota’s longest cave. Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park offers a variety of tours through the cave, including the one-hour lantern tour, the one-hour scenic tour, the two-hour geology tour, and the four-hour wild caving tour. Each tour takes visitors to different areas of the cave and showcases stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, fossils, and cave pools.

“Mystery Cave is unique because of its interconnectedness to so many wonderful things,” Cave Manager Dawn Ryan said. “When visitors leave the surface and go underground into Mystery Cave, they quickly discover the cave is its own environment defined by water. Everywhere you look, water is dripping, flowing or pooling. Water flowing through the cave contributes to the beautiful cave formations and provides habitat for rare cave life.”

One-hour scenic tours begin May 11 and run through Oct. 20, and are offered multiple times daily. These tours are fully accessible. Reservations are recommended, but walk-ins will be accommodated based on availability. The 12:20 p.m. and 3:20 p.m. tours on weekends are not reservable and are for walk-ins only.

The lantern, geology and wild caving tours are offered on weekends only, and reservations are required. Participants in these tours should read the cave tour webpage for details about age restrictions, footwear requirements, and conditions that participants will encounter. Lantern and geology tours are available from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Wild caving tours run from June 1 to Aug. 24.

State park vehicle permits

A state parks vehicle permit is not needed for the parking area at the visitor center at Soudan Underground Mine or the Stuntz Bay parking lots; visitors will need a vehicle permit to enter other areas of the park, including the campground.

Tour participants at Blue Mounds and Forestville/Mystery Cave state parks will need a vehicle permit to drive into the park for their tour.

The permit cost is $7 per day, or $35 per year for unlimited visits to all state parks and recreation areas. Vehicle permits can be purchased on the state parks permit webpage or in person during open hours at state park ranger stations.

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