Southern Minnesota Is Blessed with Jaw-Dropping Caves

Tours cater to amateurs and pros alike

Hikers and horseback riders flock to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in Preston for its scenic forested trails. Anglers come for the Blue Ribbon trout streams. But the biggest draw in the 3,583-acre park is its eye-popping caverns.

First documented in 1937 and the longest known cave network in Minnesota, Mystery Cave boasts 13 miles of passageways plastered with stalactites and stalagmites. Dramatically lit walkways are stroller- and wheelchair-friendly, and interpretive tours take place between May and October.

The hour-long Scenic Tour provides the best overview for first-timers, highlighting the cave’s unique rock formations and shallow pools of eerie blue water. For tripod-toting shutterbugs, there’s a two-hour Photography Tour. For aspiring spelunkers, there’s the four-hour Wild Caving Tour — a strenuous but exhilarating scramble through corridors that are off the beaten path.

Niagara Cave | Photo: Ryan Taylor

Niagara Cave, 20 minutes southeast of Mystery Cave, is another must-see with its 60-foot waterfall, subterranean wedding chapel, and mining sluice for panning gemstones and fossils.

While you’re in the area, don’t miss the living history village at Historic Forestville, operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. With the help of costumed interpreters, visitors can time travel to an 1800s general store and a homestead done up with original artifacts.

Nearby, see additional caverns, sinkholes and springs when you explore the new Driftless Area Karst Trail, a self-guided driving tour through Southeast Minnesota. For more ideas of fun things to do in the region, check out Ashlea Halpern’s Enter Your Dream State guide at Explore Minnesota.