Have you ever wanted to explore a cave? In Minnesota and Wisconsin, there are several you can check out. Most maintain pleasant temperatures year-round, making them a welcome escape from the scorching heat or freezing cold.
Some caves in Minnesota are show caves that are open to visitors, whereas others are only open to technical caving expeditions. Here's a list of publicly accessible caves in Minnesota as well as a couple of caves in western Wisconsin.
The closest public caves for urban explorers, the Wasbasha Street Caves, are manmade but have a rich history involving bootlegging, mobsters and ghost stories. Today the caves are open to the public for tours and special events such as swing dances. The caves are a few minutes from downtown St. Paul.
Niagara Cave, Harmony, Minnesota
Head south on I-35 toward Harmony on the Minnesota-Iowa border. Niagara Cave is close to the cute little town of Harmony, and tours take visitors to see fascinating underground formations, a 60-foot waterfall, strange rock formations, and fossils.
Niagara Cave is open for tours from early spring through late fall.
Mystery Cave is part of Forestville State Park in southeastern Minnesota. It has 13 miles of passages, making it the longest discovered cave in Minnesota.
Mystery Cave offers several tours, including one that is stroller and ADA accessible. The popular scenic tour is offered daily in summer. For those eight and older, there are more rugged tours to explore in other parts of the cave. These tours are usually offered on the weekends.
Forestville State Park has other attractions such as a restored 1800s village, fishing, hiking, and camping.
Located in northern Minnesota, this isn't a cave but rather a mine. This is a fascinating opportunity to visit the underground world. At the Soudan Underground Mine, you'll get to explore the abandoned iron ore mine workings. You'll also catch a glimpse of the mine's current use as a high-energy physics laboratory.
Soudan Underground Mine is part of a Minnesota State Park, but admission is free. However, there is a fee for mine tours. Tours run regularly throughout the summer.
Crystal Cave is in western Wisconsin, about an hour east of St. Paul. Discovered in 1881 by two young brothers, this is Wisconsin's longest cave. Crystal Cave maintains 50 degrees Fahrenheit and is never wet inside.
Tours are available from early spring through late fall. You'll learn about the cave's history, geology and bats.
Planning on a trip to the Wisconsin Dells? Then this cave is an easy trip. The Cave of the Mounds is a National Natural Landmark because of its variety of colorful rock and crystal formations underground. The Cave of the Mounds is open year-round, and regular public tours are available.
Visiting a cave, other than a publicly accessible cave during a guided tour, can be extremely dangerous. Low oxygen levels, rockfalls, sewage, getting lost, losing your light and many other hazards have the potential to be deadly. Your presence in a cave can also be fatal for bats and other animals that live in caves.
Technical caving skills, appropriate equipment, and knowledgeable companions are needed to visit caves safely and responsibly. The Minnesota Speleological Society is an organization dedicated to exploring caves safely and with a backpacker-style "leave no trace" ethic. You can get more information on how to join at MSS.