Season Begins Memorial Weekend for Three Unique State Park Tours
Visitors can travel by boat, bus, lantern light or train during a variety of unique tour options both above and below ground at three Minnesota state parks, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Saturday May 24 marks the start of the daily public tour season at Mystery Cave in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in southeastern Minnesota and Soudan Underground Mine State Park in northeastern Minnesota’s town of Soudan.
In addition, Hill Annex Mine State Park in Calumet begins its summer schedule of Wednesday through Sunday tours. Each tour offers an exciting new adventure that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Mystery Cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park offers a choice of tours.
The one-hour, half-mile tour is a state-of-the-art accessible visit to Minnesota’s longest cave and suitable for the whole family. It is offered daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from May 24 through Labor Day.
On the two-hour tour, offered on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from May 28 through Labor Day, visitors are provided with hand-held electric lanterns that light the cave features along winding, narrow gravel pathways. The three-fourths mile tour includes numerous steps and is not available for children under 5 years old. Reservations for the one and two hour tours can be made through the state park reservation system.
Mystery Cave also offers a Wild Caving Tour that is available by special arrangement with the park. Visitors don hardhats, headlights, knee and elbow pads to crawl through a remote section of the cave. Participants must be at least 13 years old and in good physical condition. This is a four-hour tour and group size is limited to five people.
In addition to these tours, visitors should stop by the visitor center at the cave. This facility offers interpretive displays, a covered patio, picnic area, restroom facilities and a Nature Store gift shop.
SOUDAN UNDERGROUND MINE
Soudan offers a historic mine tour, a tour of the High Energy Physics Lab, or both tours offered at a special price. Each tour takes visitors one-half mile down into the earth.
On the historic tour, visitors don hard hats and enter an elevator-like “cage” for the ride down. Once underground, visitors are treated to a three-quarter-mile trail ride to the site where workers last mined iron ore. Daily tours of the historic mine are offered every hour on the hour, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tours of the underground physics lab gives visitors the opportunity to see the impressive facility where physicists and engineers from around the world have been working for 25 years to answer questions about the universe and how it works. On the tour, visitors will learn about the first neutrino events, hear what scientists are studying and see the massive MINOS neutrino detector. Lab tours are offered daily, twice a day at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
HILL ANNEX MINE
This mine offers a fossil tour, a bus tour and a pontoon boat tour. Each runs about an hour and a half and is offered once a day Wednesday through Sunday, and holidays from May 24 through Labor Day. The fossil tour begins at 10 a.m., the bus tour is at 12:30 p.m. and the boat tour begins at 3 p.m. The bus and pontoon boat tours are handicapped accessible.
The bus tour traces the route miners took to get to the working level of the mine as interpreters tell about the mine’s history. On the fossil tour, visitors take a five-minute bus ride to the fossil area to hunt for (and keep) such things as sharks’ teeth, clams and other prehistoric marine fossils that were formed 86 million years ago when a sea covered the area.
For this tour, park staff recommends visitors wear old clothes and sun hats and bring along water and bug spray. During mining days, the pit was a gaping hole in the ground. When pumps stopped pumping water out of the pits, however, the pits filled with water, creating a lake. On the boat tour, passengers take a relaxing glide around the nooks and crannies of the red rock-rimmed lake on a canopied pontoon boat.
RATES AND DETAILS
- Warm clothing is recommended for all underground tours.
- Basic tour rates at all of the parks are: $10/person for adults, $6/person for youth 5- 12 years old, and free for children under 5. The two-hour Mystery Cave tour is $15 for adults and $10/person for youth 5-12 years old. The cost for the Wild Caving Tour is $55 per person.
- The combination rate for any two tours at Hill Annex is $19/person for adults and $12/person for youth 5-12 years old. For those who wish to take in all three Hill Annex tours, the rate is $28/person for adults and $18/person for youth 5-12 years old. In all cases, children under 5 have free admission.
- At all of the parks, special arrangements can be made for schools and other group tours by calling the park directly.
- Space on these tours can be reserved in advance by calling the state park reservation service at 1-866-857-2757 or booking online at www.stayatmnparks.com. Tour reservations can be made 24-hours a day from 1 to 90 days in advance.
- For a non-refundable reservation fee of $8.50, up to 10 places on a tour can be reserved with one reservation. Half of the spaces on each tour will continue to be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
- A state park vehicle permit is required for Mystery Cave and Hill Annex. No vehicle permit is needed at Soudan Underground Mine. Cost is either $5 for a daily permit or $25 for an annual permit that allows an unlimited number of visits to all Minnesota state parks and recreation areas for one year from the month of purchase. Permits are available at the park.
For further details check the tour information on the Minnesota State Parks Web page at www.mnstateparks.info.