Mystery Cave Geology Tour

Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Saturday, July 8th, 2017
Last Updated: Thursday, August 24th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 1 mile roundtrip
Time 2 hours
Terrain A few hills
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park has an amazingly wide variety of attractions: a preserved 19th century town with costumed performers, stunning nature, and a gigantic cave filled with unique geologic features. The Geology Tour is an excellent way to experience Mystery Cave while also learning about the formation of the cave. This is definitely a great experience for the whole family; however, children under 8 are not permitted. The Scenic Tour is a better option if you have children under 8 or require an accessible tour.

This fully guided educational tour costs $20 per person (no discount for children or seniors), and you can reserve a spot online (must be at least 24 hours in advance) using the Minnesota State Parks and Trails Reservation System -- select your desired date with Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park as the Place and ensure that "tours" is the selected Category of Activity. You may also reserve in person at the park office the day of your tour, but don't expect many open spots! This particular tour is only available on Saturdays at 1:30pm Memorial Day through Labor Day (the Scenic Tour is available year round with timeslots every hour if this doesn't fit your schedule).

While this is more physically demanding than the Scenic Tour, there are no technical sections or tight quarters except for a short portion near the end where taller people will have to crouch. Closed-toed shoes are required and backpacks, food, and drink are prohibited in the cave. Ensure that the shoes you wear were not previously worn in a cave where white-nose syndrome (WNS) has been detected in bats; WNS is caused by a deadly fungus that kills millions of bats annually in the U.S. WNS has been detected in bats in Mystery Cave, so please do not wear the shoes you wore today in any other caves! Dress warmly for the constant 48°F underground temperature. Lanterns and flashlights are provided, but you are welcome to bring your own (if you have a headlamp, I highly recommend wearing it -- it makes taking pictures easier when you have both hands available).

The tour meets near the park office. If you booked online, you must first check in with a ranger at the desk in the park office to receive your tickets. At 1:30pm, your guide will arrive and give you instructions on how to drive to the entrance of the cave, then will lead the convoy on the short drive. Before entering the cave, you will step on squishy mats with chemicals to kill spores on your shoes to prevent the spread of WNS. The entrance is covered by a locked building, and your guide will let you in and provide you lanterns there. After an introduction and safety talk, you will descend a staircase into the cave.

Just one of many creepy narrow passages you will walk past in Mystery Cave

Just one of many creepy narrow passages you will walk past in Mystery Cave
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My tour guide was a seasoned veteran, and she expertly explained the geologic processes at work in this cave while pointing to examples as we passed them. This area of Southern Minnesota is known for its karst topography, which is a fancy way of saying there is a lot of limestone here and interesting geology happened here after millions of years. You may have noticed during your drive here that the area around this state park has many sinkholes and valleys with steep hills and bluffs. The same process that created those landforms also created this cave! As rainwater falls and leeches through the soil, it becomes slightly acidic as it absorbs carbon dioxide created by decaying plants. The water then dissolves the limestone below the surface little by little, and after millions of years you get the stunning cave features pictured below: stalagmites, stalactites, cave bacon, and more!
The stalactites known as the Carrot Sticks

The stalactites known as the Carrot Sticks
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After this tour, you will finally remember that this is a stalagmite and not a stalactite

After this tour, you will finally remember that this is a stalagmite and not a stalactite
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The thin, rippling rock formations are known as flowstone or cave bacon

The thin, rippling rock formations are known as flowstone or cave bacon
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This rock formation looks like a monster from the deep

This rock formation looks like a monster from the deep
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Minerals in the water give it a turquoise-blue hue

Minerals in the water give it a turquoise-blue hue
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If this tour has sparked your love of caves or if the more rugged parts of the tour have you clamoring for more, check out the Wild Caving Tour for 4 hours of real cave exploration. Unfortunately, there are no recreational options for unsupervised caving here, but you might get a chance if you volunteer to help remap the entire cave network (talk to your guide or a ranger for more information). Caves are also found elsewhere in the Midwest, such as Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa, and Wyandotte Caves in O'Bannon Woods State Park in Indiana. View an interactive map from the National Caves Association to find a cave near you! Please use the comment section below to let me know how you liked this tour, and use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Directions

Mystery Cave is located in an area separate from the main state park. Be wary of the directions given by a navigation app; Google Navigation routed me through a maze of dirt roads to shave off two minutes of drive time. Follow the directions given below, and do not follow directions that tell you to turn from Minnesota Highway 16 onto any road other than County Road 5.

From the Twin Cities, take U.S. Highway 52 south towards Rochester. On the south side of Rochester, take the exit for U.S. Highway 63 heading south. At the T intersection a bit after Racine, turn left to continue on U.S. Highway 63. Then in Spring Valley, continue heading straight onto Minnesota Highway 63 rather than staying on U.S. Highway 63. Turn right on County Road 5, then turn right on 180th Street -- look for signs for Mystery Cave. The roads here are dirt, but are easily traveled by a sedan. At the T intersection ahead, turn right on Old Cave Road, then turn left onto Mystery Cave Road. You will arrive at the parking lot near the park office for Mystery Cave.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

You are still required to pay the vehicle fee even though you also must pay for tour registration. The vehicle fee is $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). The main parking lot has a visitor center with flush toilets and an exhibit about the park, and the second parking lot near the cave entrance has pit toilets.

External Links

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