Minnesota is a state known for its beautiful landscapes and breathtaking lakes. It also has six distinctive national parks that enhance the state’s natural features.
But did you know that Minnesota also has one of the best karst landscapes in the United States? It features caves that are popular amongst locals who love spelunking.
Before we explore the best caves in Minnesota, let’s get a little background on the history of these caves.
Why Are There so Many Caves in Minnesota?
In Minnesota, natural and human-made caves have been used for shelter by indigenous American tribes and later by European settlers.
The southeast and central regions of the state are where most of the prominent caves are found. Most of Minnesota was buried under glacial sediment residues, making the caves not very obvious. However, the earlier mentioned regions are where erosion removed the cover of sediments, revealing the karst landscape features.
If you’d like to learn more, Minnesota’s history of cave formations was extensively researched in this paper from the University of Minnesota.
Best Caves in Central Minnesota
1. Waká? Tipi or Carver’s Cave
Waká? Tipi, commonly called the Carver’s Cave comprises important historic caves. However, there isn’t much space to explore since most of the cave was destroyed by railroad industrialists back in 1862.
The cave entrance is situated at the base of Daytona’s Bluff, near the Mississippi River. Currently, the cave doesn’t have more than a crawl space as most of the area is taken up by an underground lake. That doesn’t stop it from being an important historical site and tourist attraction.
Learn more about Carver’s Cave.
2. Salt Caves
While natural caves are perfect for adventure and history enthusiasts, salt caves are made for people who just want to have a day off to unwind and relax. These commercial caves aren’t technically caves, but they have an ambiance that is similar to the feeling of being in natural caves.
Salt cave centers offer halotherapy (also known as salt therapy) services, an alternative treatment that involves breathing in air that’s saturated with small particles of salt and is said to improve your breathing.
Learn more about Minnesota’s Salt Caves.
3. Wabasha Street Caves
Wabasha Street Caves in downtown Saint Paul are one of the most popular man-made caves in Minnesota because of the fun activities and special events that are hosted there. The Wabasha Street Caves were constructed inside sandstone caves and offer multiple public tours that give visitors background on the history of the site in Saint Paul as well as other interesting stories.
Learn more about the Wabasha Street Caves.
4. Stillwater Cave
The St. Croix Boom Site in Stillwater is an interesting site that offers a look at the state’s history. The area is a well-known picnic spot and leads down to a river that is extensively used for activities like fishing, boating, and swimming.
However, not a lot of people are aware of the caves that formed over the years by the water along the sandstone cliffs. The cave entrances are easily accessible on foot without any climbing or crawling. It’s a fun stop on a day out with the family.
Learn more about how to get to Stillwater Cave here.
Best Caves in Southern Minnesota
5. Mystery Caves
Arguably the most popular caves in Minnesota are the Mystery Caves located inside the Forestville State Park (also known as Mystery Cave State Park, for obvious reasons). The adventurous caves have been adjudged to be the longest natural caverns in all of Minnesota.
The mystery caves are popular among locals and tourists for their mystical and captivating scenery. You get the full cave experience with its stunning stalagmite and stalactite formations, which make a magnificent view even for experienced spelunkers.
Learn more about the Mystery Caves.
6. Niagara Caves
If you’re looking for the best karst landscapes in Minnesota, there’s no better option (apart from Mystery Caves) than Niagara Caves in Minnesota. The mammoth cave has been used as a wedding venue by many and is frequented by local and visiting families.
One of the largest limestone caves in the country’s Midwest region, it features incredible stalactites and stalagmites as well as 450 million-year-old fossils. You’ll also witness an underground stream inside the cave and a breathtaking 60-foot-tall waterfall.
Learn more about the Niagara Caves.
7. Spring Valley Caverns
Spring Valley Caverns in Fillmore County has the largest cave complexes that are privately owned in the state. The caves are nearly 6 miles in length, with 38 caves found in the area to date.
The cave system is also where a number of groundbreaking and published research studies were conducted. The site provides educational, historic cave tours that are suitable for people of all ages. It’s a great destination for adventurers and spelunkers who want to explore.
Learn more about the Spring Valley Caverns.
8. Tyson Spring Cave
Another adventurous cave near Fillmore County is the Tyson Spring Cave, which the Minnesota Cave Preserve owns privately. The cave is best known for the ice-age bones that were found in its different cave rooms.
The cave is around 120 feet below the surface and is estimated to be 3.5 to 5 miles in length. It features a 115-foot-deep access shaft that lets spelunkers and researchers safely enter it.
Learn more about Tyson Spring Cave.
9. Robinson’s Ice Caves
If you’re planning a trip to the Banning State Park during the winter season, make sure to visit the Robinson Ice Caves. Whether for a day hike or overnight camping, the site is popular among ice climbers due to the special topographic features around the cave. Other activities in and around the site include climbing, hiking, and paddling.
Learn more about Banning State Park, where Robinson’s Ice Caves are located.
Best Cave in Eastern Minnesota
10. Cool/Overlook Cave at Sorin’s Bluff
Sorin’s Bluff, located in Memorial Park, is a popular spot in the city of Red Wing for people who want to relax with their families. However, not many people know that the area is also home to a number of caves that are open for exploration.
The most popular is Cool/Overlook Cave, situated around 70 feet below the overlook that is frequented by visitors. It extends to about 185 feet in length.
Learn about how to get to Cool/Overlook Cave at Sorin’s Bluff.
Best Cave in Northern Minnesota
11. Soudan Underground Mine
Though not exactly a cave, visiting the Soudan Underground Mine leads half a mile underground, letting visitors experience a special 90-minute tour that provides insights into the lives of iron-ore miners from the 19th century. The underground site is located at the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, so a day trip here can end with a relaxing visit to Lake Vermilion.
Learn more about the Soudan Underground Mine.
Time to Explore the Caves in Minnesota
Caves are great to visit any time of the year because of their cooler, more stable temperatures, especially during hot summers when you’re itching to go outdoors. Whether you’re a seasoned spelunker or just someone looking to discover Minnesota, these caves are a great way to discover the state’s history while providing opportunities to learn more about the unique ecosystems within them.
Other caves in Minnesota worth checking out are Fountain Cave, Schiek’s Cave, and the ice caves in Duluth.
Minnesota is full of amazing discoveries! Check out our page on Minnesota Guides to plan your next adventure.
Also, on our Places To Stay page, you’ll find a variety of awesome options if you’re in need of overnight accommodations.