6 cryptic caves around Minnesota
Why would you want to voluntarily dive into a cave? Maybe you are a geology freak, the opposite of a claustrophobic, or you are just looking for a spooky thrill. Whatever your motive, here are six caves you should know about in Minnesota.
Mystery Cave State Park, Wykoff
Minnesota’s longest cave (and one of the largest cave complexes in North America) sits discreetly beneath a bucolic prairie landscape in Preston. Fossils, stalactites and mites and casting stones abound along the 21 km labyrinth of passages. Unfortunately, the four-hour ‘wild caving’ tour, which involves sneaking through undeveloped cracks in the caves, is not available in 2021. But you can settle near Forestville, a restored village of the caves. 1800s which sometimes offers “guided hikes in the cemetery”.
Schiek cave, Mpl.
Seventy-five feet below the surface of downtown Minneapolis, tunnels wind through the St. Peter’s sandstone formation. In 1904, a city sewer engineer came across the natural cave system, which the city hastily fortified and reused for sewage drainage. Authorities have kept the find a secret for years to prevent the public from panicking about the city’s potential collapse into the earth. There is no public or easy access to Schiek’s Cave so unless you know a guy you can’t go see this one. But now you know what’s below by standing at Marquette and South 4th Street.
Wakáŋ Tipi, St. Paul
Central activity center for the Dakota people, this sacred cave at the foot of a cliff by the river hosted council meetings and ceremonies long before settlement. Dakota scholar and educator Jim Rock describes the cave as “a sort of cosmic navel in Mother Earth. A place here on Earth that matches a place in the stars. The domed interior of Wakáŋ Tipi, covered with ancient petroglyphs, was largely destroyed in 1862 when railroad tycoons blasted the cliff face to expand a railway station. Now, the remaining entrance to Wakáŋ Tipi is protected, visible from the walking trails of the new Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.
Niagara Cave, Harmony
The largest limestone cave in the Midwest (to our knowledge) is on the southern border of Minnesota. Named after the 60-foot waterfall inside, Niagara Cave opened as a tourist attraction in 1934. In 1935, two lucky lovers were the first of more than 400 couples to meet. marry in the cave chapel. The water has carved out the wavy walls lining the paths leading to the chapel, the waterfall, a limestone island and a gorge known as “the Grand Canyon”.
Calm water caves, Still water
After a French fur trader widened the natural openings in the sandstone cliffs of Stillwater, people used the caves as a trading post, incorporated them into a beer-brewing operation, and inundated them with trout to an original tourist attraction. In recent years, an Italian restaurant has offered a wine tasting combo in the caves, but the operation is currently closed for refurbishment. Fortunately, there is an above ground cave to explore nearby.
Wabasha Street Caves, St. Paul
On tours through the man-made caves on Wabasha Street, destroyed in 1933, guides brag about the history of the mysterious killing of caves in the Prohibition era, from kidnappings to shootings. Carved into a cliff of Saint-Paul, the must-see spooky also operates an event space and offers ghost tours. After being closed during the pandemic, the recently reopened caves are an easy addition to a spooky fall day trip schedule.
Don’t worry if you can’t take a cave tour this fall. Most of these caves maintain a stable temperature (around 50 degrees) throughout the year, making them an evergreen escape from Minnesota’s extremely unpredictable weather fluctuations. Happy caving!