Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park
Photo credit: Minnesota DNR
Post Updated June 2021
Spelunking…seriously can you find a more fun word to teach your kids. Imagine their delight when they find out you want to take them deep into the earth. Explore caverns, underground structures called stalactites and stalagmites, water formations, and fossils. As a family, discover local stories and history connected with the caves.
Cave exploration, in my opinion, is the perfect family summer adventure. You can do it rain or shine, it is one of the few outdoor activities that have natural air conditioning and is void of mosquitos! Caving is entertaining a wide age range, and without hardly noticing it, you’ll get those steps in.
Below you will find a guide to five different caves that range from being in Rochester to as far away as McGregor, Iowa. The furthest driving distance of any of the caves is two hours. All of these caves offer different experiences and have their own unique stories and adventures to offer. So pack a lunch, fill your water bottles, grab a sweatshirt and solid shoes, and choose one to explore today.
Quarry Hill Cave Tour and Historic Hike (Rochester, MN):
Local history fascinates me. Especially when it is about a State Hospital and a Sandstone Cave dating back to 1882. Right in your own backyard, take advantage of the family program, Sundays at Quarry Hill. This does take some advanced planning since spots are limited. This 1-hour adventure is free with your Quarry Hill membership or $4.00 and tickets need to be purchased in advance. How affordable is that! July and August have several open weekends, so why not call and reserve a spot? Pack a lunch to eat at the park, and add on a visit to the newly remodeled Quarry Hill Center for a full afternoon of family fun.
This cave used to be open to the public. Now it can only be explored with a nature guide. Flashlights, cool chambers, cave crickets, and local lore add to the mystery of this man-made cave. As a family, we highly recommend this adventure.
Approximately a 1-hour drive south from Rochester, Niagara Cave makes a perfect first caving experience. If you are looking for a local attraction to take guests or want a quaint drive through country roads and Amish country this fits the bill. Being native to southeast Minnesota I have toured this cave as a teenager, several years later taken my three-year-old nephew on a caving adventure, and brought my own children to it. Each time the descent down the stairs into the cool glistening underground through narrow tunnels opening into large caverns has been equally fascinating. Better yet, Niagara Cave is a family-run, solar-powered establishment.
Open 7 days a week from May until October 31st. Tickets must be purchased in advance online. General Admission is $20.00 for adults, children (3-12) $12.00, and children (2 and under are free per adult ticket) The one-hour guided tour departs every 15-20 mins. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds, play 18 holes of mini-golf open on weekends, shop in the gift store, or mine for gemstones.
Forestville Mystery Cave (Preston, MN)
As of June 2021, tours are not being offered at Mystery Cave at this time. Information will be updated on the website as soon as something changes.
This cave is about a 50-minute drive from Rochester, located in Forestville State Park near Preston, Minnesota. You will need to have a State Park pass to visit. This cave is known as being the longest cave in Minnesota, approximately 13 miles of known cave. Since it is located in a State Park, your guides will be Park Naturalists that are very knowledgeable about the environment, cave formations, and geology. Feel free to quiz them. Options abound for finding the perfect caving outing for your family.
- Scenic Tour: Memorial Day through Labor Day 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is the most popular tour that almost anyone can do. Approximately 1 hour long, this tour is wheelchair and stroller accessible. It consists of about 3/4 of a mile of walking through long corridors past underground caverns filled with water. $15.00 per Adult (13 and above), $10.00 Children (5-12), 4 and under (No charge, but they still need to be registered).
- Lantern Tour: For those eight and older, this one-hour tour adds some drama and mystery to a caving adventure. Completely by lantern, this more rugged tour takes a different route than the scenic tour but will take you by the underground attraction of Blue Lake. Register ahead of time. This tour is offered Saturdays and Sundays Memorial Day through Labor Day 11:30-3:30 p.m. $18.00 per person (Adult & Child).
- Geology Tour: This 2-hour tour focuses on the formation of Mystery Cave. Attention Families with a particular love of earth science. This is the educational experience that will answer a lot of your questions and cause you to dig deeper (pun intended). This tour is completely done with flashlights and will be conducted on rugged terrain. It is for those eight and older. $23.00 per person. Register today as this tour is only offered on Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.
- Wild Caving Tour: If you are a particularly thrill-seeking active family with children greater than 13. This is not just a tour, this is the real deal. Plan for a four-hour adventure. Protective gear will be issued. You’ll be taught how to use it in an hour session. Then follow your guide into the earth where you will get muddy, most likely crawl on your stomach, and experience cave life well upfront and personal. This extensive experience costs $80.00 per person, you must be 13 and older, with a maximum number of participants being 5. Go to the website to register in advance.
Crystal Cave (Spring Valley, WI):
Crystal Cave is located about an hour and a half from Rochester, Minnesota. Advertised as Wisconsin’s longest cave there are several options for tours. Open April through October. Daily hour-long tours are available throughout the summer months starting at 9:30 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. Certified Cave Guides will take you deep underground and you will learn about bats, cave geology, and the discovery of Crystal Cave on this one hour tour. The Admission price is $19.98 per Adult and Children 3-12 are $11.98. (under 2 are free)
My daughter toured this cave with her school. One of the highlights from her trip was seeing the coin walls. You’ll have to go discover those for yourself. Gem panning, a hiking trail, a gift shop, and a picnic area are other options of things to do on your trip.
Spook Cave (McGregor, IA):
Take a relaxing drive about two hours south to see this unique limestone cave created over an eon. An underground river runs through this cave, which you leisurely get to explore by boat. No walking involved. Trained guides will lead you through this fascinating structure and point out different cave formations as well as tell you the history of the cave. As a teenager, we toured this cave and I remember loving this one-of-a-kind adventure.
Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Cost for Adults ages 13 years and older is $14.00. Children ages 4-12 is $10.00. (3 & under are free) A picnic area is available for cave goers and if you would like to make it a weekend, Spook Cave is also a campground. In addition to this, McGregor, IA is an old river town with lots of historical sites to see. So plan for a day trip.