Hidden Minnesota: 5 underappreciated state parks and recreation areas to visit this year

Southeast Minnesota – Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park // Photo by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Located above and below ground in the Driftless Area of Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota, these 3,500-plus acres of parkland and 13 miles of underground caves are unique among Minnesota’s state parks.

The caves themselves were only discovered in 1937 with the entirety of the area not gaining state park status until 1963. Visitors to the caves enter an otherworldly realm of dripping stalactites and stalagmites with underground pools that stay naturally cool at 48 degrees. Tours of the caves include (but are not limited to) a flashlight tour, a photography tour, and a challenging four-hour spelunking tour built as an introduction to the sport of “wild caving.”

Nature enthusiasts recognize the wide variety of wildlife in the area that includes over 175 species of wild birds, glacial snails, four species of squirrel, deer, coyote, mink, beaver, red and gray foxes and even the elusive timber rattlesnake. (If you happen to visit and sight one of these rare and threatened rattlesnakes, please contact the park staff.)

In addition to the natural highlights, visitors can explore Historic Forestville, an abandoned Minnesotan townsite with a 1890s-era General Store that has been preserved by the Minnesota Historical Society. From May to October guided tours take visitors around the site and discuss the different peoples who have called this area home. Self-guided brochures are available year-round.

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