Beauty, history bring visitors to Mystery Caves

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 13, 2002

A 40-minute drive from Austin near Spring Valley in the rolling hills and farmlands south of Wykoff is Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park. This park is the second most visited state park in Minnesota, second behind Itasca. It is the busiest horse park in the state and one of the busiest in the nation. There are 73 campsites at the state park and a living history museum is in the old town of Forestville. The Mystery Caves were purchased by the state of Minnesota in 1988. The 13.2 miles of caves were discovered by Joe Petty on Feb. 3, 1937. He dug a hole and saw steam coming out of the ground and thus the caves were discovered. They are the longest caves in Minnesota.

The state park has 17 employees. Three of them are in charge of taking visitors on tours through the cave. Chris Ingebretson has been a park ranger at Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park for the last four seasons.

"The farmers located here knew there was a cave as the river sank underground. The cave was formed by water slowly seeping underground. The cave is limestone and shale. The limestone fractured and this is how the cave developed.

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Visitors to the cave are not allowed to touch the cave formations as the oil in our skin stops water movement and this is needed to keep the life force of the cave going," said Ingebretson.

The Mystery Caves were privately owned for many years. The name, Mystery Caves, came about when two young men were leveling off the floor to help develop the cave for visitors. Working in a cave is dark and the temperature is a constant 48 degrees. There was a lot of mud and rocks to move to make the level walk way.

Ingebretson told the story further, "One of the young men said, 'They ought to name this place Mystery Caves because it's a mystery to me that anyone would want to work here.' Ten years later, this same young man returned to the area and purchased it. His name was Clarence Prohaska. The property was originally owned by the Blakesley family and Sam Blakesley, a grandson of the original owner lives near by."

Today the Mystery Caves are so spectacular and assessable to the public that it is a mystery that anyone wouldn't want to see them. There are ramped concrete walkways through out the caves with hand rails. There are beautiful formations made by seeping water in the caves. The pathways are lighted for visitors. An hour tour is available for visitors every day and a two hour tour of the caves is available on the weekends. The longer tour is on steps and gravel and there are fewer rock formations and the tour is done with hand held electric lanterns. This longer tour is not recommended for small children.

The caves are airy and visitors don't feel enclosed when visiting them. Children and groups love visiting the caves. A spectacular site in the cave is Turgouise Lake, it is 13 feet at its deepest end. The Mystery Caves are a living entity and they are constantly changing. They have had flooding several times which has damaged some of the limestone formations and humans have done damage by breaking off formations.

"A really hot day is a good time to see the caves. A rainy day is perfect too as you are underground and you won't get wet," said Ingebretson.

Forestville-Mystery Caves State Park is a great place to have a picnic, go fishing or horse back riding. There are three rivers for fishermen to choose from, the Root River, Forestville Creek, and Canfield Creek. The water that runs through the cave and flows out six miles down stream is one the best places in Minnesota for trout fishing. The Caves are open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. They are open weekends only during the spring and fall. The tour times are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the weekends in the spring and fall. During the summer months the caves are open everyday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The cost to visit the Mystery Caves is: 13 and up $7, 5-12 $5 and 4 and under free, plus a state park vehicle sticker.

There is a special group rate available that must be reserved a head of time. To reserve a tour of the cave for a group call 507-937-3251. The Main Park can be reached at 507 352-5111.

Sheila Donnelly can be reached at