10 Reasons to Visit Forestville Mystery Cave

Our family recently spent a weekend camping at Forestville Mystery Cave State Park in Preston, MN, and it was a gorgeous way to get away from the norm of everyday life without all the excessive travel time. Only 2.5 hours from the Twin Cities, the Forestville Mystery Cave area has so much to offer. I truly had no idea until we were living it and I’m excited to share our Top 10 Reasons to Visit Forestville Mystery Cave (and its surround areas) for you here.

The main reason we camped in the area was to do the cave tour. Correction – to do the “mystery” cave tour. Months ago I booked the campsite at the State Park and, when doing so, the site offered me the option to also purchase cave tour tickets – which I gladly did. And now that we’ve done the tour, I would’ve spent double to see it all again.

Now I’m no speleologist, archeologist, geologist, or even a general cave-loving person, but there was something just so rad about these underground caverns, I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s that it’s in the middle of dirt and farmland. Maybe it’s the story of how it was discovered. Maybe it’s the teal pools and funky rock formations. But whatever it was, the price was right* and the experience was awesome.

*Ticket prices for the tour are: $15/adults; $10/youth (ages 5-12); Free for kids under 5

Note: Dress warm for this tour. It was 93 degrees when we went and our family was freezing underground in our sweatshirts and shorts. It stays a constant 48 degrees in the cave year round, so dress accordingly and wear close-toed, sturdy shoes for safe walking. Yes to stroller accessibility (but not necessarily easy), there are stairs (but not too terribly many), and there are no bathrooms in the cave. The scenic tour ran for one hour but there are two-hour, four-hour, and six-hour tour options too. There’s also the Wild Caving Tour option, which is represented by the squeeze box I describe in #1 below. No. Thank. You. Ever.

Reasons to Visit Forestville Mystery Cave (and surrounding areas)

1) William H. Morrissey Visitor Center
Named for the man who made the cave what it is today, the Visitor Center is small but great. While reservations should be made online before you arrive, you will check in at the visitor center, allowing you time to explore the signage, the interactive exhibits, the pictures of nasty transparent bugs that live in the caves, the gift shop, and some live reptiles. Our favorite part though was the squeeze box. This wooden contraption can be raised or lowered to see how tight it feels to shimmy through tiny tunnels in a cave. So Q) what did I learn from the squeeze box? A) That I am not mentally strong enough for this claustrophobic activity, I will never be a cave-person, and my butt is far larger than that of any of my family members.

2) Teal Pools, Rock Formations, and Stalagmites (and Stalactites)
On the scenic tour, you will see 60 minutes worth of amazingness. You’ll learn about the growth rate of stalagmites, how minerals play a role in the coloring and texture of the cave walls, and why certain formations happen where and when they do. Parts of the cave are lit up for effect, parts of in the pitch black, but the best part is the turquoise ponds that made our entire tour crowd “ahhhhh” in unison. While you aren’t allowed to touch anything but the handrails, your eyes will be in for the real treat. It might just be rocks and minerals, but it sure has shaped itself into something mind-blowingly beautiful.

3) Knowledgeable Cave Tour Guides with Great Stories
OK, OK, I have to start this by saying that our group was blessed with Tour Guide Gene, the 84-year old, fully-retired, and sweet like a teddy bear. So maybe (definitely) we had the best of the best. But I talked to a number of the guides at the visitor center and they were all bright, kind, and excited about their job. From the moment we stepped out to the patio to wait for our tour to begin, we started learning.

We learned about bats, extinction, and how formations are created. We heard stories about vandals breaking 500-year old stalactites and saw mummified creatures with funny names. We watched water slowly drip from the top to the bottom, providing visual proof that building a cave naturally sure takes a lot of time. Gene made “dad jokes” and warned us about hitting our heads, and nothing sounded staged or phony. He just legit loved giving this tour and it showed. In fact, halfway through the tour, my 7-year old looked up at me smiling ear to ear and said, “This dude is awesome.”

4) Forestville State Park
I love me a good state park, and Forestville’s did not disappoint. With great facilities, comfortable campsites, trout streams, and scenic hiking trails, it’s a very “Minnesota” state park. But we had almost no mosquitos. And that reason alone makes me want to give this state park a trophy and award it “most tolerable for whiny non-campers who hate bugs.” There are very few mosquitos, but there ARE fossils in the park.

We brought hammocks and s’mores and learned the hard way that raccoons will eat your bagels if you don’t put them in your car at night. And we couldn’t find anywhere in the area for a decent swim (unless you hit up the Root River), but within the state park, streams were limited and muddy and not ideal for a relaxed soak. Note that the Mystery Cave is not actually IN the state park, but is actually a 5-mile drive away from it.

5) Historic Forestville
Sad to say that the historic bridge was out when we visited (and through much of the summer, 2023, but I will definitely return to the state park to visit Historic Forestville. Looking online, it reminded me so much of a Colonial Williamsburg vibe and our kids love that kind of history, so we were definitely disappointed when we discovered the jaunt would be longer and not even fully open would we have gone. It’s a good excuse to revisit Forestville State Park!

When Historic Forestville is fully functioning, you can do a self-guided (or guided) stroll through the area with purchase of site admission ($10/adult; $8/child ages 5-17; free for under 5). You’ll see old schoolhouses, distilleries, a general store, cemetery, gardens, and homes – and be able to truly envision how people lived at the turn of the 20th century.

*Photos credited to Historic Forestville’s Facebook page

6) Wineries and Breweries
If you’re a “true” camper, maybe you don’t venture from the woods, but our family is not made up of true campers. We love getting away and seeing the surrounding cities and places to eat, drink, and enjoy. While many of the towns offered plenty to do, we were amazed by the number of breweries and wineries that were easily drivable from our campsite. We paid a visit to Sylvan Brewing in Lanesboro and Sugar Creek Vineyard and Meadery in Fountain – and both were delish. A bottle of the Petite Pearl Red at Sugar Creek was definitely purchased and brought home with us.

Other options in the area include Trout City Brewing in Preston, Karst Brewing in Fountain, Root River Saloon or Root River 102 (wine bar) in Lanesboro, and Four Daughters Vineyard in Spring Valley.

7) Root River State Bike Trail
The Root River State Bike Trail connects with the Harmony Preston Valley Trail and they make for a beautiful ride through open spaces with bridges and fields and under shaded trees alongside the Root River. I’m 99% sure the trails are paved the whole way and you can park and hop on at the Preston Trailhead in Preston or the Root River Trailhead in Lanesboro. You can choose a piece of trail that goes past railroad tracks, ice cream shops, bars and grills, limestone bluffs, or even directly through your campsite depending on where you stay. It’s 42 (+18 with the Preston Trail) miles of gorgeous driftless valley views and I will be taking the family back to spend a day or two biking the whole thing (yes, there will be whining).

*Photos credited to Lanesboro.com and the MN DNR Website

8) Small Towns of Lanesboro, Preston, and Fountain
Not visiting these adorable Minnesota towns would be such a horrible mistake if you’re in the area – they are quintessential adorbs and are all under 30 minutes from Forestville State Park.

In Lanesboro, cruise up and down Parkway Avenue, stop for coffee, a pastry, or ice cream, visit the museum or the walk the historic bridge, stand inside an old phone booth, eat a greasy burger alongside the river, do some boutique shopping. Or – if you’re feeling extra adventures and time and sunshine are in your favor – try your hand at tubing down the Root River with Root River Outfitters. The tube ride is 2.5 hours long and about $20/tube (for ages 5+). Check out info here.

Preston is far smaller but still has some cute stops – include The Sweet Stop and Sandwich Shoppe, Thrifty Threads Thrift Shop, and Trout City Brewing. This one can be done in an hour, but it’s a fun stop if you’re driving through.

Fountain is the smallest yet, but if you want a good slice of pie, don’t pass up Village Square (plus, they have pizza). Karst Brewing and A.J.’s Diner also looked fantastically small town unique.

Side note: A little east of Lanesboro is a town called Whalen and I desperately wanted to go to Aroma Pie Shoppe there (“World Famous Pies” and OMG I LOVE PIE) but we did not get there. If you go, please tell me how it is. I will be back.

9) The Great Outdoors (Hiking)
Where there are trees, there are hikes. And Forestville is no exception. You’ll find plenty of places to do small hikes throughout the state park but the most kid-friendly one is probably Maple Ridge Trail. It’s a loop, which my kids prefer, and it’s only 2.2 miles long. The river is a lovely compliment to the hike, but do watch for horse manure. It’s aplenty! Another option is Palisade Trail which is 1 mile and has awesome bluffs, wildflowers, and water to wade in along the way.

*Photos credited to AllTrails.com

10) Watt Munisotaram
Sure, there’s plenty of road trip stops along the way from Minneapolis to Forestville State Park (you really should stop at Flapdoodles in Rochester for ice cream), but the stop that I’ve always wanted to make – we finally made. Our visit to Watt Munisotaram was stunning and peaceful. This Cambodian Buddhist Temple is located 1.5 hours from Forestville (about 45 minutes from Minneapolis) in Hampton, MN. It is 40 acres of temple campus that serves as home to monks, priests, shrines, relics, mediation halls, and of course the main temple structure. It is a place for the celebration of Buddhism and a lovely visit for families.

Due to the nature of the religious land, it is polite to be quieter and respectful at the Temple. You are welcome to go inside certain rooms but most rooms require you to remove your hat and shoes. Watch small children closely. And take your time – admiration is to be expected because everything is just so ornate and detailed. You will be happy you stopped.

Next time you’re looking for a quick getaway that takes you to unique places (but still includes plenty of ice cream and coffee stops), consider visiting Forestville Mystery Cave State Park and its surrounding areas. So pack up the car (don’t forget your sweatshirt and some snacks), and basque in the magic and beauty of the cave, the parks, the small towns, and all the other specks of hocus pocus this road trip will reveal!

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