Summer is the ultimate time for travel. But you don’t have to hop on a plane
every time you want to experience something extraordinary: there’s plenty to see
right here in Minnesota. With the help of travel expert Ruby Singh, learn about
a travel destination you may not have even realized was so close by. It’s a
perfect day trip.
As told by travel expert Ruby Singh No one can deny that exploring caves is
exciting. They pose a sort of mystery. Humans have explored caves for more than
4,000 years. We have lived in them, used them as a source of minerals and drawn
on their walls, permanently imprinting information of our intelligence and
documenting our surroundings.
When I first visited Niagara Cave a few years ago, I was hooked. Who knew
that of the top 10 cave networks in the United States, Minnesota is Number 5? I
went back this spring with friends from Poland who were teaching at the
University of Minnesota business school for the year. It took us three-and-a
half hours to drive to the town of Harmony and I was excited to introduce them
to this wonder in Minnesota.
We took the hour-long guided tour, venturing 200 steps, and more than 120
feet below ground. The caves are a constant 48 degrees year-round. As you
navigate the wet steps downward, it is hard not to be awed.
Niagara Cave is the only privately owned cave in the United States and known
nationally for its 60-foot underground waterfall, which cascades among dramatic
stalactites and stalagmites. The cave was discovered in 1924 when three local
farm boys lowered themselves into a hole to rescue some lost pigs. The pigs were
found safe and the boys were stunned by the amazing natural wonder they’d found.
Our guide was not sure exactly how old the cave was, but it is a beautiful,
natural remnant of the past.
We encountered fossils embedded in cave walls that were millions of years
old. The long, narrow shoulder-to-shoulder underground passages wound among
stalactites and stalagmites of every size and we could hear the constant gush of
the underground waterfall. We were told that more than 400 weddings had been
conducted in the open area of the cave now called the “Wedding Chapel.”
At the end of the tour, in the deepest part of the cave, we experienced
complete darkness when our guide turned off all the lights. Not even night
vision gadgets allow you to see this deep underground where no light penetrates.
This is a must-visit site. It’s a beautiful drive and a great learning
experience for kids.
Niagara Cave is rated one of the Top 10 caves in the United States by the
Travel Channel. It is a living, active cave, which means it is still being
formed 450 million years since the last two glacial episodes which shaped the
topography of our state.
Owner Mark Bishop, an earth scientist and self-described rock hound, bought
the cave in 1995 with an eye for protecting its environment. “The sluice for
‘practice’ mining of gemstones and fossils, an 18-hole miniature golf course and
a 10-acre picnic area with hiking trails means that you can pack a bag lunch and
make a day of it with activities for everyone,” Bishop says.
Niagara Cave features a 60-foot waterfall, and is unique among other caves in
that it contains ancient fossils. During this year’s touring season, the cave
celebrates its 90th year since discovery and the 80th anniversary of its
Tours begin on the weekends in April and are conducted daily from Memorial
Day through Labor Day.
If You Go
What: Niagara Cave
Where: Harmony, MN