Soudan Underground Mine State Park
The opening of the Soudan Mine in 1882 heralded the beginning of Minnesota’s iron mining industry, and over the next 80 years nearly 16 million tons of ore were shipped down to Two Harbors and on to Eastern steel mills.
Known as “The Cadillac of Mines” for its modern safety features, this National Historic Landmark has been left almost exactly as it was when operations shut down in 1962.
On the Historic Underground Mine Tour, you begin your journey toward the center of the earth by donning a hardhat and climbing into the cage for the half-mile descent. At level 27 you board a railcar and journey three quarters of a mile into the last and deepest area mined at Soudan, where you will learn about the former operations.
Although ore is no longer extracted, the mine has buzzed with activity of a futuristic kind since 1980 when the University of Minnesota opened a High Energy Physics Lab. Currently, physicists are searching for dark matter and trying to measure the mass of neutrinos.
The mine tours run several times daily, and the physics tours (10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, Memorial Day–mid-Oct.) run twice a day. Both cost $10. Bring warm clothes since the mine temperature stays at about 50°F at all times.
There is plenty to see and do above ground while waiting for your tour to begin. The visitors center (1379 Stutz Bay Rd., 218/753-2245) contains exhibits on Soudan’s geological and mining history, and several surrounding mine buildings are open to explore. Elsewhere on the park’s 1,300 acres is a 2.5-mile hiking trail that passes other mining sites and some decent Northwoods scenery.
A beautiful place to spend the night in the area is just down the road from the mine, at McKinley Park Campground (5563 Hoodoo Point Rd., Tower, 218/753-5921, www.mckinleypark.net, $25 campsite, $38 with hookup). Campers at the 70 sites are treated to a beautiful vista of Lake Vermilion, nearby hiking and biking trails, access to showers, laundry, and a small convenience store.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition