By Jeremy Kemp
Soudan Underground Mine State Park isn’t what most travelers expect when they think about a state park. It doesn’t offer any camping facilities, the relatively small amount (5 miles) of hiking trails are not especially challenging, and the picnic area is…well, just a picnic area. But Tower-Soudan isn’t just another state park; it is a unique piece of Minnesota’s history.
The park surrounds Minnesota’s oldest, deepest, and richest iron mine, a modern physics lab, and offers some of the most unique tourist opportunities in the United States.
Like any other state park, Soudan has its fair share of natural scenery. Visitors can hike through the northern hardwoods past the Soudan Iron Formation, enjoy a great view of one of the deepest open mine pits from the boardwalk, or tour the dry house, drill shop, crusher house and engine house.
The main attractions, though, are the two feature tours the park offers to visitors. The first is the history tour; it is a one-and-a-half hour tour through the old underground iron mine. Visitors don hard hats and are transported below ground inside the “cage” down to level 27 where they take a rail car into the last and deepest area mined, a full half mile underground. Throughout the tour visitors are treated to stories about the old mining days. Be sure to dress warm though, the mine remains between 40-50 Fahrenheit all year round.
The tour also offers visitors insight into the conditions the old miners worked in, the tools/technology they used, and about mining itself.
The other tour they offer is different than the first; instead of focusing on the past, they look to the future. The Soudan underground laboratory is the leading deep underground science and engineering lab in the US today. The lab is run by the University of Minnesota. Scientists from all over the world work there to answer some of sciences’ most difficult questions. Learn from the experts as they continue ongoing experiments to find dark matter particles, and attempt to measure the mass of neutrinos, particles that are smaller than the nuclei of atoms.
The lab was constructed underground so that scientists could conduct sensitive experiments without the interference of cosmic rays, something that would be impossible above ground. It was built using modern mining technology and all of the materials used in the construction of the lab were transported above or below ground down the same shaft and using the same system the mine did while it was active.
The park also offers tours to schools, colleges, organizations, and businesses. There is a charge for the underground tour, and groups of 10 or more are necessary to book a group tour.
If you’re looking for a nice quiet hike in the forest or wildlife spotting opportunities, than Soudan Underground Mine might not be the summer destination you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a unique and interesting way to spend a day or a weekend, this park offers two of the best tours you’re going to find anywhere.
Tours: Public tours of the Soudan Underground Mine are held from Memorial Day through the third week in October. School and group tours are available by reservation. Call the park office at (218) 753-2245.
General tours of the High Energy Physics Lab are available from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. Daily tours are at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. After Labor Day through September 30, and the first three weekends in October, daily tours are available at noon. Contact the park at the phone number above for group tour information.
Camping: While the state park doesn’t offer camping, the nearby McKinley Park Campground on Lake Vermilion has a full service campground. For information, call (218) 753-5291.