After graduating from college and before getting married and moving to Iowa, I spent two years living in southeastern Minnesota, known as Bluff Country. This region of Minnesota is known as the “driftless region” from the last glacier period as the glaciers did not reach this part of the state. This area is characterized by karst geologic formations such as sinkholes and caves not to mention towering bluffs surrounding the rivers and streams. After the last glacier melted, the meltwater created the bluffs and the hilly landscape that we see today. I absolutely fell in love with this region of the Midwest. With a minor in geology, coming to this area right out of college was a treat.
It had been a few years since our last visit to the area and I was excited to plan a camping trip with the kids. I looked at few different private campgrounds but in the end, we landed at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park. We were planning to camp with my family and this made the most sense for our large group of 13. We were able to reserve three campsites right next to each other, although it was only a few months before we planned to visit which means non-electric sites were all that was available. I wasn’t too worried about not having electricity because the sites are were pretty shaded, which would help keep the camper cool. Because we have a generator, the A/C is the only thing we are unable to use.
I had reserved sites #46, #48, and #50. They were wonderful, shaded, spacious sites. You can see in the pictures above site #48, which had plenty of room to spread out. It was also relatively close to the shower house. The other members of our party were tent camping so that was convenient for them to be able to have the running water close by.
There are two different campgrounds in the state park: the main campground and the equestrian campground. In the main campground there are three loops in the campground-Loop A & B are non-electric sites and Loop C is the electric sites. There is 73 total sites, 23 with electric hook ups so if that is a priority with you, plan to reserve early, which can be done online through the Minnesota State Park Reservation System. I booked three months out and all the electric sites had been taken for weeks. The equestrian campground has 57 sites, 23 with electric hookups. The electic sites in the main campground are all 30-amp and the electric sites in the equestrian campground are 50-amp. I didn’t get a chance to make it over to the equestrian campground so I don’t really have much to share on that area.
In the main campground there is one shower house for all three loops. Water and flush toilets are open mid-April through mid-October. There are also numerous vault toilets throughout the campgrounds that are closer to the campsites. The main shower house was a typical state park showerhouse. Could definitely use some updating but in general was clean. The showers were individual rooms accessed on the outside, which I always like having that extra privacy.
The campground is open April 1st-November 30th. The nightly rate for the campsites are $31/electric site and $23/non-electric. There is also a $7 non-refundable reservation fee. This fee is waived if you are making a same-day reservation. All campsites must be reserved. There is also a $7/daily vehicle pass that is required to get into the state park or for $35 you buy an annual pass that allows you into any Minnesota State Park all year long. Another things to note, is that cell phone reception is VERY sketchy inside the park. If you need cell reception, you might have to leave the park and drive to the top of the hill-or hike towards a top of the hill-you choice.
Because of the equestrian campground, the park is popular to horseback riders. In fact, it has the highest horseback us in any Minnesota State Park. Horses are welcome on any of the 17 miles of horse trails throughout the park. We came across many horseback riders on our hikes throughout the weekend.
If horseback riding isn’t your thing, then there are 19 miles of hiking trails, trout fishing in the South Branch of the Root River, tours of Mystery Cave, Minnesota’s longest cave system, or you can visit Historic Forestville-a restored 1800’s town operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. Also, there are naturalist programs offered frequently througout the weekend. See the photo below for programs offered during our stay.
With so many options for things to do, our one full day in the park was crammed with fun activities. We started the day with a hike on the 2 mile Minnesota State Park Hiking Club trail. I knew this was a priority for us to finish so we did it first thing. One of the great things about this trail is that it is accessible from the campground. There is a side trail that will take you to the amphiteater and a small parking lot. The trail also loops back through the campground.
The trail starts off by a short walk through the prairie. I am always drawn to the prairie and love it just as equally as the wooded parts of the hike. After the prairie it leads you uphill into the woods. After this point on the trail, there is a good chance that you will pass some horses and riders. We came across quite a few on the trial.
Eventually, the trails lead down to the South Branch of the Root River and follows it along the banks of the river until it veers back towards the campgrounds. This was a great hike for a our group. It was relatively flat and mostly shaded. Our group consisted of kids as young as 2 and as old as 64 and was perfect for all of us!
One thing to know about this state park, is that there are timber rattlesnakes that call this park home. There is a good chance you won’t see them but it is good to know they are there and to keep an eye out for them. We didn’t see them here but I have seen them in the past sunning themselves on the Root River State Trail not far from here.
After the hike we made lunch and then headed over to check out Historic Forestville. I wasn’t sure what to expect but there was quite a bit to see. They encourage you to take a tour which is $8/adult, $6/seniors, college students, and ages 5-17, and free for children under 5. If you choose not to do the tour, you are limited to only walking around the grounds and aren’t able to enter any of the buildings. We opted to do the short 45-60 minute tour around this restored town. The tour guides were in costume and in character during the duration of the tour which made it more interesting.
Forestville was found in 1853. It thrived as an area of a central trade area in southern Minnesota. in 1858, the small town reached a population of 100 people. But like many towns during that time period, if the railroad passed you by, your thriving little town became a ghost town and that is what happened here. Thomas J Meighen was the son of one of the founders of the town and in 1910, he locked the door to the general store and walked away. The general store is still there today and what is interesting is that most of the items in the store are the items left just as they were in 1910.
The last things we did that day was a scheduled tour of Mystery Cave. We made our reservations for the cave tour the night before using the phone that is made available outside the park office. I have visited this cave years before when we would take summer camp kids there during my time working at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in nearby Lanesboro, MN. There are five tours to choose from. We chose to do the Scenic Tour, which is the most popular tour.
The cave is a constant 48 degrees so plan to dress warm. This past winter, the cave opened for the state parks annual “First Day Hikes” and people could sign up for free tours of the cave. New Year’s Day was frigid in Minnesota and many of the first day hikes were cancelled but hundreds of people flocked to Mystery Cave to participate in the free tours-after all, 48 degrees is a heat wave when the rest of the state is struggling to get above zero degress.
Unfortunately, Evie had enough of for the day. She cried and whined through the majority of the tour and John and I spent most of the time trying to make or keep her happy. I guess that comes with the territory of a toddler. We made the mistake of leaving her pacifier in the vehicle-we will never make that mistake again. Ha! Although large backpacks like child carriers, aren’t allowed on the tour, this is a stroller accesible tour so don’t hesitate to bring one along with you on this cave tour. And if you forget, they have some you can borrow. Because Evie was so unhappy, I didn’t get much out of the tour. I do know I have enjoyed it in the past and the others in the party enjoyed it as well.
Our weekend in Forestville was very enjoyable and extra special because my brother who is in the Air Force was visiting and his family was able to join us. The next day we got up, packed up and made our way to my old stomping grounds of Lanesboro, MN. A must see, especially if you enjoy bicycling. There is a 60-mile paved trail that winds through the bluffs of southern Minnesota. The trail holds a special place in our hearts since it is the location of mine and John’s engagement and Lanesboro is the town we got married in-at a small country church. In fact, it was exactly 10 years ago to the day, that we said “I do” in that little country church.
If you find yourself in Lanesboro during the warmer months, enjoy a meal at Riverside on the Root and ask for a table on the deck where you can enjoy your meal overlooking the Root River. You won’t be dissapointed.
Dates of Travel: August 18th-20th, 2017