I had been wanting to visit this place for years and finally had the chance this past June on a camping trip to Ely with my girlfriend. Soudan is a small town between the Iron Range and the Boundary Waters about 20 minutes from Ely, MN. It is famous for the Soudan Underground Mine State Park, which allows visitors to take a tour of one of the deepest iron mines in North America.
The Soudan Mine began as open pit mine began operation in 1882, when goldmining prospectors discovered iron ore in the area. However, the operation moved to underground mining by 1900 for safety reasons. The Soudan Mine ran for over 60 years until it was finally closed in 1962. During its working years, it was owned by the United States Steel Corporation, and later donated to the state of MN in 1965 where it was later opened for tours.
The state park features original surface buildings that are open to visitors such as the dry house, drill shop, crusher house and engine house, as well as structures such as the mine shaft headframes, trestle & stockpile shaft, and a viewpoint of the original open pit mine that started it all (below).
There is a self-guided tour around the structures as well as hiking trails through the surrounding woods. The following pictures are of some of the surface buildings and structures.
Above is the 80-year old mineshaft elevator that takes you almost half a mile underground to the mine tour. After watching a short informational video and donning a hardhat, you cram into a small, dark, metal cage with about ten other people and begin the 5-minute descent down. It’s almost pure darkness except for a small light in the cage. Once you reach the lowest level, known as level 27, you exit the elevator and immediately see the sign below, letting you know you are roughly 1/2 a mile below earth’s surface.
You then board an electric train car and travel about 3/4 of a mile through dark tunnels to the deepest place that was ever mined. It’s chilly down there, so a sweatshirt is recommended. Once you reach this area, it dawns on you just far down you really are.
The trolley car makes several stops where you will see mannequins set up in scenes of mine work (below). A drill is activated so you can hear the deafening sound of what the workers endured, and at one point the lights are turned off so you can experience total and complete blackness.The tour guide explains the how the conditions down there changed over the years, and what life was like for the miners. This was extremely tough work, and the workers developed many health issues during or after their time in the mine. It certainly didn’t sound like a job I’d want.
Also down at the bottom of the mine is a physics lab owned by the University of Minnesota, started in the 1980’s for the purpose of researching dark matter and neutrinos (sub-atomic particles) and a bunch of other stuff I don’t really understand. That tour is separate from the main tour and runs about an hour and a half as well.
The Soudan Underground Mine tour runs $12/person and takes about an hour and a half. This is a highly-recommended tour, both educational and intriguing, and is really a lot of fun. The Soudan Mine may be one of the more interesting attractions in Minnesota. Sure, it’s in a pretty remote area, but this is an awesome experience no doubt.