I have had Niagara Cave in my sights for many years, knowing it was without a doubt a Minnesota “bucket list” thing that I had to see. Niagara Cave is located only a couple minutes from the Iowa border in southeastern Minnesota near the small town of Harmony. The cave, which is privately owned, sits in the middle of rolling farmland just outside of the popular and picturesque bluff country. It gets its name due to a 60′ waterfall right inside the cave, a highlight of the tour.
The cave was discovered around 1924 when a local pig farmer had three pigs go missing. He sent out a couple teenagers to go looking for the pigs, and they discovered them in a sinkhole after hearing their squealing. With additional help, they were able to retireve the pigs out of the sinkhole with ropes and noticed that the sinkhole went deeper than imagined. Word spread that caves were discovered, and a local spelunker out of nearby Decorah, IA, visited and discovered the labyrinth of passageways beneath.
The caves were formed over many centuries, where water made its way through the porous limestone bedrock, exposing different layers of rock and creating different geologic formations. Not long after its discovery almost 100 years ago, the owners of the land developed the caves into a tourist attraction and continue doing so to this day.
Niagara Cave is a great cave tour. It’s a bit rugged, involving some 200 steps down through narrow passageways and tight corners. There are a lot of interesting things to see on the cave tour, like fossils preserved in the cave walls, the standard stalactites and stalagmites, flowstone rock (much of which is still forming), and there’s even an echo chamber, a “grand canyon” room, and many named formations which resemble things like a skeleton’s hand and an elephant’s head.
The highlight of the tour is of course the 60-ft waterfall, visible by a suspended walkway which had my anxiety going pretty good. You can walk out onto a metal platform next to the top of the waterfall and view the water drop 60 feet into a shallow pool below. I am thoroughly convinced there is no way to get a great picture of the waterfall, due to lighting and angles. Another unique feature in the cave is the wedding chapel (below), which features several weddings a year.
The tour lasts about an hour and is well worth the drive. There is a giftshop with different rocks and minerals and shirts saying “I braved the cave.” Outside, there is a picnic area, mini golf course, and kids can pan for gold in a man-made sandy stream. Niagara Cave is constantly ranked among the best cave tours in the nation and I understand why. It is open May-September every day and costs $14/person. I would not recommend bringing a screaming baby on this trip, as there are a lot of echos inside the cave.
While in the area: If you are wanting more cave action, head on over to Mystery Cave State Park and take that tour, or check out the impressive Slim’s Woodshed in nearby Harmony, the world’s largest woodcarving museum.