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Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

By Jim Umhoefer
Forestville/Mystery Cave is a park for the passionate. The park’s unique combination of resources lures visitors who are passionate about trout fishing, horseback riding, hiking, history and cave exploration. Forestville Mystery/Mystery State Park is located about six miles northwest of Preston off the Bluff Country Scenic Byway in Minnesota’s Filmore County.

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Cave tour at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Exploring the Mystery Cave

Thomas Meighen store at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Thomas Meighen store at historic Forestville

Sandbank Trail at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Horseback Riders on Sandbank Trail

Autumn landscape at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Autumn landscape

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Trails
Forestville features 17 miles of horseback riding trails that climb forested ridges, drop into steep creek and river valleys, and connect to trails in the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest. Although autumn rides through the colorful woods are especially scenic, riding is popular here throughout the summer. Hikers and horseback riders share the trails. Additional foot traffic-only trails bring the total mileage for hikers up to 20.

Old Forestville Road at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Old Forestville Road

Near Sandbank Trail at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Near Sandbank Trail

Sugar Hollow Trail at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Sugar Hollow Trail

At the Zumbro Hill Cemetery at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

At the Zumbro Hill Cemetery

On the Cemetery Trail at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

On the Cemetery Trail

Scenic overlook platform at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Scenic overlook platform

Camping/Lodging
The park has 73 semi-modern campsites split into several camping loops. Two large, primitive group camps offer room for 50 campers each and special horse camp area has 55 sites for equestrians. For a less rustic stay, you can rent one of five year-round camper cabins.
Fishing
Anglers, usually tight-lipped about favorite fishing spots, like to return to Forestville’s three clear, spring-fed streams, Canfield and Forestville Creek and the South Branch of the Root River, to fish for trout. Two parking lots provide easy stream access. Both Canfield and Forestville creeks, which join the South Branch of the Rood River in the park, emerge from caves several miles upstream.
Wildlife and plants
Forestville is noted for its variety of birds, over 170 species. You may spot wild turkeys during the day and hear the hoot of a barred owl at night. Visitors have seen migrating warblers, eagles and osprey as well as nesting great blue herons, indigo buntings and eastern bluebirds. In late April and early May, the woods are filled with spring wildflowers, such as Virginia Bluebells and Mayflowers.
History
The park is named for Forestville, a once-bustling village established on this site in 1853. The town thrived as a trade center initially, with about a dozen businesses and two stagecoach lines that passed through. Forestville began to fade when the railroad bypassed the town in 1868. The only remaining buildings are the Meighen Dry-Goods Stone (1856), the Meighen home and farm, and the brick house built by Robert Foster in 1867. The sites of other buildings have been marked and are within walking distance.

1899 Gilette-Harzog Bridge. Forestville in the background

1899 Gilette-Harzog Bridge. Forestville in the background

Historic Forestville
Historic Forestville, administered by the Minnesota Historical Society, is a renovation that represents the village center of Forestville in 1899. At that time, it had evolved into a company agricultural town, with less than half of its late 1850s population of 100 and was owned primarily by Thomas Meighen. The current renovation includes the Meighen home, stores and farm, and the Forestville post office.  During special events, costumed townspeople provide a living history interpretation of former town life.
A short hike from the town site takes you up to Zumbro Hill Cemetery where some of the early town residents are buried.

1899 Gilette-Harzog Bridge at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

1899 Gilette-Harzog Bridge

The Meighen store contains some original merchandise at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

The Meighen store contains some original merchandise

Desk inside Meighen store at forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Desk inside Meighen store

A glimpse of the old times at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

A glimpse of the old times

Meighen store and living quarters at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Meighen store and living quarters

Blacksmith shop at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Blacksmith shop

Actress portraying Mrs. Meighen at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Actress portraying Mrs. Meighen

Granary building at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Granary building

Making apple butter is hands-on for visitors and performers at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Making apple butter is hands-on for visitors and performers

Apple Butter Day is an annual event at Historic Forestville

Apple Butter Day is an annual event at Historic Forestville

A finger pointing to the heavens means "I'm with God now" at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

A finger pointing to the heavens means “I’m with God now”

Taking a break and forgetting the present for a moment at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Taking a break and forgetting the present for a moment

Mystery Cave
There was always a mystery surrounding the South Branch of the Root River where it flows through the rolling hills of western Fillmore County. At a particular bend in the river, in the shadow of a steep limestone bluff, part of the Root vanishes into a hole in the ground. In 1937, a local farmer puzzled by the disappearance of part of the river, discovered the entrance to what is now known as Mystery Cave.

Tour group at the entrance to the cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Tour group at the entrance to the cave

Mystery Cave, the largest in Minnesota and 36th largest in the country, is an intricate maze of more than 12 miles of interconnected passageways. The water that disappears from the river channel flows through the cave in a complex network of stream passages and reappears above ground at springs along the river about 1.5 miles away.

Cave tour at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

The scenic tour takes you down into the cave

Thousands of visitors enter the cave each year, but its system of passages has yet to be fully explored. You can experience the cave firsthand by participating in different guided tours ranging from a casual walk-through to a full cave exploration with helmets and flashlights.

A naturalist explains the features of the cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

A naturalist explains the features of the cave

Cave tour at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Stalactites form from groundwater seeping through the cave ceiling

The cave remains a constant 48 degrees year-round, so bring along a jacket and gloves and sturdy walking shoes. On the tours, you’ll get a glimpse of a surrealistic underground world. The caverns and formations have colorful names, such as the Garden of the Gods, the Dome Room, Diamond Caverns, Carrot Sticks, Hills of Rome, and Blue Lake. The cave’s passageways wind through formations of ancient limestone.

Cave tour at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see-crystal clear cave water

The guides will point out the collections of stalactites, stalagmites, flow stone and other unique and delicate formations. Park personnel have been managing Mystery Cave since it was purchased by the state in 1988. Tours are operated daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Cave tour at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Blue Lake is one of the underground pools

More photos
Park Headquarters at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Park Headquarters

Actress portraying Mrs. Meighen at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Actress portraying Mrs. Meighen

Making apple butter is hands-on for visitors and performers at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Making apple butter is hands-on for visitors and performers

Headstones at the Zumbro Hill Cemetery at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Headstones at the Zumbro Hill Cemetery

Making apple butter is hands-on for visitors and performers at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Making apple butter is hands-on for visitors and performers

View of the Root River from the scenic overlook at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

View of the Root River from the scenic overlook

The interpretive center at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

The interpretive center

interpretive displays tell the story of the Mystery Cave at Forestville/Mystery CaveState Park

interpretive displays tell the story of the Mystery Cave

Cave tour at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Cave tour at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Cave tour at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Flow stone formations

Fall views at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Fall views

Winter
Skiing and snowshoeing are allowed throughout the park, but no groomed trails are available. The nearest ski trail system is the Root River State Trail.

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