Visit the "other" Niagara Falls deep inside a Minnesota cave
Niagara Falls? Been there, done that. Get ready to visit Niagara Cave, where the falls are underground!
When you think of Niagara Falls, your mind probably drifts right to the border of New York and Ontario, the Maid of the Mist, and guys attempting to survive a drop of 167 feet in a barrel. There's no denying that the international falls are a tourism treasure, but what you might not know is that Minnesota has a Niagara Falls of their own... hidden in a cave.
Nearly a century ago, three pigs fell into a sinkhole in their pasture, unwittingly discovering one of the Midwest's most fascinating natural features. As the animal's owners followed the sound of the pig's squeals, they found a massive series of never-before-explored caves.
As the years went on and the landowners began to slowly chip away at the limestone and explore the caverns, they discovered stalactites, calcite flowstone, and even fossils that dated as old as 400 million years in age. The real stunner, though, was a massive waterfall that had played a part in the cave's formation.
Taking inspiration from North America's most famous waterfall, the land owners named their find Niagara Cave, and it wasn't long before it was being hailed as one of the top ten caves in the United States, and one of the most stunning natural wonders in Minnesota. Today, Niagara Cave is still wowing guests with hour-long tours of its winding caverns.
Mark Bishop, whose family owns the cave, considers the massive wonder a piece of his home.
“This (the cave) is our basement,” Bishop told WCCO. “This is one of the largest basements in Minnesota, maybe the country.”
Every year, Bishop's cavernous basement sees 30,000 visitors eager to descend on the mile-long journey into Niagara Cave. Some of them are even so moved by what they see that they choose to get hitched in the cave's built-in wedding chapel. So far, it's been home to over 400 underground weddings.
Guests get to wind through narrow passageways that resemble those of Arizona's Antelope Canyon as their guide points out the history and unique features of the cave rooms which can reach up to 100 feet in height. The real gem, though, is the 60-foot-tall subterranean waterfall.
While it might fall about 100 feet short of the original Niagara Falls, the underground stream is still a sight to behold. Even as you stand before the falls, they're ever-so-slowly working to expand the cave, and will continue to do so long after we're gone and the caverns once again become a secret to the world.
Additionally, Niagara Cave has its very own wishing well where guests can toss in a few coins and hope for the best, a formation nicknamed "Paul Bunyan's Bed" for reasons that become pretty obvious during the tour, an majorly eerie echo chamber where the sound of your own voice will gradually become more foreign, and a Stalactite Room where colorful rock formations dot the cave's lower floor.
If you start to get a little claustrophobic, you can always head back upstairs and check out all the artifacts for sale in the gift shop, or snag a bag of mineral sand for use in the real, working water-sluice outside. It's just like panning for precious gems, without the whole dynamite and potential death stuff.
If it sounds like all of these great activities will cost you an arm and a leg, you'd be wrong. You can take the tour for just eleven bucks (and even cheaper for kids and seniors). That's a heck of a steal, but it's one that Mark Bishop says is in the interest of education.
And that’s what we’re trying to do,” Bishop said. “We’re trying to encourage people to learn about nature and appreciate nature.”
Hey, at the very least, it's a few bucks cheaper than riding the Maid of the Mist.
Want more subterranean awesomeness? Here are some other places to visit!Roadtrippers, a great resource for anyone interested in travel.
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