Each year, thousands of visitors venture 2,300 feet below ground to see the Soudan Underground Mine, the deepest and richest iron-ore mine in Minnesota and now part of a 1,300-acre state park. You don a hard hat and journey down, down, down to a rail car for guided tours of the deep, dark facility ($12 adults, $7 kids). The mine has produced more than 15 million tons of ore; exhibits and mannequins provide an idea of what this dangerous work looked like before mining operations ceased in 1962.
Located on the south shore of Lake Vermilion, the park provides a habitat for native animals including whitetail deer, black bears, timber wolves and loons. There’s evidence that the area was inhabited as early as 4,000 B.C., and the bedrock formations date back 2.7 billion years. In addition to iron ore, the grounds hold deposits of nickel, lead, gold, silver, copper and zinc.
The park has picnicking, hiking and snowmobiling. Although camping is not allowed on the Soudan site, a nearby state-operated campground operates on Hinsdale Island, accessible by boat.