Area has opportunities for cavers far and wide, plus river tours

The lovely waterfall in Niagara Cave, Harmony. The cave is Minnesota’s “must see,” according to USA Today. COURTESY OF NIAGARA CAVE
By : 
Lisa Brainard

My thoughts are scattered and far flung as I sit down to write today. I think that will translate into a column touching on a few different things. So, please buckle up and be ready for sharp turns in the itinerary today.

Cave rescue

First off, I am amazed and thankful for all the things that went amazingly right for the rescue of the boys’ soccer team from the treacherous, flooding cave system in Thailand. I’m also sad at the loss of the one volunteer diver’s life in preparing the cave tunnels with oxygen containers for the arduous journey out. Former Thai Navy SEAL Saman Kunan, 38, ran out of oxygen and was apparently unable to reach more in flash flood waters. Sources said his body was taken to his home province for a royal-sponsored funeral. Kunan was reported to be an avid cyclist and runner.

In the light of this cave rescue, many caving groups are doing refreshers on safety for caving, as well as rescue protocol. That is certainly not to say they’re not operating safely; it’s just an opportune time for review.

Caving groups continue to visit our area caves. The Iowa Grotto had its summer picnic, get-together and wild caving tours recently at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, while the Minnesota Speleological Society (MSS) holds a similar event there – with sweet corn served! – in August. These wild cave tours are led by leaders trained and certified for specific caves or routes they explore. Yes – safety always!

Niagara Cave

I didn’t aim to have a big focus on caves going into this column… yet, here we are… (big grin)! You could call it poor planning. But I prefer saying it’s going with the flow. If one topic makes me think of another, well, we’re going there. For example, getting on the computer today I saw that Niagara Cave, located south of Harmony off of Highway 139, has received some national accolades! USA Today listed the cave on its “50 State Road Trip: Bucket List Destinations in the U.S.” Yes, Niagara Cave was the Minnesota selection. In other words, if you live around here and have yet to visit, for goodness sake, get to Niagara Cave! Check info at

See all the listings at

Area river tours

The National Park Service is taking reservations for free park ranger tours of the Saint Croix River near Stillwater. Reservations are required. Call 715-483-2275, for Tuesday tours of the Stillwater Islands area beginning at 3:30 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. Reservations can also be made for tours of the bird rookery near Stillwater on Sundays at 9 a.m. Tours on Tuesdays last approximately two hours, and Sunday tours last approximately one hour.

Explore the Boom Site where logs were sorted before being sent to mills. See the Soo Line High Bridge that was constructed in the style of the Eiffel Tower. Limestone bluffs shelter eagle nests and cliff swallows as the river braids around wooded islands. The bird rookery is home to great blue herons, cormorants, and great egrets. Here is reason to celebrate 50 years of Wild and Scenic River protection.

Tours are open to adults and children who are at least 10 years of age and weigh over 50 pounds. Life jackets are provided. Participants are required to arrive at the Boom Site Historical Marker, on Highway 95, 15 minutes before the tours begin. Parking is limited, but additional parking is available nearby at the Boom Site Wayside. There is a limit of one tour per person for the summer and seating is limited to 12 per tour. Stillwater Island tours last approximately two hours and rookery tours last about one hour. Tours are cancelled during severe weather.

The Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, a unit of the National Park System, was established by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. It is one of a group of eight rivers in the country which first received this recognition.  For over 200 miles, the Saint Croix and its tributary, the Namekagon, flow through some of the most scenic and least developed country in the Upper Midwest.

For additional information on the Riverway, please visit or call 715-483-2274. You might also check this article,

-Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this column weekly for about 15 years.