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Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park

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Color image of the rocky shoreline in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff.

Rocky shoreline in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staff.

The Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park occupies over four thousand acres in the far northeast corner of Minnesota. The site contains a historic underground iron mine as well as the fifth largest lake in Minnesota and its surrounding habitat.

Archeological evidence suggests that American Indians lived near Lake Vermilion as early as 7000 BCE. Surviving dugout pits nearby were probably used for storing foods such as maize (corn). The presence of chert and chert chips, used to make sharp-edged tools, indicates that very early people mined in the area. The presence of stones, such as obsidian, that are non-native to Minnesota and from locations in Wyoming and North Dakota, supports the contention that American Indians lived near Lake Vermilion and traded with other Native people hundreds of miles away. Campsite artifacts like a burned bone and a stone projectile point have been carbon-dated to six hundred years old and five thousand to seven thousand years old, respectively.

In 1882, the first Euro-American miners arrived in the Lake Vermilion area to mine recently discovered iron ore. The discovery led to the development of Minnesota’s first open pit mine (converted to an underground operation soon afterwards) and to the modern tradition of iron mining in the state. Soudan was chosen for the mine's name when a miner commented on how different Minnesota winters were from those in the Sudan region of Africa. When the mine closed in 1962 due to rising production costs, it was the oldest and deepest mine in the state, at 2,341 feet below the surface.

In 1963, the United States Steel Corporation donated the mine, buildings, and surrounding twelve hundred acres to the state to create the park, which merged with Lake Vermilion State Park in 2014. The park is on the south shore of Lake Vermilion in a rugged terrain created by glacial action with a surrounding mixed hardwood and conifer forest. Scenic stands of old-growth pine and exposed rock formations, composed of red jasper, white to pink chert, and gray hematite, capture the visitor's eye.

When touring the underground mine, visitors wear hard hats and ride an elevator down the deepest mine shaft until they are half a mile underground. After climbing into rail cars, they then travel three quarters of a mile horizontally in a space called a drift (a kind of tunnel). Finally, they take a spiral staircase or elevator to an area called a stope (a cavern where the miners blasted and drilled the rock).

The underground mine is also home to a physics research laboratory, which visitors can tour. The mine is useful in particle physics experiments because of its depth, which reduces the potential for protons on the earth's surface to skew test results. In 2016, two projects began to phase out their long-term research, creating an opportunity for future tenants.

A mural measuring twenty-five by sixty feet, created by Joseph Giannetti, decorates the laboratory's rough rock wall. It depicts the universe, scientists, and atomic particles, and explains the science of mining and honors the miners who toiled there.

The park contains several original buildings and pieces of equipment, including the headframe, engine house (1901), crusher house (1904), drill shop (1917), dry house (1925), and machine shop (1925). The dry house, which served as the locker room for the miners and as an office for the mine superintendent, later became a visitors’ center.

Visitors to the park can attend nature programs on topics that range from bats to bees to wild edibles and trees of northern Minnesota. They also can enjoy hiking, biking, geocaching, picnic facilities, camping, shoreline fishing, boating, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Several long-distance trail systems run near or through the park and include the Taconite State, Arrowhead, and Mesabi trails.

The diverse habitat of both lakeshore and forest in the park provides a unique opportunity for bird watchers. There have been sightings of over one hundred species of birds, including migrants passing through the park and well-known birds of Minnesota like the loon and eagle.

Mammals in the park include timber wolves, bears, white-tailed deer, beavers, and other smaller animals. After the mine stopped operating, several thousand bats made the underground mine their winter home. This created a hibernaculum, or home for bats—one of the state’s largest. White-nose syndrome, a deadly bat disease present in the mine, is an ongoing concern.

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Eliseuson, Michael. Tower Soudan: The State Park Down Under. St. Paul: Minnesota Parks Foundation, 1976.

Kaczke, Lisa. “Work Winding Down on 2 Big Experiments in Soudan Mine.” Duluth News Tribune, February 13, 2016.
http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/iron-range/3947770-work-winding-down-2-big-experiments-soudan-mine

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground State Park.
http://dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/lake_vermilion_soudan/index.html

“Minnesota’s Newest State Park Reaches Important Milestone.” Fox 21KQDS, May 8, 2015.
http://www.fox21online.com/news/local-news/Minnesota-s-Newest-State-Park-Reaches-Important-Milestone/32897194

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Soudan Underground Mine State Park Management Plan. January, 2002.
http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/parks_trails/mgmtplans/soudan_mine_plan.pdf

National Historic Landmarks Survey. National Park Service, Listing of National Historic Landmarks by State.
http://www.nps.gov/nhl/find/statelists/mn/MN.pdf

Radford, Dave. “Uncovering History in Our New Park.” Minnesota Conservation Volunteer 77, no. 453 (March–April 2014): 8–17.

Soudan Iron Mine, National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, Tower-Soudan State Park, Soudan, Minnesota.
http://focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NHLS/Text/66000905.pdf

Stuntz Bay Boathouse Historic District. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Soudan Underground State Park.
http://focus.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/07000460

University of Minnesota. Soudan Underground Laboratory.
http://www.sudan.umn.edu/

Related Images

Color image of the rocky shoreline in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff.
Color image of the rocky shoreline in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff.
Black and white image of an individual canoeing on Lake Vermilion, 1935.
Black and white image of an individual canoeing on Lake Vermilion, 1935.
Soudan Mine headframe
Soudan Mine headframe
Black and white photograph of the underground (twenty-seven levels below the surface) miners’ lunchroom in the Soudan Iron Mine, Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park.
Black and white photograph of the underground (twenty-seven levels below the surface) miners’ lunchroom in the Soudan Iron Mine, Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park.
Color image of the front face of the MINOS far detector. On the left is the control room; on the right is a mural by Joseph Giannetti.
Color image of the front face of the MINOS far detector. On the left is the control room; on the right is a mural by Joseph Giannetti.
Color image of a sign inside the Soudan Mine in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park, July 16, 2005.
Color image of a sign inside the Soudan Mine in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park, July 16, 2005.
Color image of Armstrong Bay day use area in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 22, 2014.
Color image of Armstrong Bay day use area in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 22, 2014.
Color image of a hiker on rocky hill in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, October 30, 2007.
Color image of a hiker on rocky hill in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, October 30, 2007.
Color image of a view of Lake Vermilion. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, October 30, 2007.
Color image of a view of Lake Vermilion. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, October 30, 2007.
Color image of Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, March 8, 2010.
Color image of Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, March 8, 2010.
Color image of a Beaver dam in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 21, 2014.
Color image of a Beaver dam in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 21, 2014.
Color image of the central beaver wetland complex in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, August 1, 2010.
Color image of the central beaver wetland complex in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, August 1, 2010.
Color image looking west towards the Stuntz boathouse site, Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, August 3, 2010.
Color image looking west towards the Stuntz boathouse site, Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, August 3, 2010.
Color image of a rocky hillside and Lake Vermilion. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 22, 2014.
Color image of a rocky hillside and Lake Vermilion. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 22, 2014.
Color image of Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 21, 2014.
Color image of Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 21, 2014.
Color image of Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, March 8, 2010.
Color image of Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, March 8, 2010.
Color image of a Jaspilite-banded iron formation in the Stuntz Bay Road outcrop, Soudan Underground State Park, Soudan, June 10, 2015. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user James St. John.
Color image of a Jaspilite-banded iron formation in the Stuntz Bay Road outcrop, Soudan Underground State Park, Soudan, June 10, 2015. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons user James St. John.
Color image of a shelter in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, November 13, 2013.
Color image of a shelter in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, November 13, 2013.
Color image of a picnic shelter in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 22, 2014.
Color image of a picnic shelter in Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff, May 22, 2014.
Color image of the Stuntz Bay boathouses on Lake Vermilion, Soudan Underground Mine State Park, 2011.
Color image of the Stuntz Bay boathouses on Lake Vermilion, Soudan Underground Mine State Park, 2011.
Color image of a gray sky over Lake Vermilion. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff.
Color image of a gray sky over Lake Vermilion. Photograph by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Staff.

Turning Point

In 1963, the United States Steel Corporation donates the Soudan Mine, buildings, and twelve hundred acres of land to the state of Minnesota.

Chronology

As early as 7000 BCE

American Indians live in the Lake Vermilion area. They hunt, grow crops, and mine stone for tools and trade.

1882

The first Euro-American miners arrive in the Soudan area to begin iron ore mining.

c.1890

After sections of the open-pit mine’s walls begin to collapse, miners abandon the open-pit extraction process in favor of the less hazardous underground method.

Early 1890s

The mining company begins to lease land on Lake Vermilion to miners as a reward for long-time employment. Many miners use the boathouses on their land in an area now known as the Stuntz Bay Boathouse District.

1962

Due to rising production costs, the mine is closed after producing over 15 million tons of high-quality iron ore in its lifetime.

1963

United States Steel Corporation donates the Soudan Mine, buildings, and twelve thousand acres of land to the state of Minnesota creating the Tower–Soudan State Park, which later is named the Soudan Underground Mine State Park.

1966

Soudan Iron Mine becomes a National Historic Landmark.

1979

Soudan Iron Mine is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1980

The University of Minnesota plans to establish a high-energy physics laboratory in the underground mine.

2002

Joseph Giannetti uses fifty gallons of paint and twenty-five gallons of primer to create the University of Minnesota physics mural for the underground laboratory.

2007

Stuntz Bay Boathouse District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It contains 143 of the original miners’ boathouses, with some dating to the turn of the twentieth century.

2010

The state of Minnesota purchases three thousand acres of undeveloped land, adjacent to the Soudan Underground Mine State Park, from the United States Steel Corporation and creates the Lake Vermilion State Park.

2014

Lake Vermilion State Park and the Soudan Underground Mine State Park combine to form the Lake Vermilion–Soudan Underground Mine State Park.

2015

Expansion of the park continues.

2016

The initial physics research in the underground laboratory begins to be phased out, triggering a search for new tenants and uses for the space.