Top 5 Reasons You Should Go to The Iron Mountain Mine Tour

Travel 2,600 feet through drifts and tunnels to 400 feet below the earth’s surface by train. Learn about life as a miner, learn about eating pasties and why they threw the crust away, and then learn why you need to wear a hard hat and poncho on this magical tour beneath the earth’s crust.

The Iron Mountain Mine is located in Vulcan, Michigan 10 miles East of Iron Mountain, MI on US 2. This was a great way to spend time with my kids on a hot summer day and I think you and your family would enjoy it too.

I had just moved to Iron Mountain and my kids were up visiting for the week helping me move into my new place. We wanted to find some adventure and get a lay of the land.

I had driven by this mine about a dozen times and their 40 foot mascot, “Big John” who is decked out in a hard hat, yellow rain slicker jacket, boots and holding a pickaxe in both hands.

The curiosity finally got to me when I remembered how much fun I had as a kid when my parents took my sister and I to Mammoth Caves. I remembered feeling like we were in a different world underground and what an adventure it felt like.

My kids are 12 and 15 years old and pretty well traveled for their age. This was something new for them though and I’ve got to say after we were done I felt like I got to be 12 years old again with them too.

Here are the top 5 reasons to tour the Iron Mountain Mine.

  1. The Photo Ops and Sweatshirts
  2. The Hard Hats and Rain Ponchos
  3. The Train Ride
  4. The Mine and Big Stope
  5. The Pasties

1. The Photo Ops and Sweatshirts

Starting May 28th until October 15th, the mine is open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm with tours starting at 910am and the last one at 410pm. Each tour is a 45-minute guided tour. The cost is $17 for adults, $12 for children 6-12 years old and kids 5 and under are free.

When you pull up there is a large gray building on the top of the hill. This is where the 40 foot tall “Big John” stands to greet people.

This is a great place for a photo op and to the left of the building is a plywood cutout with miners painted on the front with the faces cut out so you and the kids can stick your faces in and pretend you are miners.

The kids helping me with a photo op

As you walk up there is an artesian fed fountain that is running next to the door where you can help yourself to a drink. It was honestly some of the coldest and freshest tasting water i have ever tasted.

When you walk into the main building there will be a rock and novelty shop. The walls are adorned with mine memorabilia from the Iron Mountain Mine and many pictures of the miners and what their life was like during that time.

The air conditioned shop is a great place to cool off before the tour and look around. Besides exotic rocks and gems and pieces of colored quartz they had different things made from the ores and gems made by local artisans.

When we walked up to buy our tickets we were greeted with a smile by one of the older staff. She was worried about my kids getting too cold in the mine because they only had a t-shirt and shorts on. She offered to sell us sweatshirts to keep warm.

I chuckled because I appreciated the up-sell and said no thank you, but later we would find out from our tour guide that the mine’s temperature is a consistent 43 degrees no matter what time of the year it is. He told us that it could be 102 degrees outside or -32 degrees and the mine will always be 43 degrees inside.

2. The Hard Hats and Rain Ponchos

I work in manufacturing and personal protective equipment (PPE) is a way of life and saves lives where I come from. So, when a tour requires you to put on a hard hat and poncho for your safety there is a level of excitement and a feeling of danger that you’ll see something cool or something cool will happen when you think your life is at risk.

After browsing the gift shop we sat down on the wood benches in the back and waited for the previous tour to return. Our guide instructed us to go ahead and pick out a hard hat that would fit from the wall and to go ahead and put on our ponchos that came with our admission.

Once the tour returned, he opened the double doors outside for us and led us down the fenced in covered path. He had stops along the way where he would explain all the different vintage mining engines, pumps, and mining tools we were looking at along the path and show us how they work.

Some of these things were decades old and still ran when he turned them on. I couldn’t believe how knowledgeable our guides were. They really helped the audience connect with what the life of these miners were like and how hard they lived.

After that part of the tour was done, he had us load onto the wooden train car and get ready to go down into the mine.

Hard hats and ponchos for the win

3. The Train Ride

So, after we loaded onto the train you quickly found out what the hard hats are for besides falling debris. The mine walls and ceiling and within inches of your face and the top of your head. I genuinely was grateful that I was shorter than 6 feet tall that day and not claustrophobic.

The walls were slick and wet from all the water seeping from the mountain. The path down was lit with one string of small fluorescent light bulbs. I think the train ride was about 8 to 12 minutes long into the mine.

My kids and I laughed and oohed and ahhed a lot on the way down though at something so incredible tunneled into the earth by man that we were traveling down.

4. The Mine and Big Stope

Once we made it to our destination, we exited the train. Our guide brought us to different points of interest at sections of the mine to explain some of the jobs the miners had and the equipment they used.

They told us about how they were paid pennies a day to work, and their housing was provided by the mine, but if they became hurt or too ill to work, they lost everything the mine provided.

Some of the jobs they had required doing overhead work where the ceiling or rock may cave in on you, but it paid the best, so the men fought to have these deadly jobs just to provide for their families.

Our guide took us to what appeared to be a dead end, but there was a knee wall of rock about four feet tall or so and it seemed to open up to something, but it was pitch black except for the light that the guide provided.

He went on to explain what a stope was and that this was the last stope carved out of the iron mountain mine before being closed. He explained that they no longer mine this way underground anymore and that they excavate from the top down to strip mine with heavy equipment which is much safer and wont cave in.

He then turned on a light that cast a spot lot on a big john cut out. He then quizzed each of us on how tall we thought he was and how far away he was from us. Some guessed 12 feet tall and a couple hundred yards away. We all guessed wrong.

Big John was 40 feet tall just like the one by the road and this Big John was 600 feet away, in a stope 300 feet wide with a distance of 180 feet from stope floor to ceiling. That is the equivalent of two football fields long, one football field wide, and a little over half of a football field tall. Watch the video below for the Big Stope reveal.

5. The Pasties

So, you might hear the tour guide talk about these and how they originated with the Cornish immigrant miners that came from Cornwall, England to work in the mines here and you want to know what is a pasty and how do I get this goodness in me?

Traditional pastie

Well, let me tell you. A pasty is a meat pie or hand pie made of a pie crust stuffed with meat and veggies, usually ground meat, potatoes, onion and with or without rutabaga. It’s shaped into a half circle and the edges are rolled over.

When the miners would eat these with their dirty hands from mining, they would use the rolled crust edge as a handle and eat down to the rolled edge and throw the crusty edge away when they were done.

Now, in Michigan it is usually served with ketchup or brown gravy. This question has divided whole families in the Upper Peninsula if they are team ketchup or team gravy, but whatever you pick this will be a treat.

When you get done with the mine tour and if you’re hungry head to Iron Mountain and try one at any of these three local pasty shops. You won’t be disappointed.

The Pasty Oven, Pasty Oven – Pasty Oven – The Pasty Oven (

Jean Kay’s Pasties; JEAN KAY’S PASTIES – JEAN KAY’S PASTIES – 10 Photos & 22 Reviews – American (Traditional) – 204 E B St, Iron Mountain, MI – Restaurant Reviews – Phone Number (

Dobber’s Pasties – Dobber’s Pasties | Good Ol’ Fashion Taste, Baked Right In! (

The Verdict

This was a great time with my kids and completely worth the price of admission. The staff are kind and incredibly knowledgeable about the mine and the people that worked it. I would recommend this as a must do when you come to visit the Upper Peninsula and stay in Iron Mountain, Michigan.

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