Maquoketa Caves State Park

Phil Roeder
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Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of the more unique destinations in Iowa, with the most caves of any park in the state. In addition to exploring the caves, visitors will find more than six miles of hiking trails that can be a bit challenging, given the ups-and-downs of the glacier-carved terrain.

Artifacts found in the caves suggest that they had been used for dwellings for perhaps thousands of years, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Native Americans lived in the area, followed by settlers who discoved the caves in the 1830s.

The state first purchased land for the park in 1921, and the majority of the park’s facilities were constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration. This included the stone lodge that’s still on the property and the Dancehall Cave walkway system, a concrete pathway and lighting that takes visitors through the massive 1,100-foot structure. It can get a bit tight, but for the most part it’s accessible to anyone willing to walk through it.

Other caves aren’t so tourist-friendly, so to speak. Some can be explored by walking, but for others you’ll have to get down on your hands and knees. Bring a headlamp and old clothes if you really want to see what the caves have to offer.

Rebecca Bollwitt

Along the six miles of hiking trails, you’ll find the “Natural Bridge,” which spans Raccoon Creek, 50-feet up. There’s also the 17-ton “Balanced Rock,” and a restored prairie section of the park.

The caves were closed to visitors between 2010 and 2012, as conservationists hoped to protect the cave-dwelling bats from white nose syndrome, a disease that was hurting the bat population across North America. The caves are now once again open to visitors, but rangers will lead white nose syndrome awareness programs to help prevent the spread of the disease by humans, and attendance is mandatory for those who plan on caving.

The Maquoketa Caves State Park does have 29 campsites, including 17 with electricity, located in the mature pine forest of the park. Showers and bathrooms are available, and reservations are accepted for 75 percent of the sites, with 25 percent reserved on a first-come, first served basis.

A new facility (formerly Sager’s Museum) in the park has been converted into an interpretive center, which contains information about park’s history, cave formations and background on the area’s earliest inhabitants.

One more thing that the Maquoketa Caves State Park has going for it—even on the hottest days of the year, the temperature in the caves are nice and cool. It makes for a good respite after a long hot hike.


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