Maquoketa Caves State Park is unlike any other Iowa State Park and is a favorite among those who visit. Not only is it one of Iowa’s first state parks, but it’s one of the most unique in the state. From caves and bluffs to meadows and streams, Maquoketa Caves is the perfect escape to nature!
And don’t let the size of this 370-acre park fool you! It’s chock-full of beauty and outdoor adventures (cave exploring, anyone?). It’s one you won’t want to miss. Read on for everything you need to know before you visit.
Table of Contents
- A Brief History of Maquoketa Caves State Park
- Things To Do at Maquoketa Caves State Park
- Park Map
- Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground
- Things to do nearby
- Visit Maquoketa Caves State Park Today!
Know before you go
- This park is very busy during the weekends in the summer, and parking is limited.
- Admission is free.
- A visitor center outside the entrance has maps and other park information.
- Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours exploring the trails and caves.
- Wear shoes with good traction for hiking and going through the caves. They can get slippery, especially when wet.
- Wear old clothes if you plan to go spelunking. You will get dirty.
- Take a flashlight or headlamp to see in the caves.
- Many trails are steep (with stairs) and have rough terrain.
- Park rules: No rock climbing, repelling, or mountain biking!
- You can walk into some caves and crawl through others!
- Naturalists offer programming during warmer months.
- Caves close in the fall & winter for bat hibernation.
A Brief History of Maquoketa Caves State Park
Pottery and artifacts from Native American cultures show the area was inhabited before European settlers came.
As settlers moved in during the 19th century, the area became popular for recreation. Dances were a local pastime in what’s now known as Dancehall Cave. A dance floor and pavilion were built and used until the 1920s.
The park started with 111 acres and was initially called Morehead Caves State Park. Its name was later changed to Maquoketa Caves.1
Park structures were built in the 1930s when the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and WPA (Works Progress Administration) constructed most of them. They completed a stone lodge, a walkway to Dancehall Cave, picnic areas, and other structures.1
And because of its unique history and park structures, Maquoketa Caves is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The state has made many park improvements and renovations over the years since then. And 161 acres got added to the park between the 1960s and 1980s.
Things To Do at Maquoketa Caves State Park
See the caves!
Maquoketa Caves State Park has more caves than any park in Iowa! Visitors can access twelve of the thirteen caves via the Raccoon Creek Valley trail system.
Caves vary in size and how easy they are to explore. Dancehall Cave is the largest – tall enough to stand and walk through (though there are some low ceilings). And some caves can be explored by ducking. But others have such low ceilings you need to crawl through tight, damp, dark spaces to explore them. What fun!
Dancehall Cave is the main attraction and the largest cave in the park. It’s 800 feet long, has three openings, and is named for its large “room” once used for dances. It has examples of flowstone formations.* Walkways and lighting have been added for easier access.
Other favorite caves are Rainy Day, Ice, Barbell, Up-n-Down, and Hernando’s Hideaway, to name a few.
*Stalactites and stalagmite formations were once part of the caves, but human use destroyed these features. Still, flowstone and dripstone formations remain.
Hiking Maquoketa Caves is the best way to experience the park (and the caves)! Some trails are easier than others, but some traverse steep, rough terrain, and many have stairs and boardwalks.
The six-mile trail system takes hikers through the woods to caves, bluffs, and other natural wonders. A park map is available at the kiosk near the park entrance.
Besides the caves, popular trail features include the Natural Bridge and Balanced Rock. Hike under the Natural Bridge north of the large parking area. And find Balanced Rock, a 17-ton (!) rock along the trail near Dancehall Cave.
Check out the visitor center.
Learn more about Maquoketa Caves’ history and geology at the interpretive center! And see Native American artifacts, like pottery, arrowheads, and tools. A video tour is also available.
The visitor center is near the park entrance and is open on weekends during the summer.
Maquoketa Caves is a great place to go camping, and all campsites are reservable! Choose from a newly renovated campground with electricity, hike-in tent sites, or youth group sites. See the campground section below for more details.
Have a picnic
After a day of hiking and spelunking, there’s nothing better than a picnic! Several picnic areas are right off the park road. And two historic CCC open-air picnic shelters are available first-come, first-serve.
Kids will love the playground too! Find it between a picnic area and the campground.
Source: Iowa DNR/Maquoketa Caves State Park
Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground
The Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground is a small campground not far from the main attractions – the caves and trails. Choose from 28 electric and non-electric (and hike-in!) campsites to find the perfect camping spot.
The recently renovated campground has back-in and hike-in tent campsites (25-90 yards). Twenty-three sites have electricity. And a designated youth group camping area is also available.
Reserve a campsite online through Reserve America. One modern restroom/shower building and a dump station are on-site. For the campground layout, see the campground map here.
Things to do nearby
Float the Maquoketa River. Some area outfitters rent tubes, kayaks, and canoes with shuttles for those who want to float the Maquoketa River. Check out Maquoketa River Rental & Monticello River Rentals for more information.
Bellevue State Park is a 30-minute drive northeast of the park. This excellent state park has killer views of the Mississippi River, hiking trails, camping, a butterfly garden, and more.
Visit the historic city of Dubuque, just 35 minutes away, and an excellent stop that’s fun for the whole family. Explore the historic Millwork district. Or head to the riverfront for the casinos, National Mississippi River Museum, and more.
Wapsipinicon State Park is 35 miles west of the park and another must-see in the Iowa State Park system: camp, fish, golf, hike, and more in this spectacular park near Anamosa.
See the Field of Dreams Movie Site, almost an hour northwest of the park. Here’s an attraction popularized by the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, filmed in a farm field near Dyersvile. See the baseball field, take a home tour, or watch a game. Is this heaven?
Where to stay when visiting
- Maquoketa Caves State Park
- Lakehurst Riverside Campgrounds
- Horseshoe Pond Campground & Park
Hotels, Motels, and more
- Decker Hotel, Restaurant, & Bar
- Squires Manor
- AmericInn by Wyndham Maquoketa
- Whispering Meadows Resort Cabins
Visit Maquoketa Caves State Park Today!
Maquoketa Caves State Park is at 9688 Caves Rd, Maquoketa, IA 52060
1 Maquoketa Caves State Park Historic District. United States Department of the Interior. National Park Service. National Register of Historic Places.
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