Wildcat Den State Park is Iowa’s most photographed state park for a reason! Interesting geological formations and beautiful sandstone bluffs provide excellent scenery and views. But that’s not all – the park is full of history too! No visit to Wildcat Den is complete without seeing the historic grist mill and a one-room schoolhouse. In our book, this one’s a must-see Iowa State Park!
Table of Contents
- A Brief History of Wildcat Den State Park
- Things To Do at Wildcat Den State Park
- Park Map
- Wildcat Den State Park Campground
- Things to do nearby
- Visit Wildcat Den State Park Today!
Know before you go
- This is a free park!
- Take your camera (or phone) – pictures are a must.
- Many trails have elevation changes, stairs, and some rough terrain.
- Tours of the grist mill and schoolhouse are available for limited days/hours in the summer.
- The campground is primitive tent camping only.
- September events include the annual Buckskinners Rendezvous and 5k run.
A Brief History of Wildcat Den State Park
You can’t talk about the history of Wildcat Den without starting with its beautiful ancient sandstone bluffs! Examples of Devonian and Pennsylvanian sandstone are there, especially along Pine Creek.
Native American cultures likely called the area home for thousands of years. Mounds just outside park boundaries suggest the presence of the Woodland culture.
The Wildcat Den area is full of 19th-century history! Early in the century, the Sauk and Fox tribes lived there. But they surrendered the land after the Blackhawk Purchase in 1832. European settlers began moving in at that time.3
Benjamin Nye was one of these first area settlers. He built several of the first businesses, like a store, sawmill, and post office.
After constructing a small grist mill in 1937, demand for milling grew. So, Nye built the larger Pine Creek Grist Mill in 1848 in what is now part of Wildcat Den State Park.
After the mill closed, the state purchased it intending to restore and preserve it. And after decades of sitting idle, it was restored and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Wildcat Den became part of the Iowa State Park system in 1935. Around that time, the National Youth Administration built a picnic shelter. And the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built trails and fences for the park.3
Since the park’s beginning, trails and roads have continually improved. And in the 1960s, the Melpine Country School – a historic one-room schoolhouse – was moved to the park (near the mill).3
Things To Do at Wildcat Den State Park
Hike the scenic trails!
Park trails wind through diverse, beautiful terrain, elevation gains, and extraordinary views. Bluffs of ancient sandstone provide breathtaking panoramic views.
Trails wind past a little waterfall, scenic rock formations, and beautiful forest. Hikers often head for points of interest, like Steamboat Rock and the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
Note: Most trails at Wildcat Den are relatively short yet rated as “difficult” by the Iowa DNR. Some have stairs and elevation gains. Check the park map before heading out.
Visit the Pine Creek Grist Mill
The historic Pine Creek Grist Mill was built by the area’s first European settler – Benjamin Nye – in 1848.
The mill closed in 1927, and the state bought it to add to Wildcat Den State Park – intending to restore it. But restoration work began many years later.1
After 75 years, the mill was finally restored by the Friends of Pine Grist Mill in partnership with the Iowa DNR. Thanks to both organizations and countless volunteer hours, today it’s a working mill!
The mill is now the oldest working grist mill between the Rockies and the Mississippi River.2 It’s a pristine example of a mid-19th-century mill and is included on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tours of the mill are available from 12:30 pm – 4:30 pm Wednesday through Sunday from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. (In May & Sept, it’s open on Saturday and Sunday from 12:30 to 4:30.)
See a one-room schoolhouse.
A historic one-room schoolhouse – the Melpine Country School – is also in the park near the grist mill. The building was built in 1877 and was moved to the park for preservation and tours in the 1960s.
The Melpine Schoolhouse is open on weekends (Saturday & Sunday) from May through September from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm.
Have a picnic
Wildcat Den is the perfect place for a picnic!
- The upper picnic area is near the campground (on top of the bluff) and has a picnic shelter.
- The lower picnic area is between Pine Creek and the park’s sandstone bluffs.
- An open-air picnic shelter is at the Grist Mill/Melpine Schoolhouse area.
Shelters are reservable at Reserve America and otherwise available first-come, first-serve.
Wildcat Den has a small, primitive tent camping area surrounded by woods and near park trails. See the campground section below for more.
For trailer and RV camping, several options are close to Wildcat Den. Fairport State, Shady Creek, and Clark’s Ferry Recreation Areas are excellent options along the Mississippi River.
Wildcat Den State Park Campground
The primitive tent campground is the perfect place to escape to nature! Twenty tent campsites are nestled in the woods and near trails.
- Located on the park’s upper side off 181st Street
- Vault toilet
- Water spigots on site
- Reserve campsites at Reserve America
- No electricity or flush toilets/showers are available.
Things to do nearby
Visit the town of Muscatine! It’s just 12 miles from the park and has many fun things to do and see. The Muscatine Riverfront and the historic downtown district are excellent places to stop! Find restaurants, breweries, museums, shops, and scenic river views!
Go camping by the Mississippi River! Fairport State Recreation Area, Shady Creek Recreation Area, and Clark’s Ferry Recreation Area offer camping on the mighty Mississippi!
Visit Discovery Park in Muscatine. Find this beautiful 100-acre city park 15 miles from Wildcat Den on Muscatine’s west side. Visit the Environmental Learning Center and the raptor enclosure. Or go fishing, hike or bike the trails, and much more!
Drive northeast twenty miles to visit Davenport! Find places to shop, dine, tour, and explore – like the Figge Art and Putnam Museums to Vander Veer Park, the East Village, casinos, Mississippi Riverfront, and more!
Visit Wildcat Den State Park Today!
Wildcat Den State Park is at 1884 Wildcat Den Rd, Muscatine, IA 52761
1. Beaudette, C. (n.d.). Pine Creek Grist Mill wins national award. Pine Creek Grist Mill. http://www.pinecreekgristmill.com/awards/Oct07NationalAward.pdf
2. [ThePineCreekMill]. The Pine Creek Grist Mill [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHyKQofgda4
3. Anderson, R. R., & Bunker, B. J. (1997, November 1). The Natural History of Wildcat Den State Park. The University of Iowa. https://www.iihr.uiowa.edu/igs/publications/uploads/GSI-064.pdf