116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Perhaps the most enchanting outdoor experience in Eastern Iowa—or the entire state for that matter—Maquoketa Caves State Park is known for its distinctive geological formations.
A hike through Maquoketa Caves, located about an hour east of Cedar Rapids in Jackson County, can make you feel transported into another dimension.
You’ll want to come prepared for this outdoor adventure. Hiking shoes, clothes that you don’t mind getting muddy—as you are likely to encounter some water as you wander through the caves—and a flashlight or headlamp are essentials on this trip. A change of clothes for the car ride home (especially for extra-adventurous children) isn’t a bad idea, either.
Thanks to thousands of years of water erosion through limestone bedrock, the 370-acre park boasts more caves — both flowstone and dripstone formations — than any other state park in Iowa, and it’s worth exploring as many of them as possible during your visit.
You’ll also find some pretty impressive bluffs towering over you and a gorgeous, dense forest landscape along the six-mile trail system through the park that links the caves and scenic overlooks. So don’t forget to look up and all around as you traverse the park. The aspen trees are particularly stunning during a visit in the fall.
One favorite spot is the 50-foot-high natural bridge that spans Raccoon Creek. Balanced Rock, weighing in at about 17 tons, is also a feat of nature worth seeing. There are 13 caves in the park, and some are quite large. Dancehall Cave is the largest at 1,100 feet, allowing you to stand fully upright as you walk through it. It also has three different entrances. Dances were once held in the space, giving the cave its name.
Other caves—including Hernando’s Hideaway, Shinbone Cave and Wye Cave—are smaller and require crouching and crawling to get inside. This is when flashlights definitely come in handy. Ice Cave is another aptly named favorite where you’ll experience the extreme temperature difference of a humid Iowa summer and the depths of the cool, dark cave.
While cave exploring is encouraged, it is important to keep in mind that rock climbing, repelling and mountain biking are not allowed at Maquoketa Caves State Park. There are marked trails and walkways and some stairs and boardwalks throughout the park to help you navigate. During the summer, visitors seeking to enter the caves must first complete an awareness program on white-noise syndrome, a fungal disease that is deadly to bats.
This gem of Eastern Iowa was founded in the 1860s, making Maquoketa Caves one of the state’s oldest state parks. Thanks to a new interpretive center—once called Sager’s Museum—you can learn about the park’s history, the indigenous people who once inhabited the land, and the geology of cave formations, including that the trail system through the caves wasn’t really developed until the 1930s.
It’s a good idea to arrive earlier or later in the day. Maquoketa Caves is very popular and parking is at a premium (and only allowed in designated spots). And while many people plan a day trip to wander through the area, the park does also offer a new upgraded campground. There are hike-in campsites as well. Both can be reserved online in advance of your visit. There are also picnic shelters—historic structures built by the Civilian Conversation Corps in the 1930s—and a playground to keep the kids busy if the natural playground doesn’t wear them out first. At various times throughout the year park naturalists also offer educational programs that you can enjoy.