When you think of Iowa, do you think about the hiking trails there? Many travelers don’t know about the surprising natural wonders to be found on Iowa’s hiking trails. The Maquoketa Caves State Park is a perfect example of Iowa’s astonishing hidden landscape.
The Charm of the Maquoketa Caves
Purchased in the 1920s and 30s, this parkland is full of Midwestern charm.
As you make your drive to the caves you will notice that the landscape is typical for Iowa. Vast corn and soybean fields line the road, and picturesque barns and farmhouses rest where they have been for many years.
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When you first see the Maquoketa Caves sign, you will not believe how perfectly Midwestern this far central eastern Iowa location is. Just behind the big sign, two large silos stand.
Less than two minutes after turning onto the narrow road the sign points to, you’ll arrive at the beginning of the trail.
Caves and Trails
The hiking begins with an abrupt descent into one of the park’s largest and most popular caves, Dancehall. The cave is about 800 feet long with three entrances–upper, middle, and lower.
Immediately after starting your hike, you can go inside Dancehall and walk all the way to the two other openings where the trails continue.
The inside of Dancehall is dark and humid, with a stream of water running through it. The water level in the cave depends on weather and the amount of recent rain.
TravelingMom Tip: Sometimes the Dancehall cave, and the park in general, can be closed due to flooding inside the caves. So make sure to go when the weather has been generally dry for your best chance at experiencing the park to its fullest.
Although Dancehall is large enough to walk upright most of the way through, it is also equipped with an elevated cement walkway, to prevent tripping and slipping. There also are lights that help you avoid hitting your head when the ceiling gets a little too close for comfort.
The trail outside of Dancehall is also a sight to be seen. There are many other limestone caves and rock formations to explore, including the Natural Bridge, the Balancing Rock and the Ice Cave.
The Ice Cave is a favorite “cool down” spot for hikers. This cave is dark and damp and, even on a hot summer day, stays cool and comfortable. It feels like natural air conditioning.
If you are not afraid of tight spaces and getting muddy, Maquoketa has several “tight squeeze” caves scattered throughout the trails. Just make sure you know your limits and don’t try to squeeze into somewhere you cannot squeeze out of.
The Maquoketa Caves is a great place to show kids a little bit of Midwest wildlife.
Although you likely will not see many large animals, you will be able to point out some small animal life, such as ground squirrels, bugs and maybe even a bat or two if you get lucky.
Before beginning your hike into the woods there is a large “welcome shelter” where park staff often have wild animal friends to share with hikers.
There, if you are feeling brave, you can pet and hold friendly native snakes and other animals.
The staff also has some great information about the the wildlife you might encounter on the trail, including the much-dreaded bats. Maquoketa Caves staff is used to answering questions about the flying residents. Many hikers ask about the bats in the caves but the experts will tell you that the bats are not in the caves at all, but are usually hanging out in the park’s tallest trees.
The staff also inform hikers about preventing the spread of White Nose Syndrome. This is a deadly disease affecting bats, and although it has no impact on humans, it can be spread by humans.
So make sure you talk to the experts at the welcome shelter, even if you don’t want to make a reptile your friend.
Hiking with the family
The trails are generally accessible to all skill levels of hikers. The park does a great job with keeping its trails and many wooden bridges and steps safe and easy to use. These will help you through the sometimes steep and muddy inclines of the trail.
There are six miles of trails at the park but they do not all have to be hiked to see the park’s main attractions. Many of the caves and rock formations can be found easily less than an hour from the entrance.
This means you can choose how long you’d like to spend exploring. Whether it is for a whole day or just an hour, you’ll be able to see what you came there for… the caves of Iowa.
The Maquoketa Caves also offer more than hiking. Within the park you can find all of the typical state park amenities. Campgrounds, picnic areas, restrooms and a playground.
The park is open spring through fall and is always free to visit.
This post was written by Alexandra Olsen, a college student intern for TravelingMom.com. Her love of travel began at a very young age–traveling with her family to little beach towns growing up in Brazil. Alexandra also has her own personal travel blog, Trail Mix, which she started while spending a summer studying abroad in Norway.