Maquoketa Caves State Park is located in East Iowa and the awesome thing about it is that it’s completely free to visit! The park consists of 6 miles of walking trails through a woodland area (complete with the deer!), some follow the path through large caves and others lead to the entrances of caves that require a bit of crawling! There are 16 caves altogether, around 50% are ‘walk in caves’. The caves were first discovered back in the 1830s. Here are my tips for visiting Maquoketa Caves State Park!
Maquoketa Caves State Park
- Take plenty to drink
As it’s just a State Park and not a full blown tourist attraction, there is nowhere to buy food or drink, even the water fountain was out of order when I visited. When I visited I was there for a few hours and we didn’t even complete all the trails. There are toilet facilities though and during the warmer months on the weekends there are State Park Interpreters to tell you about the trails and the bats that live in the caves.
- Take bug spray!
There are plenty of bugs, so make sure to wear bug spray! The trails are very ‘wild’ so there are lots of bugs around!
- Wear old clothes!
Despite the lack of rain in the summer, the trails are still muddy, wearing old, comfortable shoes would be a good idea. For the adventurous people that want to crawl around inside the caves, take old clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty! Some of the caves can only be accessed by crawling on hands and knees.
- Take a head torch/flashlight
Maquoketa CAVES State Park…the keyword being caves and caves tend to be dark! Some of the walk in caves are slightly lit up but I found it nice having a torch with me, just so I could see the rough parts of the trails (I tend to trip up a lot….!). It also came in use in the ‘crawling’ caves but I’d suggest a head torch would be more suitable as it’s hands free!
- Take a photo of the big trails map at the welcome centre
There are paper trail and cave maps available from the interpreter centre however we found them not to be very helpful. At the end of our visit we compared it to the map on the big display board at the start and there were more routes marked out and they were a lot more accurate on that one. I would suggest taking a picture of this more detailed map on your phone and navigate using that.
Individual trails aren’t marked out too well around the park, the odd direction post we did find would literally say the cave number with an arrow and then you’d be lucky if you found a second post to carry on leading the way. We found freestyling the best option in the end, don’t attempt to try and follow certain paths, if you come across a cave, brilliant! Otherwise just walk round and enjoy the nature.
- Be prepared for lots of stairs!
There are a LOT of stairs in Maquoketa Caves State Park, so it’s not really suitable for pushchairs/buggies or wheelchairs. Most of the staircases have handrails but there are areas where they are more natural.
Maquoketa Caves State Park Facilities
As mentioned, you’ll find toilets and parking facilities at Maquoketa Caves State Park. There’s also a children’s playground, picnic shelters and a campground. Weekend electric pitches at the campground do book out in advance, there are a few pitches that aren’t available to prebook online, but they are first come first served. Electric pitches are $16 a night, with tent pitches costing $11 a night. You’ll find a shower block and a dump station.
My Maquoketa Caves State Park Route Tip:
From the car park and interpreter centre, cross over the road (to the same side as the giant map display board) and follow the steps down on the left hand side. When the path forks, don’t be tempted to follow it to the bigger cave, follow it to the left and do the shorter loop first.
This will eventually lead to the big walk in cave that then goes right under the road to the other side of the park! (We went into the big cave first and then had to cross the road and go back to do this loop at the end!)
Visiting Maquoketa Caves State Park
9688 Caves Rd. Maquoketa, IA 52060
For more information visit the Iowa DNR website!
Maquoketa: 10 minutes (7 miles)
Dubuque: 34 minutes (31 miles)
Davenport: 50 minutes (47 miles)
Cedar Rapids: 1hr 12 (60 miles)
Bluff Lake Iowa
If you’re in the area on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, make sure you visit Bluff Lake Catfish Farm! It’s actually a restaurant which specialises in all you can eat specials (Friday – Catfish and (not all you can eat) Prime Rib, Saturday – Haddock, Sunday – Fried Chicken and Shrimp)! They also have a regular menu which is very reasonably priced!
The restaurant sits between two lakes, complete with its own waterfall and has an outside deck area. There is also a small shop selling gifts and flowers too. Please be aware that Bluff Lake, despite its remote location, is popular. Table wait times can reach 2 hours and people start waiting outside before it’s even open!
Address: 9301 95th Ave, Maquoketa, IA 52060
Have you ever visited Maquoketa Caves State Park?
Did you know that Macintosh Woods State Park (also in Iowa) has yurts that you can glamp in? You can read more in my post: Glamping In Iowa: What It’s Like To Stay In A Yurt!
Fan of State Parks? Check out my favourite Top Midwest State Parks For Adventure
Alternatively, here are my tips for visiting the nearby town of Dubuque (including more caves!): 35 Things To Do in Dubuque Iowa in Summer