Iowa: Tips for Visiting Maquoketa Caves State Park

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 various walking trails through a woodland area (complete with the dreaded 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 altogether, around 50% are ‘walk in caves’.  Here are my tips for visiting!

  • 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 drinks, 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 there are State Park Interpreters to tell you about the trails and the bats that live in the caves.

  • Take bug spray!

As mentioned in my 15 Crazy Differences Living in Iowa/USA post, there are plenty of bugs here too, 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.

Maquoketa Caves Iowa

  • Take a head torch/flashlight

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.

My 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!)

Tips for Maquoketa Caves Iowa

Have you ever visited the caves?  Let me know if you have any tips for visiting America’s State Parks!

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