Something that surprised me was the amount of caves there are in Iowa! There’s a stereotypical assumption that Iowa is flat and just full of corn fields, so discovering that there were caves was an interesting find. In this post I share 3 caves near Dubuque Iowa, which all offer completely different experiences!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary tour of Spook Cave as part of a previous partnership. As always, opinions are my own.
Caves in Iowa
🗺13299 Spook Cave Rd, McGregor, IA 52157, USA
💰Adults (13yrs and up) – $13 | Children (4-12yrs) – $9
⭐️Cave tour by boat, campground & cabins
Let’s start north and travel south down through the state! First up is Spook Cave, located just outside of McGregor (1hr 40 from Dubuque). A fun aspect of this cave is that you explore it by boat which has been running since 1955!
Spook Cave is the ‘squishiest’ out of the 3 caves mentioned in this post. There are a couple of sections where you’ll have to lean forward to avoid the roof of the cave. If you’re small like me (5ft4) you shouldn’t have a problem, if you’re taller obviously there’ll be less space! The caves do then open up but it’s something to keep in mind for visitors that may not be confident in really confined spaces.
The boat tours last around 30 minutes and talk about different aspects of the cave, from the history of the exploration process, to how the cave was formed thousands of years ago! The temperature in the caves is 47f/8c year round, so if you visit during the high heat of the summer, you’ll get to experience the natural air con of the caves!
Campground & Cabins
If you wanted to make a trip out of your visit to Spook Cave, there’s also a large campground on site with pitches for tents and RV as well as cabins that are available to rent. You can read my full review of the caves and campground here: A Glamping & Cave Exploration Adventure at Spook Cave Iowa!
Crystal Lake Cave
🗺6684 Crystal Lake Cave Rd, Dubuque, IA 52003, USA
💰Adults (11yrs+) – $20 | Children (4 to 11yrs) – $8 | Under 4’s – free
⭐️Walking cave tours
Heading south along the Mississippi River to Dubuque, you’ll find Crystal Lake Cave. The caves were first discovered back in the mid 1800’s and has been open to the public since 1932.
It was also found in a different way too. Spook Cave was discovered thanks to curiosity from a noise coming from the bluff, whereas Crystal Lake Cave was found by James Rice, a miner looking for crystals in the area.
If your specifically looking for cave tours in Iowa, this is probably the most comprehensive. Guided walking tours of Crystal Lake Cave last around 45 minutes. The paths are wide enough and tall enough to be able to walk through fairly comfortably. My dad doesn’t like enclosed spaces but he was OK at Crystal Lake Cave (Spook Cave on the other hand, I don’t think he would have done that tour).
There is actually a small lake which is where the cave gets its name from. You can’t get close to it but there’s a hole where you can look through and see it. Everything is very well lit throughout the cave system.
Maquoketa Caves State Park
🗺9688 Caves Rd, Maquoketa, IA 52060, USA
35 minutes south of Dubuque is Maquoketa Caves State Park. Out of the 3 caves in Iowa that are mentioned in this post, these were discovered the earliest, back in the 1830’s. The majority are mainly above ground and have wide entrances, I guess in a way that some of the caves in Maquoketa are more like a cavern rather than a cave.
There are 16 caves altogether and they are more ‘rough and ready’, in the sense that you are free to explore 6 miles of trails at your own leisure and pace. Spook Cave and Crystal Lake Cave are focused on education and how caves are formed, whereas Maquoketa Caves are more nature based.
There is a small ranger hut with information but it’s mainly about the wildlife. Bats are a big factor and the caves were even closed to the public a few years back to try and protect them from a disease called ‘White Nose Syndrome’. (During my visit I didn’t see any bats though!)
The trails aren’t paved so you might get a bit wet and muddy. If you want to be REALLY adventurous, some caves are only accessible by crawling on your hands and knees, taking a flashlight/torch is a MUST, unless you want to be feeling around in the dark!
Maquoketa Caves State Park also has a campground and toilets but unlike the others, there’s no gift or snack shop. Make sure you come prepared with water and snacks if you plan on going hiking. There is a water fountain but it wasn’t working during my visit so it’s best to bring your own things just in case! I have a whole post full of my tips for visiting Maquoketa Caves, that may help you plan a trip!
Iowa Cave Locations
Have you visited any caves in Iowa? Do you have a favourite?