Description - Maquoketa Caves is probably Iowa's most unique state park. Its caves, limestone formations and rugged bluffs provide visitors a chance to "step back" into geological time thousands of years. Caves vary from the 1,100' Dancehall Cave with walkways and lighting system to Dugout Cave. The remaining caves are all different sizes and shapes. Some can be explored by walking while others can best be seen by crawling. In any case, a flashlight and old clothes and shoes are most helpful.
The park contains more caves than any other state park in Iowa. A beautiful trail system links the caves, formations, and overlooks while providing an exciting hiking experience. Many areas on these trails have seen new construction, making the journey to the caves safer and easier. Trail highlights include the dramatic "Natural Bridge" which stands nearly 50 feet above Raccoon Creek, and the 17-ton "Balanced Rock".
The park has beauty all its own each season of the year. Spring wildflowers give way to the lush green growth of summer. Fall brings dramatic hues of yellow, gold and crimson. Snow transforms the park into a winter wonderland. Whatever the season, Maquoketa Caves has something special to offer.
Artifacts such as pottery, as well as tools and projectile points made of stone have been found in the caves and surrounding area. These discoveries tell us that the Maquoketa Caves area has been a popular spot for hundreds of years, perhaps thousands of years. Early recorded history tells of the Native Americans in the area, and that they were likely visitors to the Raccoon Creek valleys. From the discovery of the caves in the 1830's by settlers until the present, the park has been a place to view the special beauty that nature has to offer.
Beautiful milk white stalactites once hung from the ceilings and stalagmites rose from the floor. Souvenir hunters have robbed the caves of this rare beauty, but many formations remain.
The first park land was purchased in 1921. However, the majority of the park facilities were not constructed until the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Both programs resulted from the federal government effort to make work for Americans during the Great Depression. Their work included the stone lodge, Dancehall Cave walkway system, stone picnic circle and several hexagonal picnic shelters along the trail. Some of these structures have been restored and efforts continue.
A major renovation effort was recently completed which included updating and modernizing the park facilities from the 1930's.
The unique beauty of Maquoketa Caves State Park provides a lovely setting for picnicking. A children's play structure is located between the campground and picnic area. There are two open picnic shelters which may be reserved for a fee through the park manager.
The campground contains 29 campsites (17 have electricity) nestled among mature pine trees, complete with a modern shower facility. The fees vary depending upon the time of year and facilities available. Camping permits are obtained by self-registration at the campground. Camping Fees can be paid at the site.
Hikers can enjoy the scenery along the 6 miles of trails. The trails in the eastern part of the park connect the park facilities and provide access to the caves. Trail highlights include the dramatic "Natural Bridge" which stand nearly 50 feet above Raccoon Creek, 17-ton "Balanced Rock", and "Dancehall Cave." A trail in the western area of the park takes hikers past a restored prairie, an experimental oak savanna restoration and a wildlife food plot.
Maquoketa is seven miles southeast of the park.