Where is Maquoketa Caves State Park?
GPS: 42.12028, -90.76778 42°7'13"N, 90°46'4"W
Maquoketa Caves State Park - 9688 Caves Rd Maquoketa, IA 52060
Maquoketa Caves State Park is in the midwestern region of the United States. Located in Maquoketa, Iowa, it lies around 45 minutes west of the Iowa-Illinois border. The park is just off of State Highway 428. The small town of Ironhills lies a few miles north of the park, while Hurtsville is less than 10 minutes southeast from Maquoketa. The park is located between the Maquoketa River and the North Forks Maquoketa River.
How Big is Maquoketa Caves State Park?
The park is 370 acres large and is located completely within Jackson County. Thirteen caves make up a portion of the park’s greatest attractions, with some of the caves available for all visitors while others require more technical cave experiencing (spelunking).
Dancehall Cave is a popular feature that extends 1,100 feet high and 800 feet long, while the stone/cave formation known as the “Natural Bridge” is a 50-foot feature that rises over the Raccoon Creek. There’s a six-mile trail system which connects the caves through a hardwood forest.
Maquoketa Caves State Park Weather
Maquoketa Caves State Park has significantly different temperatures depending on the time of the year. The summer months tend to be warm, with July typically averaging the highest temperatures (around 83 degrees). The summer evening temperatures don’t typically dip below the high 50s and low 60s, making it reasonably warm in the summer evening.
Winters can be very cold, and January’s normal low temperatures hover around 8 degrees, with the high only averaging approximately 26 for that month. Spring temperatures see slight rises in warmth, but April’s low still averages around 35, just a few degrees above the freezing point. Fall tends to be fairly mild in September and October, but November begins to see temperatures as low as 26 at night. Maquoketa averages around 29 inches of snow each year.
When Did Maquoketa Caves Become a State Park?
The cave system is likely to have been used for hundreds and possibly thousands of years by Native Americans in the Iowa area. In the 1830s, European-American explorers first took notice of the caves, and by 1860s, entertainment like picnics, dances, and parties were commonplace in the park’s area.
It wasn’t until 1921 that the Maquoketa Women’s Club purchased land with the intent to establish a state park there. More land was acquired in 1931, and in later decades, from the 1960s to 1980s, 161 acres were purchased by the State of Iowa.
Things to Do in Maquoketa Caves State Park
The park is full of activities for both adults and children alike. While serious cave exploration is better left to the specially trained, many of the caves can be explored by families. Some of the specific activities available are listed below.
The park is a great source of interest for visitors interested in geology. Limestone bedrock comprises a majority of the area’s geology, and the caves themselves were formed by water erosion over large periods of time, amounting to several thousand years.
Visitors have their choice of 13 caves to explore, including ones with names like Dancehall Cave, Hernado’s Hideaway, and Wye Cave. An important note is that during the summer, visitors will be required to undergo a White Nose Syndrome informational program before accessing the caves to help limit the number of bats affected by this issue.
Both electric and non-electric sites are available for camping. Amenities include restrooms as well as pit toilets and showers. A quarter of the camps are first-come, first serve, which means you don’t need reservations, but arriving early in the day is advised to ensure you get a site.
The park has a restored prairie system that is home to wildflowers and other plant species. There’s also what’s referred to as an “experimental savanna restoration” area and wildlife food area accessible to hikers.
Brown bats reside in the caves during the winter months and hibernate at this time. Visitors typically are not allowed in the caves during this season in order to protect the bats. Birdwatching opportunities in the forest are also ample.
There are six miles of trails that cut through the forest and bring you to the entrance to several of the caves in the park. The trails pass by many locally known areas of interest, such as Balance Rock, which is renowned for its weight of over 17 tons.
There are two picnic shelters that can be reserved. These shelters have been around for nearly a century, as they were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Previously known as Sager’s Museum, the park’s interpretive center provides information for visitors about the park’s geology and history. Artifacts found in the area are also on display within this facility. A video tour is also available for visitors that choose not to go through the actual caves.
This cave is the largest in the park and towers up to 1,100 feet tall. This cave contains walkways to make exploring it easier for visitors and also contains lighting features to enhance your experience while there.
Stalactites, long formations that extend from cave ceilings, were once much more common in the caves than they are now, but centuries of visitors have removed many of them. Some are still left for visitors, as well as a few stalagmites (which originate from the cave floor).
When to Go to Maquoketa Caves State Park
When visiting Maquoketa Caves State Park, you’ll definitely want to consider the time of year that you choose. The camping facilities are typically closed in the winter and through part of the springtime.
Additionally, brown bats hibernate in the colder months, and the caves are closed during this time to protect the bats.
The best time to visit will typically be summer, as the evening temperatures are still ideal for camping if visitors bring the proper equipment. Summer months do typically see the most rainfall (about four inches per month), so visitors will want to bring raingear just in case they encounter summer showers.
Must-Have Things to Bring to Maquoketa Caves State Park
While Dancehall Cave has some lighting installed to help visitors see around them, do not count on all the caves having up-to-date lighting. Bring a flashlight or two, or better yet, a headlamp, to ensure you don’t get stuck in the dark.
The caves will leave you covered in dirt and dust. Make sure to bring old clothing that you don’t mind if it gets stained or torn, as you may be crawling through tight spaces. Snug-fitting clothes are a good option, so your clothing doesn’t get snagged on any jagged rocks.
Bring a pair of binoculars so that you can get an up-close view of birds and other animals while you are hiking the park. Binoculars may also help you better see some of the higher up cave features in well-lit areas of caves. Keep in mind you may be crawling through some spaces, so make sure to bring a protective case for them.
With the most caves out of any park in Iowa, it’s never a bad idea to bring a high-quality camera on your trip to Maquoketa. Just keep in mind that, as with binoculars, it’s advised you pack a heavy-duty carrying case with you if you do bring along a camera. The dusty air could compromise the quality of some cameras.
Be sure to bring a pair of shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. Between hiking and cave exploration, you can count on your shoes getting covered in dust and possibly water. Shoes with a good grip are also advised when walking on slick rocks that have been worn down over time.
Bring a small, compact day pack with you during your visit, so that you can keep your hands free while hiking and accessing the caves. A backpack is a convenient option that lets you more easily crawl through tight spaces.
The temperature in caves can be much cooler than outside temperatures. It’s a good idea to dress in layers and bring an extra (old) sweater so throw on in case you get chilled while in the dark, damp spaces of the cave.
The late spring and all of the summer months see more rainfall than other times of the year. Bring a rain jacket and/or an umbrella so that your trip doesn’t get cut short by an unexpected afternoon shower.
Bringing water on any visit to a park is always a safe bet. Some of the facilities in Maquoketa Caves State Park are closed off during the colder months, so even when it isn’t so hot, you’ll want to make sure you bring adequate supplies of water in case you don’t have access to a water fountain.
You can expend more energy than you expect climbing through caves, especially if you plan on hiking the entire six-mile stretch. Bring plenty of high-protein snacks like almonds and granola bars to keep your hunger satiated during your visit.
Where to Stay in Maquoketa Caves State Park
Camping is a convenient option for visitors that want to experience even more of the outdoors during their stay. The park has several campsites, although most of them require reservations. Book ahead and check local weather listings to ensure to help plan your trip.
For visitors that prefer to stay in a hotel, Maquoketa is your best bet for a wider selection of options. Choices include the Econo Lodge, Squiers Manor, and AmericInn.
Food Nearby Maquoketa Caves State Park
Maquoketa is also the most convenient option for eating. Coffee shops and chain restaurants like Subway and Dairy Queen are only around 10 minutes from the park. Local stops like City Limits Family Restaurant and La Casa de Pancho are also close locations.
For more substantial food options, there’s a Fareway grocery store and a couple of convenience stores in Maquoketa as well.
Airports Near Maquoketa Caves State Park
Airport options in the vicinity include Quad City International Airport, about 55 minutes due south of the park. O’Hare International Airport in Chicago is three hours east of the park and can provide cheaper flight options.
Des Moines International Airport is three hours west and is a major airport that offers flights both locally and to and from other countries.