Best Hiking Trails in Maquoketa Caves State Park
Marked by 13 caves connected by over six miles of winding trails, you can begin your hike at a number of locations, including the park's campground. If you prefer logwood walls shielding you from the elements, you can still enjoy the great outdoors, from one of the Maquoketa Caves State Park cabins. If turndown service is more your style, Maquoketa Caves State Park hotels abound in the surrounding area.
1. Valley Trail
This offers a compact taste of the park’s varied landscapes in just under a mile, showcasing millennia-old limestone caves and rushing creeks. If your feet still hanker for more, the trail’s end intersects with Firebreak Trail, which leads across Iowa’s famous prairie.
2. Forest Ridge Trail
Capture the elusive Wye Cave in this peaceful 0.41mi. trail. Considered the park's signature cave to explore because of its tight squeezes and large chambers, its location evades many—bring a map! Before or after your explorations, enjoy lunch under the dappled sunlight of the eastern picnic shelter.
3. Dance Hall Trail
Another crowd-pleasing cave is Dance Hall Cave, named for its dances of yesteryear. Hike the 0.51mi. Dance Hall South Trail, or a shorter trail skirting the eastern side of Raccoon Creek. This large and easily accessible cave is lit and paved. Keep your eyes peeled for stalactites.
Best Family Activities in Maquoketa Caves State Park
Visiting Maquoketa Caves is certainly a breath of fresh air, but the adventure isn’t over when those legs get tired. Instead of relaxing in the Maquoketa Caves State Park cabins, get acquainted with native fauna and flora.
1. Wildlife watching
No self-respecting cave is without its resident bat, so watch them flit in the darkness. In winter, Dance Hall Cave is also home to brown bats. You might also see vultures, scarlet tanagers, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers. Keep your eye out for frogs and snakes in the cave streams.
2. Geological formations
Ogle the few milk-white stalactites and stalagmites that souvenir-hunters left unscathed. Learn more about the park’s interesting geological formations at the Interpretive Center, open during summer weekends. Off-season visits can be arranged in advance with the park office.
Parents of older children will earn points taking them spelunking, or cave exploring, a fun way to explore less-accessible caves. You’ll wade through cave streams and squeeze into tight spaces, so this is an activity for true daredevils! Bring a flashlight and sturdy shoes.