County: Jackson | Nearest City: Maquoketa | Established: 1921 | Area: 323 acres
Turning off highway Y31 and onto 98th Street you will start the winding drive into Maquoketa Caves State Park. The first point of interest is a visitor’s center and museum located at the intersection of highway Y31 and 98th Street. Continuing into the park the landscape becomes densely wooded. Park features include 16 caves with public access, 6 miles of hiking trails, group camping area, parking, restroom facilities, a playground, picnic shelters and a campground.
The campground is nestled in a tall stand of white pine trees. The smell of pine is pleasant as you set up camp. All trailer sites are back-in type and in full shade or partial shade. The camp site pads are level with a crushed stone base. 17 of the 29 campsites have electrical and some of the non electric sites are hike-in type for tent camping. Campers my want to know that site number 1 is in an isolated spot next to a maintenance building.
The campground shower and restroom facilities are well maintained. In the past, people have used the bathroom facilities to wash up after crawling through caves which made it a challenge to keep them clean. In the summer of 2008 a wash off station for cavers was created in the upper picnic area. The station consists of a deck around a water hydrant with a hose and spray nozzle. Park staff says that it has helped immensely in the cleaning of the restroom facilities.
At the entrance to the camp ground there is a clean and functional dump station with potable water. Vehicles with trailers in tow can easily pull through the dump station.
Trails and Caves
The main entry point to the trails and caves is at the parking lot on 98th Street. You will also find an information kiosk with maps, a large group shelter and restrooms. If you head out on the trails to the north you will immediately encounter the Natural Bridge and Dance Hall Cave. These are considered the signature attractions of the park and can be explored by walking. The rest of the caves in the park require you to hunch over or crawl on your belly. You will get dirty exploring these caves so an extra change of cloths is recommended. In addition, bring two light sources, a helmet and knee pads.
There are 8 caves to explore to the north of 98th street and the trail system here is very manageable. However, if you don’t want to exert yourself then stick to the trails in the valley around the Raccoon Creek. If you want the complete trip add the Ridge Trail and take it back to the parking area.
The trail system on the south side of 98th street is more extensive and rugged. The remaining 8 caves are in this part of the park and accessing them is made easier with board walks and stairs. For a change of scenery, follow the Upland Prairie Foot Trail to see some prairie restoration projects.
Maquoketa Caves State Park is a fun place to go. The accessibility of the caves creates a natural playground for visitors. It’s not the largest park in Iowa but there is more to do here than in many other Iowa state parks.