My expectations were high for Iowa’s first state park and I was not disappointed. Backbone State Park & the adjoining Backbone State Forest have some unique activities to offer such as rock climbing, trout fishing, and rugged trail hikes. Rock climbing is one of the more intriguing activities, especially for Iowa, and Backbone State Park has some of the best climbing in the state. Climbers and repellers are asked to register at the park office.
There’s no shortage of trout to be caught in the cool waters of Fenchel Creek. The 1.4 mile stream is feed by Richmond Springs and is located at the north end of the park. Easy access to Fenchel Creek plays a large part in the popularity of trout fishing at Backbone State Park. You can certainly find a secluded fishing spot or a handicap accessible location complete with wide parking and a sidewalk right up to the stream bank. Trout are stocked by the Iowa DNR hatcheries throughout the year and fish are abundant spring to fall.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built much of the parks infrastructure. Perhaps the most intriguing CCC project is an array of 16 round circles in a field behind a long stone wall that served as Iowa’s first trout hatchery. The hatchery was completed in 1925, but closed in 1987 due to insufficient water flow from Richmond Springs. A new hatchery was built east of Manchester, Iowa that allows for less expensive fish production.
Other CCC structures such as the beach lodge, boat house, picnic shelters, auditorium, restrooms, bridges and dams are still in use today and help give the park its rugged charm. There is a CCC museum located within the park that spotlights the CCC’s contributions to Iowa’s parks.
Backbone Lake was created by a CCC dam constructed on the Maquoketa River. The lake is available for swimming, boating and fishing. A sand beach and concession stand are located near the beach lodge and you can rent boats at the nearby boat house. Boat motors are limited to electric only on Backbone Lake and can be launched from the boat ramp near the dam.
Backbone State Park has two campgrounds that provide 125 campsites total. Hiking trailheads are located in both campgrounds and it’s possible to start and finish a lake loop hike in either campground. The park staff does an excellent job keeping the campgrounds clean and tidy.
Six Pines Campground is a primitive campground with 27 non-electrical sites. Located on the west side of Backbone Lake, It’s popular with dry campers, tent campers and climbers due to its proximity to rugged areas of the park. The grounds are spacious and level with many shady sites. There is no shower house at Six Pines, but two clean primitive restrooms are located within the campground with separate men’s and women’s facilities. Water spigots are available for fresh drinking water. Kids can enjoy the playground located in the center of the camp area.
South Lake Campground is the parks modern camping facility on the southeast side of the park. Amenities here include: 49 electric sites, 49 non-electric sites, dump station, two shower houses, two primitive restrooms, and a playground. This campground is spacious with sites that can accommodate large RV’s or tent campers. Campsites are level with crushed stone pads. Sites on the northwest side have more shade than the southeast side. A few sites on the southeast end reveal a glimpse of Backbone Lake and are fairly shady. I enjoyed taking walks on the many South Lake campground roads in the evenings.
The 16 cabins at Backbone State Park are some of the most popular in the state. They are booked up most weekends throughout the year. All the cabins are modern and have heating, air conditioning, kitchens, and bathrooms with showers. They also are equipped with futons or fold out beds for extra sleeping accommodations. Renters are asked to bring their own bedding and dinnerware. Each unit includes a fire-ring for campfires. There are many connector trails that lead from the cabins to the East Lake Trail. The trail system is a great way to access views of the lake and some of the more rugged areas of the park.
There’s a nice variety of cabins to choose from. Cabins A, B, C & D are 2 bedroom handicap accessible units and all allow pets except for cabin A. These cabins allow a maximum of 6 people and are open year round.
Cabins 1 – 8 are one bedroom family cabins with a maximum occupancy of four people. All allow pets except for cabin 8. These cabins are open April – October and closed in the winter.
Cabins 9 – 12 are large two level handicap accessible units and are open all year. They can sleep up to nine people each and all allow pets except for cabin 12. These units also have nice decks, patios and outdoor spaces with glimpses of Backbone Lake.