Maquoketa Caves
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Adventure Awaits at Maquoketa Caves: Iowa’s Ultimate Outdoor Experience

Nestled in Eastern Iowa, Maquoketa Caves State Park is a spelunker’s paradise waiting to be discovered, Boasting 13 free caves to explore — more than any other US state park — this park appeals to seasoned cavers, curious adventurers, and anyone wanting to explore the wonders of nature by offering a unique and thrilling experience to captivate the imagination.

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Maquoketa Caves | photo via bevf3

Where is Maquoketa Caves State Park?

Nestled at 9688 Caves Rd in Maquoketa (halfway between Dubuque and Davenport off US-61), this hidden gem is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. The park’s stunning natural beauty and diverse cave formations make it an unparalleled spot for exploration.

Visitors planning a trip can download or pick up a park map to navigate the trails and locate the caves.

The park’s unique formations represent thousands of years of history and artifacts found within the park suggest the area has been of interest to Native American tribes for hundreds, if not thousands of years before Euro-American explorers came to the area in the 1800s. It was originally known as Morehead Caves State Park and Burt’s Cave but gained its current name in 1928.

Dancehall Cave - Maquoketa Caves-Iowa
Dancehall Cave – Maquoketa Caves | photo via stewart.carnes

The 13 Caves of Maquoketa Caves State Park

With so many caves, Maquoketa Caves State Park allows every visitor a chance to have their own unique cave experience. Families can explore easily accessible caves and thrill seekers can get down and dirty (literally) to explore smaller, off-the-beaten-path caves. 

Dancehall Cave

The “Crown Jewel” is the largest and easiest cave to access. It stretches about 1,100 feet long and features a lighted, paved sidewalk that runs alongside an underground stream. The cave has three entrances, including a middle entrance with a long wooden staircase, and a lower entrance — a wide opening that once hosted local dance events.

Rainy Day Cave

Known for its constant dripping water, Rainy Day Cave creates a “rainy” atmosphere inside and showcases the typical limestone formations found throughout the park. Its accessibility makes it a favorite spot for quick exploration.

Ice Cave

Known for its cool year-round temperatures, Ice Cave provides a refreshing, air-conditioned escape during hot summer days. The cave’s cool environment is due to the airflow and the way it retains moisture, making it a fascinating spot to explore.

Barbell Cave

Named for its distinctive shape resembling a barbell, this cave features a narrow passage that widens at both ends. The cave offers a more adventurous exploration experience with its tight squeezes and fascinating formations.

Wye Cave

Named for its Y-shaped structure, the cave features narrow, challenging passages. It’s a favorite among those looking for a bit more adventure and a chance to navigate through tighter spaces by crawling on your stomach while observing intricate formations.

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Maquoketa Caves | photo via lynettejohnson125

Up-N-Down Cave

Named for its vertical passages, this cave presents a more challenging exploration, with steep climbs and descents, appealing to spelunkers who enjoy a physically engaging journey through the cave’s intricate structure.

Match Cave

A smaller, less well-known cave, Match Cave gets its name from the slender, matchstick-like formations found within. It offers a unique and intimate spelunking experience, allowing visitors to closely observe delicate features and enjoy a quieter, more secluded exploration.

Tunnel Cave

Tunnel Cave is characterized by its long, narrow passage that resembles a tunnel and offers a straightforward yet captivating exploration experience, with a consistent width and height that makes it accessible for most visitors.

Twin Arch Cave

Twin Arch Cave is distinguished by its two natural arch formations, which create a stunning entrance and provide a view that sets this cave apart. Inside, the cave features spacious chambers and fascinating rock formations.

Hernando’s Hideaway

Somewhat secluded within the park, the cave offers a cozy and hidden feel, making it a perfect spot for a quiet retreat. Its smaller size and less obvious entrance provide an element of surprise and discovery for visitors.

Eagle’s Cave

Known for its impressive size and spacious chambers, the cave’s high, vaulted ceilings are reminiscent of an eagle’s lofty perch. Visitors can explore expansive rooms adorned with intricate stalactites and stalagmites, appealing to spelunkers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Sharks Tooth Cave

Sharks Tooth Cave offers an intriguing exploration with its pointed, tooth-like stalactites and stalagmites. It’s a smaller cave, but its sharp, tooth-like structures provide a memorable and visually striking experience for spelunkers.

Natural Bridge Cave

This cave is unique as it combines both an underground experience and an above-ground geological marvel. The natural bridge spans a section of the cave, providing a striking visual contrast between the cave’s dark interior and the bright, open area above.

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Maquoketa Caves | photo via madhatter1316

When to Visit the Maquoketa Caves?

While the state park and hiking trails are open year-round, the caves close during winter to protect hibernating bats, typically from October 15 to April 15. Plan your visit during the open season to access the caves. During summer, the caves are open from 4 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., offering ample time for exploration.

Tips for Exploring Maquoketa Caves State Park

Explore Maquoketa’s many caves is an engaging, amazing experience, but it helps to know what to do, what to wear, and what to bring before you start exploring.

What to Wear

Trip planning for Maquoketa Caves State Park should start with durable clothing. That means wearing appropriate clothes and shoes you don’t mind getting dirty or wet. The caves can be muddy and require some crawling, so you’ll likely have to change when your trip is over.

It’s also important to layer up. The caves maintain a cool temperature of around 52 degrees year-round, so dressing in layers makes it easy to peel off or put on depending on your preference.

Equipment to Bring

Dancehall Cave is the only lighted cave in the park, so you’ll need to bring a flashlight or a headlamp if you plan on exploring in depth. You’ll also need gloves to protect your hands as you climb and crawl.

Safety Precautions to Follow

  • Stay on Paths: Follow marked paths and respect cave formations to preserve the natural environment.
  • Hydrate and Snack: Bring water and snacks, as there are no concession stands in the park. Staying hydrated is crucial, especially after physical activities.
  • Bug Spray: Apply bug spray if you plan to hike the trails during summer. The caves themselves are mosquito-free, but the trails can be buggy.

Following Proper Cave Etiquette

Visitors are asked to respect wildlife as they explore. The caves are home to bats and other wildlife. Avoid disturbing them, especially during hibernation periods. Additionally, to preserve the park’s natural state, rock climbing, repelling, and mountain biking are prohibited and visitors are asked to follow Leave No Trace practices. 

Preparation for Specific Caves

For those who plan to explore Wye Cave, be prepared for a challenging entrance and a narrow passage that requires crawling. It’s not recommended for the claustrophobic.

Beginners and families looking for an easy-in, easy-out cave experience should explore Dancehall Cave. It’s the park’s most accessible cave with a lighted, paved path.

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Maquoketa Caves | photo via r0zalyn

Beyond the Caves: Additional Activities at Maquoketa Caves State Park

Maquoketa Caves State Park is famous for its extensive cave system but also offers a variety of other attractions and activities that make it a perfect destination for a well-rounded outdoor adventure.

Hiking Trails

The park features a network of well-maintained hiking trails that wind through lush woodlands, over scenic bridges, and past unique rock formations. The trails range in difficulty, catering to both casual walkers and seasoned hikers.

Notable trails include the North Trail, which leads adventurers to several caves. The South Trail winds through dense forests and past picturesque limestone bluffs.

Natural Landmarks

Near the upper entrance of Dancehall Cave, the Natural Bridge is a striking limestone arch that offers a beautiful vantage point and a great photo opportunity.

Balanced Rock is another great photo op and a testament to the park’s natural history. As the name implies, it’s a large boulder precariously perched on a smaller rock base.

Wildlife Watching

Maquoteka Caves State Park is home to numerous bird species, making it a haven for birdwatchers, so bring your binoculars and your camera. Visitors can also keep an eye out for deer, raccoons, and other wildlife as they explore the park.


The park offers several well-maintained picnic areas with tables and grills, providing a perfect setting for a relaxing meal amidst nature.

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Maquoketa Caves | photo via outdoor_dreamrv


For visitors looking to extend their stay, the park has a well-equipped campground with electric and non-electric sites. Nestled in a wooded area, it provides a serene setting for a night under the stars.

Historical Sites

The park’s interpretive center is a great place to start your visit and learn more about what you’ll see in the park. It also offers educational exhibits about the park’s natural history, geology, and the unique ecosystems of the caves.

Additionally, 111 acres on the park’s east side are listed as a historic district and were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Fishing and Boating

While the park does not have large bodies of water for fishing or boating, the nearby Maquoketa River offers outdoor enthusiasts opportunities to add water-based fun to their trip, including fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. It’s a great way to add some water-based activities to your trip.

Seasonal Events

During the peak season, the park often offers guided tours, educational programs, and special events that provide deeper insights into the park’s natural wonders, including the caves. To ensure you don’t miss anything, check the park’s schedule for any upcoming events before your visit.

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Maquoketa Caves | photo via madhatter1316

Plan Your Visit to Maquoketa Caves State Park

With more than a dozen caves to explore and plenty of scenic natural beauty to enjoy, Maquoketa Caves State Park is the ultimate Iowa destination for outdoor and cave enthusiasts. Whether you want an easy-in, easy-out cave experience, an in-depth spelunking adventure, or simply want to enjoy the beauty of nature, adventures await in this scenic Iowa gem.