||0.8 miles roundtrip
||A few hills
- Giant natural bridge arching 50 feet above the creek
- Climbing through Twin Arch Cave
- Shady, cool forest
Iowa isn't really known for having interesting landscapes, but maybe it should! Maquoketa Caves State Park is home to 13 unique caves, and this hike takes you to 7 of these plus a giant Natural Bridge. There are few other hikes in the state that will offer so much scenic beauty with less than a mile of walking.
The hike starts by descending the stairs on the north side of the road, following signs for Upper Dancehall Cave and the Natural Bridge. At the very bottom near the creek, take a sharp left as signed for the Natural Bridge -- this massive stone arch should now be visible, as pictured below. The trail passes underneath the Natural Bridge, so you can enjoy it from many angles.
The trail as it meanders under the 50-foot high Natural Bridge
Stay to the right after going under the Natural Bridge, then take the stairs on the right up to three more caves: Up-N-Down Cave, Hernando's Hideaway, and Twin Arch Cave. A wooden deck leads to Up-N-Down Cave, two small holes in the rock with one at head height and one at ankle height. After that cave is another child-sized hole, Hernando's Hideaway, followed by Twin Arch Cave, one of the few caves you can enter in the park. The trail passes underneath one arch into a cave room before exiting under the other arch.
You can actually walk through Twin Arch Cave
After leaving those three caves, you'll descend the long wooden staircase pictured below, then turn right to continue on the trail to Dug Out Cave and Wide Mouth Cave. Raccoon Creek will be on the left side of the trail, a pretty sight and sound shaded by the tall trees. Soon you'll see Dug Out Cave on the right side, named for its resemblance to a baseball dugout with its low, wide opening.
Looking up the stairs leading down from Twin Arch Cave
Further along the trail, you'll find Wide Mouth Cave on the right side of the trail, as pictured below. This cave is similar to Dug Out Cave, but the opening is even wider!
The long and narrow entrance to Wide Mouth Cave
Beyond Wide Mouth Cave, you have the option to continue on the Ridge Trail back to the parking lot. However, it's better to turn around so you can see the two remaining caves in the northern section of the park, Match Cave and Window Cave. Heading back the way you came, continue straight as you pass the staircase to Twin Arch Cave pictured earlier, then stay right to cross Raccoon Creek. The remainder of the trail roughly follows the creek. Just past the creek crossing, a short side trail on the right will lead to Match Cave, as pictured below.
The many tiny holes at Match Cave
The final cave on the journey is Window Cave, a nearly rectangular hole perched high on a cliff like the one pictured below. This last portion of the hike has many tall cliffs on the right, some pockmarked with tiny caves, much like Match Cave seen earlier. From here, you can either end the hike by continuing back under the Natural Bridge, or you can take one of the wooden staircases along the right side of the trail.
Tall cliffs loom over the forest floor
This is truly a unique experience, and one of the most interesting hikes in Iowa. Be sure to visit the southern half of the park for even more cave adventures! Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter
Dogs are allowed on leash. At just under a mile roundtrip and filled with kid-sized caves to explore, this is the perfect hike for the whole family. You can visit in all four seasons, each providing a unique experience: overgrown, shady forest in summer; vibrant colored leaves in fall; icicles suspended from the caves in the winter; and wildflowers in the spring. This is one of the most beautiful places in Iowa and thus one of the most popular state parks. Hike early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid crowds.
At over 3 hours away from both Des Moines and Chicago, Maquoketa Caves State Park requires a hefty drive into the countryside. Use the Google Maps link below to navigate the rural highways you'll take to get here.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
Parking is free! There are flush toilets and a picnic area near the lot.