By Theresa “Resa” Leppert
Such a wonderful park so close to home!
For one of my first “local finds” posts, I of course need to keep it close to home! Maquoketa Caves State park is right in my “backyard.” I have been living in Maquoketa, IA, for more than a decade – and while I have visited “The Caves” (as the locals call it) for more than 20 years, last year was the very first time I ever camped there! What the heck? I don’t know why it took me so long – most likely because when we go camping, we usually try to go away from home, and 7 miles just isn’t far enough, LOL.
What incredible terrain right here in Iowa.
The Maquoketa Caves has an amazing landscape. If your impression of Iowa is flat cornfields – you wouldn’t be wrong – but you wouldn’t be completely right either. Local legend says that some settlers in pursuit of a wounded deer discovered the Dancehall cave around 1830. They were originally called the “Morehead Caves” as the land was owned by the Morehead family for a long time – but the land was acquired by the state around 1930 and during the depression, the CCC ran electric into many of the caves. Dancehall is a great cave for those of us who are claustrophobic – you can walk upright through it all, and it is lighted all the way through with a nice concrete walkway. There are portions of it that have small caves you can crawl through if you like – I won’t be going into those, though!
We’ve been hiking and caving there for more than 20 years.
My daughter is 25 now, but she’s been going to the caves since she was about 4. I bought her first waterproof flashlight about then, and we explored the caves all day and then went to the Maquoketa drive-in that night. I remember I had to go to Walmart to buy her new clothes because she shimmied through a lot of caves on her belly and she was so muddy, I could no longer tell what color her clothes were. I’m pretty sure I just threw them away. We also walked through the creek that meanders through Dancehall cave – right alongside the walkway. That creek is C-O-L-D!
It is a blessed 50 degrees in the caves at all times – so it’s delightful on a hot summer day! There have been many times Amelia has come home after a day at the caves and I made her undress in the garage because her clothes were covered in mud.
White-nose bat syndrome
The caves were closed to the public in 2009 because of something called “white nose bat syndrome.” This is a horrible disease that has a 90-95% mortality rate for the bat population. My understanding is that it has not been documented in Iowa as of now, but it has been found in Missouri, which isn’t that far from us. Such a horrible invasive disease needs to be contained. It makes me sad, though, because the caves are such an amazing piece of the local landscape, and it was a bummer not being able to go inside them for so long! I hope they finally figure out a cure so we can protect those little furry bug-eaters! They are so important to our ecosystem.
The caves reopened a few years ago for a while – and there was quite a situation! A group of youngsters were shimmying through one of the small caves off Dancehall and someone got stuck. Another young man crawled in and helped him get free – but then HE got stuck, and stuck GOOD. Three rescue squads from surrounding counties and 24 hours later, he was finally freed with quite a story to tell.
Caves reopen 2021!
As I posted previously in “latest news” – the CAVES ARE NOW OPEN. This is a big deal and makes a trip here even more worthwhile.
The stairs can be challenging for some….
There are 6 miles of hiking trails, and some of it is quite challenging – LOTS OF STAIRS. And I mean LOTS.
There are 31 campsites and 2 youth group sites available for reservation. All 31 sites are reservable – and they go fast, so plan accordingly! The tent sites are particularly cool, but some require a bit of a hike down a trail. If you’ve got a wagon, you might need it to haul your gear! If you’re interested in camping here, please let me know. I’ll come camp with you if I can, or just visit if I can’t camp that weekend. Hope to see you around the campfire!
History of Maquoketa Caves: https://www.iowapbs.org/iowalandandsky/story/31221/maquoketa-caves-state-park-jackson-county-iowa
You can find more information here: https://www.iowadnr.gov/Places-to-Go/State-Parks/Iowa-State-Parks/Maquoketa-Caves-State-Park
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Theresa “Resa” Leppert
Guide, Iowa & Wisconsin
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