Maquoketa Caves State Park

Useful Information

Location: 10970 98th St., Maquoketa, IA 52060.
10 km northwest of Maquoketa. Take US Highway 61 south from Dubuque. Just before Maquoketa, follow signs to the cave and turn right onto State Highway No 428. Drive time from Dubuque is about 30 minutes.
(42.118801, -90.773785)
Open: Park: All year daily.
Visitor Centre: Memorial Day to Labor Day Sat, Sun.
Caves: 15-APR to 15-OCT daily.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension: Dancehall Cave: L=335 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Kathleen A. Roetzel, Michael A. Eigen, Robert Douglas, Patricia M. Emerson (): An Archaeological, Architectural-Historical and Geomorphological Survey at Maquoketa Caves State Park, Jackson County, Iowa. Volumes I-III.
Greg A Brick (2004): Iowa Underground / A guide to the state's subterranean treasures, Trail Books, Wisconsin. 223 pp, numerous illus. pp 55-60, 173-175.
Address: Maquoketa Caves State Park, 10970 98th St., Maquoketa, IA 52060, Tel: +1-563-652-5833, Fax: +1-563-652-0061. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1834 White settlers tracked a deer into Dancehall Cave, but known to Native Americans since time immemorial.
1860s becomes a popular destination for picnickers and hikers.
1921 first park land purchased.
1930 Dancehall Cave is developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA).
1991 45 ha on the east side of the park were listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.
03-JUL-2007 flood fills cave with 300 tons of silt, rocks, logs and cornstalks.
AUG-2009 caves closed for visitors because of white nose syndrome.
14-APR-2012 caves reopened.


Maquoketa Caves are a prehistoric site, several stone tools were found. There are 13 caves, but only a few are open for visitors. Other interesting features of the park are a natural bridge with a five-meter arch across Raccoon Creek and a balancing rock which weighs 17 t. The park is located between the Maquoketa River and the North Forks Maquoketa River, hence the name.

On 03-JUL-2007 the fall of 15 cm rain caused a flood down Raccoon Creek, which filled Dancehall Cave with 300 tons of silt, rocks, logs and cornstalks. The water raised 5 m in a few hours and dropped again 4 m, all in less than a day. The cave was the most heavily damaged part of the park, but the flood also damaged walkways and retaining structures around the cave. The cave was closed and was cleaned by AmeriCorps members, which took several months. It was almost impossible to get any machinery into the cave, so it took a tremendous amount of manual labor.

Only two years later, in 2009, the cave was closed again, due to the White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease of bats, which is caused by a fungus. To protect the bats, the cave was closed to avoid the spreading of the fungus by human visitors. But in 2012 the cave was reopened and a WNS Awareness Program was created which is required for all cave visitors. It teaches the cave visitors, how to avoid the spreading of the fungus.

Despite well-developed trails to the caves and even through some of the caves, we classified them as semi-wild. The caves have no electric light, and there are no guided tours, minimum equipment even for the well-developed ones is hiking gear, good walking shoes, a lamp, if possible, a helmet with headlamp. There is electric lighting in Dancehall Cave, but it is so poor, it is best to bring your own. Bring a change of clothes if you want to explore some of the smaller caves. Allow 2 to 4 hours to visit some of the smaller caves or a full day to thoroughly look at all thirteen caves in the Park.

The longest cave is Dancehall Cave. There is a winding path through the cave with a stream on either side. The passage is up to 7 meters wide in places, and the passage height ranges from 1.5 meters to 13 meters. You can stand up in most of the cave except near the three entrances.

The other twelve caves are: Barbell Cave, Dug Out Cave, Hernando's Hideaway, Ice Cave, Match Cave, Rainy Day Cave, Shinbone Cave, Twin Arch Cave, Up-N-Down Cave, Wide Mouth Cave, Window Cave and Wye Cave. Several of the caves have standing-height sized passages, like Twin Arch Cave, but Dug Out Cave is all muddy flat out crawls. Many of the caves still contain speleothems, straws etc. despite being open to the public.

A 10 km system of footpaths links all the caves, with staircases to cave entrances on steep hillsides

Text by Tony Oldham (2003). With kind permission.