Explore Iowa: Maquoketa Caves

Last weekend Cody and I made our way north to the famous Maquoketa Caves State Park. I forgot about how different everything looks there compared to the rest of Iowa… It’s almost as if you aren’t in Iowa at all. Only 45 minutes from home we found giant caves, steep inclines, and cliffs.

Getting there

Maquoketa Caves State Park is less than an hour from the Quad-Cities so it is truly a mystery why I have never taken Cody there. This was his first time at the caves.

We took highway 61 and exited onto Caves Road… Much of caves road was your typical Iowa landscape, but out of nowhere, a big sign that said “Maquoketa Caves State Park” told us to turn left.

As soon as we did, we began descending.

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A perfect representation of how abrupt the change from farmland to hiking trails is. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Before descending

Once we spotted the visitors’ center we quickly snatched up one of the only open parking spaces. The park was clearly a popular destination that day.

The caves usually have some wildlife experts standing by the entrance before visitors descend to the caves. They are there to educate visitors about the local wildlife. Sometimes they have live animals, which is my favorite part.

I have been to the Maquoketa Caves once before, almost exactly two years ago actually, and last time I was there I got to hold an adorably tiny snake.

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I thought there was no way I’d get that lucky again… To my delight, I was introduced to a big guy named “Pain.”

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My Britney Spears moment. Photo credit: Cody Johnson.

 Going down

We made our way down to the very first cave on the trail and the largest at the park, Dancehall, and were immediately stunned by its size and beauty.

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Entrance to Dancehall, from the inside out. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

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Walking through to the other side. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The hiking there was incredible, full of nature and different “nooks and crannies” to explore…

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Feeling like we were on the path to Mordor… Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

We loved going inside the caves and feeling the drop in temperature as we went deeper. The was one cave in particular, the Ice Cave, that felt like a refrigerator it was so cold!

 

Bats?

Cody’s biggest concern about the caves was the possibility of bats. They are his least favorite animal.

We asked the wildlife expert about them before going down the the caves and she told us there are no bats in the caves… Only in the trees. This response gave Cody and I mixed feelings. We were both happy that we would not be trapped in a small cave with them but did not know that the bats were actually much closer than we thought.

We spent the rest of our hike flinching every time a leaf fell or a butterfly passed… But not to worry, we saw zero bats.

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Cody looking for bats. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Bigger than we thought

We did not get to see all that Maquoketa Caves had to offer. The park is very large and there are many things to see and explore. Cody and I spent close to three hours at the park and still plan on returning to see more.

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Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The park services do a great job with upkeep, making it easier to access all of the amazing sights. Wooden stairs and bridges make climbing the hills much safer and more enjoyable.

Hunger hits…

Once we finished our hike it was far past lunch time and we were very hungry. We had heard from a few friends of a hidden restaurant close by that not many people, other than locals, know about.

After a short drive through back roads on gravel we arrived at Bluff Lake. A restaurant and catfish farm that has been open since the 1970s.

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A restaurant surrounded by a man-made lake that looks like grandma’s house. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The location is stunning. The man-made lake that surrounds the restaurant makes for a great view, there is even a flowing waterfall nearby.

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Outdoor seating at Bluff Lake. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The outdoor seating is great for a cool summer day and the indoor seating makes you feel like you are sitting right on the water.

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Indoor seating, awaiting our food. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

We came to Bluff Lake on a Sunday so we took advantage of the Sunday special. Although the food was pretty yummy I would not recommend this.

The Sunday special was all-you-can-eat shrimp and chicken… The shrimp was perfectly fresh and delicious but the chicken was not worth the price we paid.

We both thought we made a mistake and should have order shrimp baskets instead. It would have been more than enough to feed us both and it would have cost much less.

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Our meal, shrimp, chicken and catfish. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Bluff Lake was definitely an experience that everyone should try at least once when visiting the Maquoketa Caves. It is a one of a kind cultural location.

This post is a part of a series of posts highlighting my home-state of Iowa. Throughout the summer I will be documenting my experience at several Iowan locations that feature this state’s natural and historical significance. The goal is to show locals and tourists that Iowa is so much more than “flat.”

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