Dates: August 30 – September 2, 2015
Overall Score: 3.64 (out of 5)
Summary: This small but beautiful state park is best known for its caves, and for good reason. Although off the beaten path, the 16 caves linked by 6 miles of trails make this park a spelunker’s delight.
Recreation/Amenities: 4 – The 16 caves are the most of any state park in Iowa. They range from very accessible (walk-ways, lights, etc.) to extremely difficult. Case in point: back in 2012, two 20-year-old experienced spelunkers got wedged in a cold, narrow passage of Wye cave. It took first responders four hours to get her out and twenty hours to free him. Thankfully, they survived. A link to their story is at the bottom of this blog. Before entering the caves, visitors must receive training (a short speech) on White Noise Syndrome that has killed more than 5.7 million bats in 25 states. Basically, a fungus grows on hibernating bats, so spelunkers have to take precautions like wiping off the bottoms of their shoes before entering or exiting the cave system. Unrelated to the caves, the park also has several beautiful spots for picnics and relaxing in nature.
Hookups & Connectivity: 3 – electric only, with dump station. Water source is located in the camping area, but not at individual campsites. No Wi-Fi.
Local Vicinity Things to Do: 3 – Aside from the small town of Maquoketa a few miles away, we didn’t notice much to do in the local vicinity. It is, however, a good central location from which to do day trips to the Amana Colonies, Dyersville, and Dubuque.
Cleanliness: 4 – well-maintained campsite, facilities, and trails. The bathhouse was average/acceptable. The National Weather Service radio broadcast plays rather loudly, 24/7, next to the showers…a good way to keep campers aware of impending storms. (In good weather, you simply have to find the joy in being loudly and repeatedly reminded, while showering, of the forecasted barometric pressure in nearby Spragueville and Oxford Mills.)
Again, the quality, quantity, and varying intensity of the park’s cave system are what set it apart. If you plan on spelunking, be sure to bring a change of clothes/shoes and a headlamp. Also be sure to visit the ice cave where, in a single step into the cave, the temperature drops about 30 degrees. There are tall, mature trees throughout the park and deer roam freely. Park entrance is free and campsites were just $18/night. The sites are close together, but we were almost the only ones there so that wasn’t an issue. I’m told during weekends in the summer, the place is packed.
Cons – Due to inconsiderate souvenir hunters, there are no stalactites or stalagmites inside the caves. My only real complaint, though, is with the terrible campground/hiking map. It was the worst, least helpful one that we’ve come across. We would come to 2- or 3-way forks in a hiking trail with no marker as to which trail went which way. Other trails were marked with signs, but there was no indication of them on the map. We began guessing where we were and started following a series of unmarked trails that led to an intense hike up a hill to a ridge. Yes, for the first time in our many hikes, we were lost. Tired of guessing, I called the park office (no answer, and it cost me a man chip). I left a message and my number stating that we were out hiking and seemed to be lost, and they never called back. I finally resorted to using my iPhone compass to determine the likely direction of park headquarters, and we eventually found our way back. They need to invest in more signs and a better map to make navigating the caves and trails a little easier. I would also add that a follow-up call checking on our status would have been a considerate thing to do.
Aside from getting lost, we enjoyed the caves and recommend this state park in the middle of Iowa.
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