The state of Iowa is located in the Midwestern United States. Cornfields and amazing landscapes dominate the lovely pastures. Its capital Des Moines is noted for its collection of beautiful landmarks that include Des Moines Art Center, Pappajohn Sculpture Park, and State Capitol Building. But there is one other attraction that draws tourists to the state—caves. Boasting over 1,000 caves, the Hawkeye State has become a popular spot for caving or spelunking among its visitors. The most challenging ones are hidden from plain sight by thick forests. Here are the most popular caving adventures in Iowa, USA. Get ready to do some fun exploring!
1. Crystal Lake Cave
Crystal Lake Cave’s history goes back further than the state itself. Considered to be among Iowa’s hidden treasures, the cave has become one of the most popular attractions around since it was discovered. This is a place where you can go mining for gemstones and keep it for yourself. Another reason why this cave is popular among tourists is you can unearth many fossils of prehistoric animals. This amazing cave has everything guests look for when it comes to adventure. Just outside is a souvenir shop where you can buy memorabilia to take home.
Crystal Lake Cave
Address: 6684 Crystal Lake Cave Rd, Dubuque, IA
Website: Crystal Lake Cave
Opening hours: Varies
Price: 0 - 15 USD
2. Spook Cave
Spook Cave is located at the base of a cliff. You get to do this adventure riding a boat. As you drift along, an experienced guide will explain to you the history of the cave, its discovery, and its development into what it is now. The cave is filled with limestone, and there are thousands of stalactite and stalagmite formations throughout. It also has other natural features, and you are allowed to take photos. The route is lighted from one end to the other, which makes it easy for you to appreciate everything you see. Note that there are no walking and hiking trails here.
Address: 13299 Spook Cave Rd, McGregor, IA
Website: Spook Cave
Opening hours: 9am - 5:30pm (daily)
3. Maquoketa Caves
This has to be the most famous site for cave lovers visiting Iowa. Maquoketa Caves contains a network of caves lined with limestone growths and alluring scenery. A detailed discussion is held at the center for interested visitors. The talk is centered on how the formations came to be and the history of the park. Visitors who plan to camp within the park can avail of fully functional shower facilities and electric-powered grounds. There are hiking trails that will lead you through the caves. This is a family-oriented site where you can bring your children and four-legged friends as well.
Address: 9688 Caves Rd, Maquoketa, IA
Opening hours: 4am - 10:30pm (daily)
4. Decorah Ice Cave
Decorah Ice Cave contains vast amounts of ice and is among the largest of its kind in the Midwest. These ice formations are known to last until late summer. That alone makes this cave an amazing place to visit. Decorah Ice Cave has limestone and dolomite that were formed 450 million years ago. Winter is the time when the ice forms, as cold air goes inside and decreases its internal temperature. During spring, water from the surface makes its way to the cave and comes into contact with the cold walls and freezes. The ice is at its thickest in June.
Decorah Ice Cave
Address: Ice Cave Rd, Decorah, IA
5. Wapsipinicon State Park Caves
Anamosa is the place where Wapsipinicon State Park Caves is found. The park has two caves that continuously attract visitors from all over the world. The first is called Horse Thief Cave. This cave’s mouth is huge. However, it starts to narrow down a short distance away, then becomes impassable. A few minutes away from the entrance is an unnamed cave filled with ice. The second cave is a bit shallow than the first. What better way to spend your vacation than to visit two caves in one trip. These two caves are worth the journey, especially with your friends and family.
Wapsipinicon State Park Caves
Address: 21301 Co Rd E34, Anamosa, IA
Opening hours: 4am - 10:30pm (daily)
6. Cold Water Cave
If you are looking for a long caving adventure that will take your breath away, Cold Water Cave is the perfect place. Located under the farm fields of Northeast Iowa, this cave is the most noteworthy of all caves located in the limestone region of the upper part of the Midwest. In 1987, it was recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the Department of the Interior of the United States of America, an honor given to natural wonders important to the ecology and geology of their environment. This site provides more than 17 miles (27 kilometers) of passages made of rivers and karst.
Cold Water Cave
Address: Cold Water Spring State Preserve, Winneshiek County, IA
7. Backbone Cave
Backbone Cave’s main attractions include a stalagmite stump and a thin wall of rocks deposited by water flowing through. Its cool temperature makes for the perfect respite from the blazing heat of the sun. The cave has a low clearance, and because of the flowing water, the hike through is a muddy one. A column shaped like an hourglass is one of the breathtaking sights you will come across here. At a certain point, the crawl space becomes narrower, where you have to proceed sideways on your belly. This part of the cave is where you will hear sizzling sounds coming from a small hole.
Address: 1347 129th St, Dundee, IA
Opening hours: 4am - 10:30pm (daily)
8. Wildcat Cave
Stretching over 30 feet (9.1 meters) long in the mountains near Eldora is Wildcat Cave, a popular tourist destination. This cave boasts a subterranean river and can be handled by travelers of different spelunking skills. The entrance is dominated by a 15-foot-high (4.5-meter) red sandstone wall. Here you will find many signatures of cavers, some dating back to the 1800s. Fossilized vegetation is present as well. The headroom for the initial one-third of the cave is 6 feet (1.8 meters) on average. After that, you will have to crawl your way to the end. Because of the site’s muddy nature, visitors are advised to bring flashlights and wear gloves and knee protectors.
Address: 31504 215th St, Eldora, IA
9. Starr's Cave Nature Center
Starr’s Cave Nature Center has no less than three caves. The first is Starr Cave, which unfortunately is not open to the public to protect its bat population. The second is called Crinoid Cavern, and the third is named Devil’s Kitchen. The first was naturally formed by weather and time, while the last two were built by man. All were formed during the 1920s when a group of men was looking for zinc. To do so, they blew two huge holes within the center grounds. Today, these two caves are some of the most visited places in Iowa.
Starr’s Cave Nature Center
Address: 11627 Starrs Cave Park Rd, Burlington, IA
Iowa’s caves are the best
Iowa is perfect for visitors who are into caving. With so many to choose from, tourists can go for those with a river, limestone formations, and other features. One thing is for sure, these caves are some of the most beautiful and challenging in the country.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.