A winter hike through Maquoketa Caves State Park

Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of Iowa’s most popular state parks, with up to 300,000 visitors each year. It also happens to be the state park that I have personally visited the most. However, I’ve only visited during spring, summer, and fall – until I had a chance to visit during the winter after a snowfall. It really is one of the most beautiful state parks, regardless of the season.

It was an early morning visit and despite the new snowfall, there were already tracks breaking through the snow. The hiking trails are open year-round at Maquoketa Caves State Park and they really are gorgeous during any season.

This trail runs under the natural bridge, which is a limestone arch that covers the trail that leads toward one of the entrances to Dance Hall cave.

This is the main entrance to Dance Hall, which is the largest cave of the 13 available in the park. Dance Hall cave has concrete walks that are lit – however, the lights are off during the winter months and they ask hikers to stay out of the caves as the bats are hibernating. I hiked down just to the opening of the cave to check out the entrance.

Throughout the year, the caves stay at about 58 degrees F. During the summer months, this means the caves are a great place to cool off from the heat. However, during the winter, the caves are warmer than the surrounding area and when the temperature drops, you can find a large collection of icicles near the cave entrances.
The icicles will not only form from the ceiling down, but also from the floor up. Basically, its just like stalactites and stalagmites. Of course, Dance Hall Cave doesn’t really have any true stalactites or stalagmites – as they were stolen by visitors over the years.

A large collection of icicles formed near the entrance of Dance Hall Cave.

Icicles covering the ceiling of Dance Hall Cave.

More icicles near the east entrance of Dance Hall Cave at Maquoketa Caves State Park.

Many of the icicles were over 10 feet long – and by the way, I’m not standing under the icicles. Instead, I’m lined up behind them, it just appears that way. If one of them fell and crashed into a person, that would be a major issue.

The east entrance of Dance Hall cave.
East of Dance Hall cave, the trail will take you through this narrow gap between the rock.s

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