This state park has 13 caves to explore for free!

The interior of Dancehall Cave has a lighted paved sidewalk that runs alongside an underwater stream.

How much does it cost to explore the caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park?

It’s FREE. Parking is free and admission to the state park is free. The only cost is for camping sites if you choose to stay overnight. Camping information is available on their website: https://www.iowadnr.gov/Places-to-Go/State-Parks/Iowa-State-Parks/Maquoketa-Caves-State-Park

This is middle entrance to Dancehall Cave which has a long wooden staircase that decends down into the cave.

When are the caves open at Maquoketa Caves State Park?

Although the state park and the hiking trails are open year-round, the caves are closed during the winter to allow the bats to hibernate and not be disturbed. Typically the caves are closed between between Oct 15th and April 15th each year. During the summer months when the caves are open to the public, they typically are open from 4am in the morning to 10:30pm.

What is the easiest cave available at Maquoketa Caves State Park and what should I expect?

The largest and easiest accessible cave is the Dancehall Cave. It is about 1,000 feet long and the cave contains a lighted paved walking path that runs alongside an underground stream. There are three entrances to Dancehall, the upper entrance near the natural bridge, the middle entrance which is a large wooden staircase that descends into the cave and the lower entrance which has a large wide opening. It’s the lower entrance with the wide opening that helped give the cave its name – as locals used that portion of the cave to host live bands and have dances way back in the day.

Although there is a paved walking path throughout Dancehall Cave, there are a few things to note:

  • The pavement is always wet, as water is almost always dripping down from the ceiling and there is a shallow underground stream next to the walkway – and I’ve seen plenty of kids step into the stream thinking it’s shallow enough, but only to find out that they submerged their shoes.
  • For most of the cave you’ll be able to stand up and walk, however, near the upper entrance you’ll find that you may have to bend over as the height of the ceiling drops to around 3 feet tall.
Just outside of the upper entrance to Dancehall Cave is the Natural Bridge, which is not a cave, just an arch with a walk way underneath.

Tips for exploring the Maquoketa Caves State Park

Bring clothes that you can get dirty

Most of the caves will involve getting dirty, so its best to bring clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.

Bring flashlights – or better yet, headlamps

Only Dancehall Cave is lighted, for the other 12 caves you’ll need to bring your lights. Lights attached to headbands are best to keep your hands open for exploring, but handheld flashlights will also do.

Bring water and snacks

There is no concession stand, so it’s best to bring a bottle of water and your own snacks.

Bring bug spray for hiking

Of course, the caves do not have mosquitos, but if you are hiking the trails during the summer to get to the caves, then its best to bring bug spray.

After walking through Dancehall Cave, if you want to explore another cave – what is your recommendation?

After visiting Dancehall, hike along the trails to the west and look for Rainy Day, Ice and Barbell. Here’s a link to the cave locations map: https://www.iowadnr.gov/portals/idnr/uploads/parks/parkmaps/maquoketamap.pdf

The lower level of Dancehall cave is large wide entrance where locals used to bring in bands to perform for local dances, hence the name Dancehall Cave

What temperatures are the caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park?

The caves are about 52 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, so dress warm!

Is rock climbing allowed at Maquoketa Caves State Park?

No rock climbing, repelling or mountain biking is allowed at the park.

The staircase that decends down into the middle of Dancehall Cave.

Which of the 13 caves is the most challenging?

If you are claustrophobic, stay away from Wye Cave. The entrance to Wye is challenging as its a hole in the ground beneath a rock. You’ll climb down the hole about 15 feet. Within Wye Cave there are several atrium areas that are larger, but also be aware that there is a 12 foot section that is so narrow that only one person can go through at a time and you’ll be on your stomach crawling through that section.

YouTube video
A short video of hiking down the staircase near the upper entrance of Dancehall Cave then under the natural bridge.

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