We met some fun friends on Instagram who invited us down to their homestead in Iowa. We parked our trailer in their driveway and spent the evening petting chickens, horses, a rabbit, and kittens (I got asked several times by my kids if we could possibly take a kitty into the trailer with us….I said, Sorry honey, we ain’t THAT crazy 😉 ) Jess suggested to us that we check out Maquoketa Caves State Park on our way out of Iowa, and it just so happened that we had an extra day before we needed to be in Illinois, so we drove straight to the caves! We were even lucky to be able to find a last-minute campsite so we spent the night there, and woke up early the next morning to go explore the caves.
We had NO idea what to expect. The last cave we had ventured into was Wind Cave National Park, which the boys absolutely loved, but this was completely different! These caves were big and small, long and short, and were much more casual than the typical tours you encounter with other caves. We were advised to bring along a good flashlight, so Adam grabbed his giant spotlight as we headed out.
The map at the parking lot was a bit confusing, as it was labeled with numbers that I didn’t know what they meant. We picked a random path, and followed signs as we went. We started with the Natural Bridge.
From there,we kept walking to what was labeled as the “Up and Down Cave.” This ended up being a tiny hole that did just as its name suggested….went up, and then, if you stuck your head inside, you could see it going down. If you were small enough (and brave enough), you could crawl inside. We loved that the only restrictions to your exploration of the caves was yourself!
There were a few other small caves with fun labels, but soon we turned around and headed back towards the Natural Bridge, back underneath it, and towards Dance Hall Cave. Turns out, Dance Hall cave has a verrrry long Hall before you arrive at the open room, and this follows an underground river, complete with a lit-up sidewalk. It was exciting, and completely unexpected. We felt like we were run-away orphans using a (clean, non-smelly, non rat-infested) underground sewer passageway. Sorry is that weird? That’s a weird comparison but I can’t think of a better way to describe it!
Finally this passageway opened up to a giant room, and we all agreed it would be the perfect spot to camp in. It was cool, out of the rain, flat. We kept traveling to Ice Box Cave and eventually past Balanced Rock. Each cave was unique, and you never knew what you were going to get. We liked guessing what it would be like according to their names, but the names didn’t indicate much about them.
I kept telling Adam that if we lived close to this park it would be a place that I would come back to over and over again. We could explore so much here, and never get bored. This is why we self-proclaimed it the most kid-friendly state park in Iowa: it is a kid’s heaven full of hiding spots, creeks, and underground passageways.