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3 State Parks for Enjoying Iowa's Outdoors
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3 State Parks for Enjoying Iowa's Outdoors

Iowa offers exciting outdoor activities for everyone! Whether you like extreme sports, quiet picnics, or camping in the great outdoors - head over to one of Iowa's many state parks to get in touch with nature.  Here are three parks that are well worth checking out.

Backbone State Park 

Backbone State Park is Iowa's very first state park which dates back to 1920 and it's a great place to see a geographically unique landscape. The park is named after the narrow and steep ridge that was formed from Maquoketa River erosion and marks the highest point in the state's northeast - the Devil's Backbone. The park offers a variety of exciting activities such as boating, camping, rock climbing, hiking or simply having a relaxing (or maybe romantic?) picnic.

For those who love to hike, there is a meandering 21-mile trail system that winds around several visually diverse areas. In the summer months, walk past windblown conifers and rocky staircases and in the winter take the seasonal plunge into winter sports like cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The park is also a refuge to wildlife and  you may see raccoon, foxes, grouse, and deer along trails or on the roadside. Stay a few nights in one of two campgrounds or in any of their modern or deluxe cabins. 

Fort Defiance State Park 

Fort Defiance State Park sits on 191 acres of former sawmill property and became a park in 1930. The park is open year-round and is an amazing recreational outdoor facility.

It contains sixteen camp sites, so make sure to bring your tent and some marshmallows for a late night snack under the stars. Or if sitting at a table is more your style, there is a large picnic pavilion that is open on a first-come, first-serve basis. These camp sites are a little more rustic and only a handful of sites are provided with an electrical connection. NOTE: There are no flushing toilets or showers - so be prepared for something rustic.  

Maquoketa Caves State Park

Caves are always exciting places to explore, and at Maquoketa Caves State Park, it is your chance to travel deep into America's geological heart. There have been discoveries of Indian pottery and tools around the park which date back hundreds of years, suggesting that these grounds had been spiritually significant at one time.

The caves were discovered in the 1830's when milky-white stalactites hung from the cavern's ceiling.  Unfortunately these were stolen by tourists from yesteryear and only a few remain.  

The park is a lovely backdrop for picnics, or stay a while on one of the 29 campsites which are hidden among towering pine trees. Hikers will enjoy the picturesque scenery along 6 miles of trails with highlights including some of nature's finest paleolithic architecture: the dramatic 'Natural Bridge" which stands 50 feet above Raccoon Creek, a massive seventeen-ton balancing rock, and the "dance hall cave" - perfect for your disco party set in the wilderness. 

The park is wonderful for geology enthusiasts and it is your chance to get up close and personal with limestone formations. 


*Image of Maquoketa Caves from



Leave a Comment

  1. Green Vegan
    Stealing stalactites??? Ridiculous. Anyways, voted! Great article!
    Log in to reply.
  2. Travel Iowa Team
    Travel Iowa Team
    Thank you for blogging about Iowa's state parks! We've shared your post on Pinterest here:
    Log in to reply.


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