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Iowa State Parks to Explore This Summer

Iowa state parks offer unique explorable landscapes, making them wonderful destinations for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. In honor of Parks and Recreation Month this coming July, check out these five state parks in Iowa to visit this summer. 

[Originally published July 2023.]

Backbone State Park

Delaware County

In Delaware County, Backbone State Park is Iowa’s oldest state park and was dedicated in 1920. The park is one of the most geographically unique locations in the state, with rugged cliffs and a steep, narrow ridge of limestone forming into the highest peak in northeast Iowa—The Devil’s Backbone. For those who make the hike, the ridge provides breathtaking views of the surrounding area’s landscape. During summer, visitors can expect to enjoy trekking through the 21-mile trail system, fishing for trout in one of the many springs, boating and canoeing on Backbone Lake and much more. Though the concession stand is closed this season, guests can typically grab refreshments and snacks while enjoying their time on the water. The Iowa state park is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit iowadnr.gov

Maquoketa Caves State Park

Jackson County

Featuring more caves than any other state park in Iowa, Maquoketa Caves State Park is perfect for cave explorers, with more than a dozen to venture into. There is a cavern to explore for all cave diver types, including family-friendly and walkable spaces, while others are better suited for serious spelunkers who are used to crawling in tight spaces. Visitors can explore caverns, including the 1,100-ft. Dancehall Cave, Hernando’s Hideaway and the dramatic Wye Cave junction, to name a few. In addition to cave exploration, guests can camp in the spaces, though some caves require a permit. For more information, visit iowadnr.gov.

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Pikes Peak State Park

Clayton County

Visiting Pikes Peak State Park is a must this summer for those motivated by a scenic hike. Located on a national scenic byway in McGregor, the Iowa state park features over 11 miles of trails guiding guests through scenic bluffs and valleys. Each trek offers a spectacular reward, including views of Bridal Veil Falls, McGregor’s cityscape or a bird’s-eye view of where the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers merge atop a 500-ft. bluff. Mountain bikers are also welcomed on the trails, and be sure to keep an eye out for fossil remains, including brachiopods, gastropods and cephalopods. In addition to hiking and biking, visitors can camp on one of the several sites found throughout the park or enjoy a summer picnic under one of the gazebos. For more information, visit iowadnr.gov

Ledges State Park

Boone County

Ledges State Park in Boone County is a natural gem known for its towering sandstone cliffs, scenic canyons and picturesque hiking trails. Spanning 1,200 acres, it offers diverse outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, fishing and picnicking. The park’s stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife make it a popular destination for nature lovers and photographers, with common sightings of owls, foxes and northern bears depending on the season. For those looking to camp at the state park in Iowa, the grounds have recently been renovated and now feature modern restrooms, showers, a trailer dump station, firewood sales and a playground for little ones. From March to November, advanced reservations for campsites can be made through the online reservation system for Ledges State Park (a reservation is required). For more information, visit iowadnr.gov

Stone State Park

Woodbury County

Named after Thomas Jefferson Stone, a prominent local attorney and conservationist, Stone State Park can be found in Woodbury County. The diverse landscape features woodlands, bluffs, prairies, an extensive trail system, scenic overlooks and various picnic areas. The Iowa state park provides ample opportunities for hiking, wildlife observation and capturing the breathtaking views of Missouri River Valley with over 15 miles of trails and sightings from owls and foxes. The park’s nature center features educational exhibits, while camping facilities allow visitors to fully immerse themselves in the serene surroundings with the help of cabin rentals or sites for tent-style fun. For more information, visit iowadnr.gov.

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