Spanning 2,001 acres in northeast Iowa, Backbone State Park was dedicated in 1920 as Iowa’s first state park. It is an otherworldly paradise named for its narrow and steep ridge of bedrock carved by the Maquoketa River.
Caves, sinkholes, karsts, an active natural spring, 125 campsites and some of the best trout fishing in the state make for an immersive nature experience.
Distance from Iowa City: 85 miles, about a 90-minute drive
Nearby: Strawberry Point, Lamont, Dundee
Richmond Springs pumps out over 2,000 gallons of water per minute, feeding the crystal-clear stream that runs through the park. Head here for excellent trout fishing.
Backbone Trail’s rugged dolomite limestone ridge—also known as the Devil’s Backbone—towers 80 feet over the ground below, offering jaw-dropping views that conjure visions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
Featuring stalagmite stumps and flowstone-covered walls, Backbone Cave is relatively small and a cool respite from the summer sun.
Learn more: Check out Iowadnr.gov and Iowa Underground: A Guide to the State’s Subterranean Treasures by Greg A. Brick.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 178