Grab your flashlights and get ready to explore some cool caves within a short drive from Cedar Rapids. In fact, grab your jackets, too, because no matter the weather, these caves really are cool. Most stay at a constant temp in the lower 50s. Your kids will love to explore, imagine, and learn when checking these caves all within about an hour from Cedar Rapids!
1. Maqouketa Caves
Maqouketa Caves has to be one of the coolest state parks in Iowa! The Maquoketa caves have so much to explore! A trail system connects the caves, formations, and overlooks, so it’s hard to get lost and easy to be wowed! Bike helmets for kids is a good idea since it’s easy to hit your head on the uneven cave ceilings. Flashlights, especially headlamps, are highly recommended. Sadly, they may be currently closed for COVID, but make sure you don’t miss these when they reopen!
2. Crystal Lake Caves
Miners discovered this cave near Dubuque in 1868 while drilling for lead. Crystal Lake Cave is open for tours of 10 people or less during COVID. You do need a reservation ahead of time and plan to wear a mask. You enter the caves through the gift shop, so it doesn’t look like much when you arrive, but don’t be fooled. A tour guide leads you on a 30-45 minute adventure through the caves where you can learn a lot and ask questions. This may not be the best trip for babies and toddlers, but elementary age and above will definitely be impressed. No flashlights needed! Also, check out The Mines of Spain Nature Preserve which is very close by for hiking trails.
3. Wapsipinicon State Park
A trip to Wapsipinicon State Park near Anamosa isn’t complete without visiting the Horse Thief Cave. Legend has it that two horse thieves used this cave for their camp. There’s also the Ice Cave, which can cool you down even in on the hottest summer day. Even though these caves are smaller, you will still want a flashlight here! The park is also beautiful with many trails, a playground, and picnic areas so all ages are sure to enjoy your adventure here!
4. Backbone State Park
We went to Backbone for the first time a few weeks ago and already made plans to go back because we missed the cave! We entered the park on the northwest side, parking at the North & South Flats Shelter areas where you can access the creek and playground. (Bring a net and a bucket if you want to study some water creatures with the kids!) There is a bathroom there, but you may want to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer just in case they are not supplied!
We hiked a nearby trail that was challenging with many unexpected surprises – like a hollowed-out tree all the kids fit inside! The hike could be challenging for someone with a baby or toddler as there are many places with drop-offs. We plan to go back soon with flashlights and explore the cave as well as try some new trails!
5. Bixby State Preserve
There is one small cave at Bixby, but it’s still really cool! You can feel the icy cold air from the cave before you reach it and there is freezing cold water that runs out from the cave when you follow the trail. This is another great place to bring a net and bucket and plan to get a little wet as the many of trails follow streams. Although there are no bathrooms at Bixby, it’s only 3 miles from Edgewood, Iowa where you can stop at Casey’s right before you drive into this beautiful & quiet preserve. There is also a nice playground and picnic shelter across from the gas station, so you could even stop for some playtime and a picnic on your way home.
If you still can’t get enough caves, here are a few more caves up to two hours away from the Cedar Rapids area:
Are there any cool caves I missed? Let me know in the comments! Happy exploring!
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