Caves, waterfalls, gorgeous tree-lined trails, beautiful rivers and lakes, and fantastic geologic features await at these seven Iowa State Parks in Eastern Iowa. Get inspired to explore the beauty that is Iowa!
*Thank you Travel Iowa for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions are mine.*
7 Eastern Iowa State Parks You Don’t Want to Miss
In 2020, Iowa celebrates the 100th anniversary of its state park system! With 61 different state parks throughout Iowa, you don’t have to travel far from home to experience the diverse beauty that is Iowa. In our fourteen years in Iowa we have only touched the surface of the many state parks at our fingertips, but every year we’re adding more to the list of places we’ve explored.
To celebrate 100 beautiful years, Travel Iowa and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources launched a new State Park Passport program this past June, and they are awarding prizes to visitors who check-in at state parks using this new passport!
Iowa State Parks Passport
To participate, simply download the new passport app on your mobile device or by or texting PARKS to 515-531-5995. Then, use GPS to check-in when you’re at the parks. It’s easy-peasy and and each unique check-in counts as an entry for the Grand Prize: a two-night stay at Honey Creek with golf, indoor waterpark access and more, as well and discounts at nearby businesses.
Entries for the Grand Prize will be accepted until October 31, 2020. One winner will be randomly chosen. Read the official rules for the State Park Passport sweepstakes here.
Backbone State Park – Dundee, Iowa
Iowa’s first state park, Backbone is located outside Strawberry Point on the Maquoketa River. It offers stunning vistas and the highest point in Iowa, a narrow ridge of bedrock called Devil’s Backbone for which the park is named. Our kids enjoyed swimming and hiking when we camped at Backbone State Park in 2016.
We also enjoyed exploring the Civilian Conservation Museum located at the park. Backbone is one of the most popular state parks in Iowa for good reason – make sure to see the waterfalls at the Backbone State Park Spillway when you visit!
Lake MacBride – Solon, Iowa
Just outside Solon, Lake MacBride State Park is another beautiful place to visit. Named after the “father” of Iowa conservation University of Iowa botany professor, Thomas MacBride, camping, swimming, boating, fishing, and hiking are popular activities here.
We’re looking forward to hiking to the Macbride Falls, the spillway between Lake MacBride and the Coralville Reservoir soon!
Maquoketa Caves – Maquoketa, Iowa
Maquoketa Caves was one of the first state parks in Iowa and has been a popular tourist attraction since the 1860s. We camped there many years ago and the kids adored hiking in a few of the many caves that are found at this park. Unfortunately, the caves are currently closed due to Covid, but the hiking trails and campgrounds are open!
Guided tours of the caves, when they’re open, help educate and prevent the spread White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that is killing large numbers of bat populations around the US.
Palisades-Kepler State Park – Mt. Vernon, Iowa
Located just off Highway 30 between Cedar Rapids and Mt. Vernon, Palisades-Kepler is another less frequented park right on the Cedar River. Featuring Native American Mounds, boating, fishing, hiking, and camping, it’s the perfect place to seek out the solitude of the Cedar River when it’s hot outside. There are also four cabins available to rent at Palisades-Kepler State Park.
You’ll definitely want to check out the American Gothic Barn on your trip out to Palisades-Kepler too. It’s just east of the park, easily accessible from the highway. Murals on three sides of the barn are fun to look at and photograph.
Pikes Peak State Park – McGregor, Iowa
The only park on this list that is still on MY list of parks to visit is Pikes Peak State Park along the northeastern border of Iowa and southwest Wisconsin. It’s located on the Great River Road Scenic Byway with stunning views of the Mississippi River. Featuring bluff-top views of the joining of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers, Pikes Peak State Park is billed as one of the most scenic areas of Iowa.
Wapsipinicon State Park – Anamosa, Iowa
Wapsipincon State Park is located outside the rolling hills of Anamosa, Iowa. It’s near picturesque Stone City which was a big inspiration to iconic artist Grant Wood. You’ll find water activities like boating and fishing, prairie trails, two small caves, nine-hole golf course, and more.
It’s one of Iowa’s less traveled parks and our family thought it was the perfect place for a picnic and a little light exploration. Our favorite was a very easy hike to Horse Thief Cave and watching the spillway from the bridge at the park entrance.
Wildcat Den – Muscatine, Iowa
Located just north of Muscatine off Highway 61, Wildcat Den is one of my favorite Iowa State Parks. It could be because it’s so close to home, but Wildcat Den is just a stunning place to spend a day. We’ve visited Wildcat Den in almost all the seasons and it is perfect. Our favorite things to do at Wildcat Den are to hike out to the Devil’s Punchbowl, pictured above. Splashing in the creek around the historic working grist mill is another favorite.
Have you been to these seven state parks in Eastern Iowa? A few more state parks that are on my must explore list include Loess Hills State Forest, Ledges State Park, McIntosh Woods State Park, and Black Hawk State Park.
I’d love to know which parks you’ve visited and what’s been your favorite activity at them! Don’t forget to sign up for the State Park Passport!