7 Beautiful Eastern Iowa State Parks You Don’t Want to Miss

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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!

hiking at wildcat den
Hiking at Wildcat Den State Park

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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 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.

If you’re wondering which parks to visit, here are seven parks located in Eastern Iowa. We’ve been to all but one of them, and they certainly are beautiful! The best part, it’s really easy to keep your distance in these uncertain Covid times while you explore the beauty of nature.

wapsipinicon state park
Horse Thief Cave at Wapsipincon State Park

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 State Park
Lake MacBride State Park

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.

 Visit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website  to learn about alerts or closures before you visit!

wapsipincon state park
Hale Bridge at Wapsipinicon State Park

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.

american gothic barn
American Gothic Barn

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-print from Bozz Prints

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 river
Wapsipinicon River Iowa State Park

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.

devil's punchbowl wildcat den state park
Devil’s Punchbowl at Wildcat Den State Park

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 !

Grist Mill at Wildcat Den State Park
Grist Mill at Wildcat Den State Park

Looking for more fun things to do in Iowa? You will like these posts too:

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Pella Tulip Time – Holland in Iowa

Get out and Explore Iowa’s 99 Parks

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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1 Comment

  1. Our family has Backbone State Park on our bucket list for this summer! We too love Pikes Peak and went to Palisades for the first time this year and our kids really enjoyed it.