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Ultimate Guide to Cave at Backbone State Park, Iowa (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

Ultimate Guide to Cave at Backbone State Park, Iowa (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

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The Backbone State Park near Dundee was dedicated in 1920 and became the first state park in Iowa. The varied landscape comprises Backbone Lake, various stone outcroppings, and hilly trails overlooking the water. Backbone boasts of a more varied topography than Central Iowa. The hiking trail is beautiful and a big attraction of the park. 

Backbone State Park Cover Image
Photo Credit: The Gazette

Backbone State Park is a perfect outdoor playground for families. You can go fishing in the trout stream or spend your time hiking and wildlife watching. Some of the Backbone Lake amenities include a swimming pool, a sandy beach with provisions of beach volleyball, shelters, and picnic tables. When you are in Iowa with your family, make it a point to come here. 

History of Cave at Backbone State Park

The initial 1200 acres were donated by E.M. Carr of Lamont. He had bought it in the 1890s to protect the Backbone Ridge from damage. The natural scientists and members of the Iowa Park & Forestry Association were convinced that it was a prime location for establishing a state park. May 28, 1920, was a red-letter day for Iowa park was officially dedicated to making it the first and the oldest state park in Iowa.

The park was named after the narrow and steep limestone ridge that was carved out by the river. This ridge was popularly known as the Devil’s Backbone. Since there were no swimming pools in the park’s area, the residents gave swimming lessons to their children in the river that flowed through the park. 

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps provided ample work, and the park became the site of multiple CCC historic structures. Most of the stone buildings inside the park were constructed by CCC between 1933 and 1941. Visitors can tour the CCC Museum and view its impressive collections and structures. 

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Geological Cave Formations

The rocks that are displayed in the Backbone State Park were deposited as lime sediments many years ago in a shallow tropical sea that covered Iowa around 430 million years ago. This period was known as Silurian Period. The sediments were chemically altered and formed rocks of dolomite with chert nodules.

The fractures, solutional openings, and the caves give adequate evidence of water movement through the strata at the Backbone State Park. There is a cave within the park wherein the walls are covered with flowstone, and there are stalagmite stumps inside the cave. 

Wildlife in Cave

Backbone State Park wildlife

Backbone State Park is home to various wildlife species such as deer, raccoon, ruffled grouse, turkey, and a huge variety of songbirds. The Backbone Lake has a good collection of trout, largemouth bass, and bluegill, and visitors are encouraged to try their hand in trout fishing. 

Is Cave at Backbone State Park Haunted?

The cave is one of the prime attractions of the state, but it is definitely not haunted.  

How Big is Cave at Backbone State Park?

The park is spread over 2001 acres. 

Cave at Backbone State Park Tours

The Cave is one of the many beautiful pieces of nature that you will encounter in this part of the world. It may look small initially, but once you enter the cave, you will realize that it is much larger than you had thought.

The inside of the cave would be cold and a bit wet but has decent geological formations. When you enter the cave, you will be amazed to see the flowstone-covered walls and the stumps of stalagmites throughout the length of the cave. It is a perfect beginner cave for spelunkers and one that even the kids can explore! 

Tour Prices and Discounts

Iowa State Parks do not charge any entrance fees. 

Is Cave at Backbone State Park Cold?

The temperature inside the cave at the Backbone State Park is a few notches lower than the outside temperature. So, it would make sense to come here and get inside the cave to escape from the sweltering summer heat. 

What to Wear?

You can wear loose and comfortable clothes to the park but what you would carry will depend on the kind of activities you would do there. We strongly recommend that you bring a set of swimming clothes so that you can splash in the water at the beach.  

Cave at Backbone State Park Hours

The Backbone State Park is open from 4:00 in the morning to 10:30 in the evening.  


What to Do (Beside Tours)

There is no time to rest as the place is teeming with activities. The 21-mile trail system is ideal for hiking, and you can hike through the twisted cedars and up the rocky staircases to reach one of the highest points in Iowa, known as Devil’s Backbone. You can rock climb the dolomite limestone cliffs, which offer diverse challenges even for seasoned rappelers. 


Backbone is famous for trout fishing in the cold and clear quick-flowing stream. Richmond Springs is the primary source that feeds the stream, and it pumps over 2000 gallons of water every minute. 


If you are coming here with your friends and family, you would enjoy boating on the Backbone Lake and enjoy the refreshments from the beach concession stand. Visitors can rent a boat from the boathouse, and one can access the boat ramp in the SW end of the lake. 


You can reserve a picnic shelter to range a family gathering. The Stone Lodge overlooks the lake, and it can be rented for family reunions and large groups. 

Best Time to Visit

The cave at Backbone can be visited any time of the year. 

How to Get to Cave at Backbone State Park

The Backbone State Park is 1.3 miles north of Dundee on W69. But if you want to reach the North gate, you should take Highway # 3 from Strawberry Point and go East. Then go North on W68 and reach North Gate, which would be 2 miles. 

Provide a safe bat habitat
Provide a safe bat habitat!

Hotels Nearby

You can stay for the night in one of the popular 4-season cabins of Backbone, or, if you prefer, you may camp on one of the campgrounds. The non-electric and electric sites are in the South Lake Campground, and the Six Pine campground is near the west entrance. It features non-electric sites and pit latrines. Most families prefer to stay in the South Campground as it has a large playground and shower-bathroom facility. Six Pines is less crowded but looks more primitive with pit latrines. 

 Cave at Backbone State Park Fun Facts

  • It is the first state park in Iowa.
  • The Richmond Springs pumps out more than 2000 gallons of water every minute. 
  • There are 21 miles of hiking trails inside the park. 
  • The parkhas the best collection of Civilian Conservation Corps historic structures. 
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Cave at Backbone State Park Details 

  • Length: The park is spread over 2001 acres.
  • Time Recommended: 2 to 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Kid-friendly: Yes 
  • Dog-friendly: Pets are welcome in the park
  • Fees: Free
  • Hours: 4 am to 10:30 pm

Visiting Cave at Backbone State Park

Do you need more information before visiting Cave at Backbone State Park? Call (563) 924-2527 or email Backbone State Park for an information packet. 

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