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Ultimate Guide to Coldwater Cave, Iowa (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

Ultimate Guide to Coldwater Cave, Iowa (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

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Coldwater Cave is the longest cave in Iowa and is located beneath the hills of a farm country in northeast Iowa. It is the most significant cave in the Upper Midwest Karst region, and it was given the status of a National Natural Landmark by the US Department in 1987. The status has been given, keeping the cave’s geologic and ecologic features in mind. 

Ultimate Guide to Coldwater Cave, Iowa (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)

Coldwater Cave, Iowa

It is said this cave has a class of its own. It is not easy to discover places like these in Iowa and that too underneath a pasture. If you consider the size of the cave, it is massive, and the main passage is so large that it resembles a subway tunnel. Most of the caves in Iowa are muddy and small, but this one is a pleasant exception. 

History of Coldwater Cave

The cave was discovered in 1967 by a couple of Iowa Grotto members, Steve Barnett and Dave Jagnow. They investigated springs in Winneshiek County to understand the cave potential. They understood that Coldwater Springs throws out a large volume of water from the base of a limestone bluff. The local people were circulating many stories about cave passages in the bluff that could be entered. However, a farmer had allegedly blasted the cave entrance shut as he had lost livestock there. 

In December 1969, Barnett and Jagnow presented their find to the Iowa State Conservation Commission. The local farmers, Ken and Wanda Flatland had seen many sinkholes on their land and heard of other farmers who lost their livestock down these mysterious holes. The experts later discovered that the Coldwater Cave ran under a section of the Flatland farm. The State legislature arranged for financial assistance.

The Iowa Geological Survey drilled a 94 ft hole so that the visitors could descend into the largest known cave in the Upper Midwest. However, the state authorities quickly understood that the new find could not be classified as a casual tourist destination, and they abandoned the plans of installing lighted concrete walkways. The pristine nature of this cave has encouraged the spelunkers to come back again and again. 

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Geological Cave Formations in Coldwater Cave

This cave is an intricate network of tunnels, domes, and rock formations wherein the water has carved the limestone for thousands of years. The cavers and scientists have mapped this cave for close to 50 years now.

One must climb down six stories of the ladder, almost 100 ft into the Earth, to truly experience this cave. The cave contains geological formations like stalactites and stalagmites that would glisten in your helmet lights.

The cave ceiling is filled with beautiful rock formations, flowing curves of stone like bacon, and draperies of rock. As you proceed deep into the cave, you can view small stalactites and tiny rock icicles that have been given the name of soda straws. The cave has 155 domes, impressive waterfalls, and massive white flowstone. 

Wildlife in Coldwater Cave

Several species of invertebrates are commonly found in these caves, and you will also come across the tiny critters usually found in caves. 

Is Coldwater Cave Haunted?

This cave is a pristine location, and many tourists visit it yearly. There have never been any adverse reports about this cave, which is undoubtedly not haunted. 

How Big is Coldwater Cave?

Explorations and research have revealed more than 17 miles of documented passages. 

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Coldwater Cave Tours

This cave is one of the extensive karst cave systems in the Driftless Area. It houses 4 miles of Coldwater Creek, a cold-water trout stream, and a tributary to the Upper Iowa River. It is the longest cave in Iowa and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1987.

Visitors can hike along a marked path to see the cave entrance, but the authorities have gated this underwater entrance. The cave is closed to tourists. The fluctuating water levels and the risk of serious injury have forced the authorities to allow only the experienced adult cavers limited access to the cave. 

The authorities had decided that the means of descending to the cave is not fit for a casual tourist. However, the cave has a spotless safety record, and there have been only minor injuries.

Still, keeping in mind the perils of descending into this cave, it has been decided to keep the cave closed to the public. It is a real pity that visitors do not get a chance to see the magnificent geological formations inside this cave. 

Coldwater Cave Tour Prices and Discounts

No tours are available for Coldwater Cave, and there are no entrance charges for the cave as entry to the cave is not allowed. 

Is Coldwater Cave Cold?

There is waist-deep water inside Coldwater Cave; its temperature is around 38 degrees F, and the air temperature is around 47 degrees F. 

What to Wear?

You can wear clothes in which you are comfortable. No special preparation is needed as the cave is gated and off-limits to the public. However, you should wear a good pair of hiking shoes as you need to hike along an earmarked path to see the cave entrance. 

Coldwater Cave Hours

The cave can be visited anytime from sunrise to sunset. 


What to Do at Coldwater Cave (Beside Tours)

Visitors cannot access the cave, and its surroundings haven’t been developed for tourism purposes. You can enjoy the view of the Coldwater Spring emanating from Coldwater Cave and look at the pristine surroundings before making your way back. 

Best Time to Visit Coldwater Caves

Coldwater Caves can be visited any time of the year. 

How to Get to Coldwater Cave

This cave is 3 miles northwest of Bluffton off Coldwater Creek Road. There is only one natural entrance to the cave: a water-filled spring. Access to this entrance requires SCUBA, and the underwater entrance is currently gated. The main entry point to the cave is through a 94 ft shaft drilled by Iowa State authorities in the 1970s for research purposes. A second shaft was drilled in 2003 and is located 1 mile downstream from the Flatland Entrance. 

Provide a safe bat habitat
Provide a safe bat habitat!

Hotels near Coldwater Cave

Camping is not possible in or near Coldwater Cave, but Winneshiek County has great hotel options. You can select a hotel per your budget and book an overnight stay. 

Places To Stay Nearby

Coldwater Cave Fun Facts

  • The cave has only one natural entrance, and the 2nd one was drilled only in 2003. 
  • A small river flows through the belly of the cave. 
  • The cave has low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels, making it difficult to access for inexperienced spelunkers. 
  • Both the entry points of the Coldwater Cave are on private property. 
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Coldwater Cave Details 

  • Length: More than 17 miles. 
  • Time Recommended: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Very Difficult
  • Kid-friendly: No
  • Dog-friendly: Yes
  • Fees: Free
  • Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Download our FREE Coldwater Cave Guide (Unofficial) 

Visiting Coldwater Cave

Do you need more information before visiting Coldwater Cave? Call (319) 643-3501 or email them for an information packet. 

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