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

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

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Located around 15 miles from downtown Dubuque, Crystal Lake Cave is worth visiting, even if you are not a cave enthusiast. The cave’s geological formations are stunning, making Crystal Cave an underground wonder of Iowa. 

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

Crystal Lake Cave, Iowa

This cave is the perfect destination for your family adventure. You should call the cave beforehand if you plan for the Wild Cave Tour, as it operates only based on reservation. 

History of Crystal Lake Cave

Crystal Lake Cave was discovered in 1868 by James Rice, a lead miner searching for the ore-bearing stone. The cave he found contained an impressive collection of crystals like stalactite, aragonite, travertine, et al. Initially, access to the cave was through a bucket lowered down by a rope through a 45 ft shaft. 

The ownership of the cave was passed on to Charles Linden and was eventually named Linden’s Cave. Bernad Markus, a son-in-law of Linden, began to develop the site in the 1930s as Crystal Lake Cave. Markus started operating the mine as a tourist attraction from 1932 till his death in 1944.

After his death, the ownership of the cave was passed on to Herbert Knockel and Evelyn, the granddaughter of Markus. The land ownership was again passed on to James and Doris Rubel in 1978. 

Rubel hired Dennis Flint of Dubuque to replace the high voltage lines installed in the caves in 1940. His background was handy when he placed the lights operated by motion detectors. Today it is the largest show cave in Iowa. The cave floor was lowered, and passageways were developed once a decision was taken to commercialize the cave. 

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Geological Cave Formations in Crystal Lake Cave

The beautiful geological formations inside this cave took around two million years to form. The cave system has been hailed by many as underground for mineral formations. Walking through the cave, you will encounter various helictites, stalagmites, and rare anthodites.

The general tour of the cave will take you past some fantastic formations with names like Lop-Eared Dog, Swiss Cottage Roof, Cliff Dwellers, and the lovely Lost Gardens. The best part is that all formations are nicely labeled, so you can always figure out what they are.

The field of soda straws looks cool, but since they were right above the walkway, you might panic that one of them will fall and hit your head! You may find more intricate formations in other caves across the state, but the sheer amount of soda straws in this cave will surely leave you surprised. 

Wildlife in Crystal Lake Cave

The cave is home to cave crickets and at least two species of bats. In the winter, one would find little brown bats and the cave bats enjoying the cave all by themselves. When the tourist season starts, they sleep deep in the natural tunnels, far from the tours and all disruptions. 

Is Crystal Lake Cave Haunted?

This cave is not haunted and is an iconic attraction in Iowa. It receives fifteen to twenty thousand visitors yearly who marvel at the beautiful geological formations. 

How Big is Crystal Lake Cave?

The length of this cave is 1 to 1.5 miles in a loop. 

map to Crystal Lake Cave Iowa

Crystal Lake Cave Tours

The tour at Crystal Lake Cave starts right from inside the gift shop. There is a narrow set of chairs built into the cave. The guide will take you into the cave, and you will already start seeing the formations hanging from the new part of the cave walls. A lot of water is dripping into the cave, making it evident that more formations are coming. The average height of the passageways is about six feet, with a width of two feet. 

The guide will take you through different passageways and point out the different formations by the name of Honeycomb Pillars, St Peters Dome, and Noah’s Ark, among others. The most favorite part of the cave for the visitors is Crystal Lake. It is a narrow lake about 4 ft wide and has a length of 28 ft. There is a hole in the cave walls, and one can see the lake only through this. 

One might feel claustrophobic while navigating through the passageways as, at many points, you have to walk sideways to get through. You must duck at many points to avoid hitting the lower ceiling formations. The cave tour involves a lot of fun and learning. The guide is knowledgeable and will answer all your queries. It takes an hour for the cave tour to get over. 

Another tour is called the Wild Tour, a spelunker’s delight. The thrill-seekers would like the tour as you are led through narrow and unexcavated passageways. It is a unique opportunity to see those portions of the cave you have never seen before. The tour is done mainly on hands and knees and lasts an hour and a half. 

Crystal Lake Cave Tour Prices and Discounts

  • Adults – USD 20
  • Children (4 to 11 years) – USD 8
  • Children (under four years of age) – Free

Is Crystal Lake Cave Cold?

Crystal Lake Cave has a consistent 52 degrees F throughout the year, but it does not feel as cold as the other caves. However, carrying a light jacket is still recommended.  

What to Wear?

Warm shorts and long pants are a must when you visit this cave. You can also consider wearing a light jacket or a hoodie. There would be many puddles in the cave, so we suggest you wear closed-toe shoes without socks. 

If you have signed up for the Wild Cave Tour, you must carry knee pads and a hard hat for your protection. 

Crystal Lake Cave Hours

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – 9 am to 5 pm

formations at crystal lake cave

What to Do at the cave (Beside Tours)

This is one of those attractions where you can do much more than just caving. Gem Mining can be an exciting and fun activity; your kids will love doing it the whole day. You can get the gem bags from the gift shop and come to the mining sluice to uncover fossils, gemstones, and many hidden treasures.  

The Gift Shop is another place where you can spend some time. It has excellent souvenirs, and you should be able to pick something for everyone in your family. There are sparkling gems and jewelry, intricately carved sculptures, and decorations. 

Best Time to Visit Crystal Lake Caves

The cave remains open from Memorial Day to the end of October. So, you can come here anytime although it does get crowded on weekends. 

How to Get to Crystal Lake Cave

This living cave is located 5 miles South of Dubuque on Highway 52. The cave is at the Mississippi River’s confluence of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. 

Provide a safe bat habitat
Provide a safe bat habitat!

Hotels near Crystal Lake Cave

There are no camping facilities here. Several quality hotels are located within 10 km of the property, such as Redstone Inn & Suites and Lorelei Cabins. 

Places To Stay Nearby

Crystal Lake Cave Fun Facts

  • This is one of the largest living caves in the country. 
  • Many of the large formations in the cave have funny and whimsical names, and they are perfectly labeled so that visitors can understand them. 
  • There is an underground lake inside the cave. 
  • The cave has large deposits of crystals, which are rare and found in only a few places in the world. 
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Crystal Lake Cave Details 

  • Length: 1 to 1.5 miles in a loop
  • Time Recommended: 2 to 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Kid-friendly: Yes
  • Dog-friendly: No
  • Fees: USD 20 for adults
  • Hours: 9 am to 5 pm (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)  

Download our Crystal Lake Cave Guide (Unofficial) 

Visiting This Cave

Do you need additional information before visiting the Crystal Lake Cave? Call (563) 556-6451 for an information packet. 

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