Hiking Eastern Iowa Part 3: 2 Places to Take a Day Trip

So far this summer I have aimed to keep my family non-busy and flexible. I’d rather not spend too much time planning out the day-to-day. That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to go do stuff or to have a great day away from the house with my kids. I find that now they are older, we have much more wiggle room to just go do something at the drop of a hat. That includes spending the day out and having fun. Luckily, here are two hiking locations that are great places to just drop in, or you can plan ahead and be prepared. With that I give you two places just a short drive away where you can hike and have fun all day.

Two Hiking Day Trips

Trail Ratings

  • Easy- These trails have mostly flat surfaces, nearly no trip hazards, and are stroller friendly. Great for all ages!
  • Moderate- These trails have various elevations, some trip hazards, and could support stroller use. Great for most ages, could be challenging for the youngest children.
  • Intermediate- These trails have steep elevations, some height hazards, and are not stroller friendly. Best navigated by preschool ages and older–must have control of the smaller kiddos.
  • Hard- These trails have all the hazards.  Experience is necessary. Best for older children and adults

Maquoketa Caves


The whole intention of the hiking summer series is to make sure that each parent out there does not get in over their heads when it comes to fun in nature. If you hadn’t had the chance to read the first article in the series (links below), the short story was that I once took my very independent tots to the caves and got in way over my head. Keeping things from going wrong was stressful. Now that the kiddies are older, more self aware, and can follow instructions (for the most part), a nice day out to the caves is perfect. However, there are still moments that can be stressful. Especially if the kids are arguing about who gets to go first on the trail, and said arguing leads you to believe the kids aren’t watching their step.

Most trails are single file and very rocky... and if there was recently then super muddy.
Most trails are single file and very rocky… and if there was rain recently then super muddy.

The caves are one of the most beautiful places in Eastern Iowa, and everyone should experience them at least once. That being said, there is a lot to know about taking a day to go out there. The first, and most obvious, is to have a good handle on your munchkins and make sure it is a good listening day. The second is to make sure you are wearing clothes you don’t mind ruining. This is especially important if you are going out there after some rain; it is going to be very muddy. You are going to each need a flashlight and/or headlamp. It is even necessary in some caves to wear head protection. I would personally recommend jeans if you are planning on getting down and going into a lot of the caves. Sturdy footwear is a must. Little, bitty, cute Keds is a foot or ankle injury waiting to happen.

If you pack up a picnic you can enjoy lunch or dinner in a picnic shelter or amphitheater, which has some grills. You could even go for an entire weekend if you want to stay in the campgrounds. Taking children into the caves is an amazing experience. You can watch their eyes light up with a mix of awe, excitement, and anticipation. It’ll definitely be an adventure they will remember. Three of our favorite caves to check out are Dance Hall, Ice Cave, and Rainy Day. Dance Hall is an enormous cavern, and is the only cave that has electrical lighting. If you can only do one cave, this would be the one. Additionally, Maquoketa has natural wonders like the balanced rock and a natural bridge, if caving isn’t your thing.

On our way into Dance Hall.
On our way into Dance Hall.

Wickiup Hill Learning Center


So, you’ve read up about Maquoketa, and your family just isn’t there yet. Don’t worry about it. Instead, head up to the Toddville area and spend the day at Wickiup Hill. Sadly, we’ve been only a handful of times. However, let me tell you–we’ve been missing out. Wickiup Hill is a beautiful natural area with something for everyone. The hiking alone will keep you busy for most of the day. There are both prairie and wooded areas to hike, a wetland boardwalk, and Native American mounds. Additionally, there are opportunities to do some geocaching (18 caches show up on my app) or playing Pokemon GO (which is really just some virtual geocaching). With all of this ample space and trail length, it is an awesome place to let the kids go crazy with nature.

Furthermore, bird-watching enthusiasts will love this area. The learning center has blinds set up outside, but if the day is too hot, they also have couches and chairs set up to look out large picture windows. Linn County has also done a great job at turning the learning center into a hidden gem of the area. The interactive nature of the exhibits provide hours upon hours of educational fun. Seriously, it is so easy to lose time here. Even the grown-ups can have fun, because who wouldn’t want to pretend to be a raindrop to learn about water pollution and conservation.

These are three great hiking trails to get you started. Be sure to check out the other posts in the our Hiking Easter Iowa series:

Hiking Easter Iowa Part 1: 3 Great Trails to Get You Started

Hiking Eastern Iowa Part 2: 3 Trails to Hit in Hot Weather

Don’t forget to show us your trail adventures via Facebook or Twitter!


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