Speleologists, cavers, and spelunkers will agree that Northeast Iowa is a cave lover’s paradise. A speleologist is an individual educated in the physical properties, life forms, structures, and change processes of caves. A caver is an adventurous individual that explores and studies caves by hiking and climbing. A spelunker is a person that investigates and analyzes caves as a hobby. Regardless of which category a visitor is apportioned, at least one of these four caves in Northeast Iowa will prove a perfect choice for exploration.
- Backbone Cave: Backbone Cave is located in Iowa’s first state park, which was established in 1920, in Delaware County. A short hiking trail and rock staircase lead to the cave. The four foot ceiling height requires average adults to crouch or crawl. Visitors should wear hiking boots for safety due to the mud floor of the cave, especially after a rain. The 210 foot passageway progressively shrinks to a belly crawl, so visitors should be prepared to exit the cave covered in mud.
- Decorah Ice Cave: Winneshiek County is home to Decorah Ice Cave. The cave was donated to the city of Decorah in 1954. There are ice deposits inside the limestone and dolomite cave on the walls and floor until late summer. A rather steep staircase will make maneuvering difficult for mobility impaired individuals. Only experienced cavers should explore this unguided, noncommercial cave. Due to temperatures in the 30’s even in the middle of July, cavers should wear cold weather clothing.
- Dutton's Cave Park: The limestone cave located in Fayette County is in a 46 acre park. Lorenzo Dutton discovered the cave in 1848. The six-foot high cave may make walking difficult for taller adults. Less experienced spelunkers should avoid the lower passageway which requires a wetsuit and crawling. The cave is temporarily closed to the public until an infestation of White-Nose Bat Syndrome may be cleared from the bat population.
- Spook Cave: Less experienced cave explorers will enjoy a guided boat tour through Spook Cave, located in Clayton County. The expert guides point out cave formations throughout the tour. The flooded cave is a chilly 47 degrees year round, therefore, a jacket is recommended. Occasionally, the ceilings throughout the cave passage become low and require visitors to duck. This is a privately owned tourist attraction since 1955.
(Photo is courtesy of 20071005030 Decorah Ice Cave by Michael Massa at Flickr’s Creative Commons.)