Maquoketa Caves

Cave Entrance

Looking more like a scene from Costa Rica, the landscape of Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of rugged cliffs, and lush green forest. Containing the most caves of any state park in Iowa, Maquoketa boasts 13 caves along its 6 miles of winding trails. Many caves have tight passages where crawling is a must, while several are large enough for uninhibited walking.

Foggy Dancehall Cave

The largest cave of the park, at 1100 feet in length, is Dancehall Cave. A lighting system and concrete path makes this cave one of the most accessible in the park. A steam runs through the cave, and during one of our visits right after a rain, the path was covered in several inches of running water. Dozens of children walked through the silty water to explore the cave, all covered head to toe in mud, as if they were dipped in chocolate.

Cave Path

All the caves are self-guided, and open to the public. Each visitor to the park must stop at the ranger station to hear a bit about white nose syndrome, a fungal disease affecting bats. To keep this fungus from spreading to this cave system, visitors need to wipe their shoes on special mats, and should never wear the same clothes to multiple cave systems.

Exploring Dancehall Cave

The caves are spread around the park, so as one hikes through the dense and rocky landscape, they happen upon cave after cave. All are open, but many require one to belly crawl and squeeze into very tight areas. Not being equipped for such an adventure, and because of the storms the night before, we only explored the caves where we could stand or crawl on all fours.

High Water in the Dancehall

Wedge Rock

On Top of Wedge Rock

A popular feature of Turkey Run State Park's trail #3 is Wedge Rock.  This huge chunk of rock separated from the canyon wall long ago, and rested in this position. The rock is shaped like a wedge, and its position allows hikers to walk beneath it as well as on top of it.  While it certainly is dangerous to stand on top close to the edge (it's probably a 30 foot drop), the path up to the edge is rather easy to climb. The rock provides a long, ramp-like approach with plenty of twisted tree roots to gain a foothold.

One can only imagine the noise this must have made when it fell, and it probably shook the ground for a long distance around. As you hike in places like this, it makes you wonder when the next huge chunk of rock will fall.

From the Waterfall

These winding canyons amaze visitors in all seasons, but the late spring and summer months provide some benefits. The canyons are much cooler than the temperature elsewhere in the park - sometimes 20 degrees cooler, providing welcome relief from the summer heat. The trees are fully developed and shade the canyons, and filter the sunlight through their green leaves. The filtered light bathes the canyons in a wonderful green light, especially in full sun.

An interesting park to visit anytime of the year, Turkey Run State Park really comes to life in the Spring and Summer.

Keeping Dry

Staying Dry

One of the appealing things about Turkey Run State Park is the opportunity to hike directly on the canyon floor where at times the stream is the only trail.  In parts of trail 3, the canyon narrows to only four or five feet wide, and hikers walk directly in the stream.  There is one way around, and it consists of some steps carved into the canyon wall.

Keeping Dry

At first these steps appear wide enough for a comfortable climb, but at the top, they narrow to the point where only one foot can fit onto a step.  People with wide shoulders or large backpacks may find it difficult to walk in this area without turning their shoulders almost 90 degrees.  While not too high up, a fall from this 10 foot high walkway would certainly cause injury. Some hikers choose to get their feet wet to avoid the potential danger.

Narrow Passage

The canyon changes from four feet wide to 30 as you hike along this portion of trail 3.  Eventually, it opens up to an expansive area at the base of a gentle waterfall.

The Ladders

Bottleneck at the Ladders

Continuing along Trail 3 at Turkey Run State Park, the level of the canyon changes dramatically, forcing hikers to climb to the next level.  Ladders were installed to assist with the climb - they're fitting for this rugged trail, as stairs would certainly ruin the experience.  The ladders only allow a single person at a time to move to the next level, so small bottlenecks of traffic occur at this point on the trail. The scenery makes the wait enjoyable.

Water runs next to the ladders, as well as underfoot as you approach them.  The small waterfalls flow all around you as you ascend.

The Ladders of Trail Three

Once up the ladders, the canyon below comes into view, and what once appeared quite wide and large, seems tight and narrow when viewed in perspective with the surrounding forest.

Walking in the Canyon

The first people to explore this area probably didn't notice these canyons as they walked through the forest, until they almost fell into them traveling between ridges.

Lush Green Canyons

Lush Green

When we last visited Turkey Runs State Park, it was winter.  The canyons and trails were beautiful back then, and we noticed plenty of thick moss on the forest floor.  I wondered how it might look in the summertime - the trees must fill out so thick they almost completely block the sun.

On this visit, we were treated with a remarkable green light from the canopy.  The trails were lined with huge trees, providing lots of shade on the forest floor.  The most spectacular thing was how the trees covered the canyons, and the green light they provided in contrast to the dark rock.  Standing on the floor of the canyon looking up at the lush green was remarkable - especially when the sun was strong.

Green Canyon Trail

It's amazing how the vast forest above dwarfs visitors as they walk through the deep, damp gorge; people seem as small as insects.

Entering the Canyon

Every turn in the trail brings new things to see and experience. The anticipation of what lies ahead drives you to walk further and further, not wanting to wait to compose the perfect photograph.  It's always a great idea to soak in the surroundings no matter how much of a hurry you're in - just stop, look around, listen, and try to experience everything nature has to offer.

The Ice Box

Hiking to the Ice Box

Our morning hike began on trail 3, one of the more rugged trails of Turkey Run State Park. On previous visits, we exited the trail at the Ice Box, but this time we decided to begin at the Ice Box.  Taking the trail in reverse would give us a different perspective of the trail.

Deep in the Ice Box

The warm weather allowed us to hike to the bank of Sugar Creek on our way to the canyons. Dozens of canoes and kayaks floated by in the few minutes we explored the bank. Swallows swooped down near us as we walked beneath their mud nests clinging to the underside of the canyon walls.

From the creek, we hiked up the steep bank toward the Ice Box.  Immediately we noticed the dramatic drop in temperature, almost as if we were entering a cave system.  Only a bit of water flowed from the canyon above, dripping on the logs and rocks below, but enough to get the camera gear wet if we weren't paying attention.

Climbing Out of the Ice Box

Eager to press on to see the rest of the canyons and waterfalls, we climbed out of the Ice Box. Large, exposed tree roots clung to the rugged canyon walls, creating a makeshift set of stairs for us to use. Because we were taking the trail in reverse this time, climbing up this "staircase" was easier but more dramatic than heading down.

Beneath the Narrows

Beneath the Narrows

A hot spring day was perfect for paddling on Sugar Creek. Hundreds of people took to canoes and kayaks, as well as rafts and innertubes, and floated liesurely down the creek, through Turkey Run State Park in rural Parke County, Indiana.  A picturesque park located about 40 miles due west of Indianapolis, visitors can float and paddle on the creek, or hike the rugged trails that wind through the canyons.

Floating Through the Narrows

This spot called the Narrows, is a narrow portion of Sugar Creek, where a covered bridge was built back in 1883. At 137 feet long, the wooden structure is now closed to traffic, but open to pedestrians. Only $3,400 to build, the bridge uses the Burr Arch truss construction, typical of the covered bridges in Parke County.

One of over 30 covered bridges in the county, this bridge is on the border of Turkey Run State Park, and can be crossed by taking trail 1 or 2 from the visitor center.  It can also be viewed by driving north along Narrows Road from Indiana 47, just east of the park entrance.