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Rock climbing. Trout fishing. Spend the day in Blackbone State Park and you may think you’re in Colorado instead of Iowa.


The heart of the park is a narrow and steep ridge of bedrock carved by a loop of the Maquoketa River once known as the "Devil's Backbone." Cliffs rising more than 80 feet, columns and boulders draw rock climbers. A spring-fed stream stocked with trout draws anglers. And trails and lake with a swimming beach draw hundreds of thousands of other folks every year.



Dedicated in 1920, Backbone State Park is Iowa’s first state park. The Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program established in 1933, developed much of the state park, building the dams on the Maquoket River that formed Backbone Lake, rustic cabins, the beach house, the boat house, roads, bridges and trails.


Things to do:

Backbone Lake, a long, narrow impoundment, is a place where you can swim, fish or paddle in a canoe or paddleboat rented from the boathouse.


There are more than 20 miles of trails and some are open to mountain biking. Most of the trails are found on the south end of the park.


Rock climbers will find a challenge on cliffs of rugged dolomite limestone throughout the park.


Campers can stay at 125 campsites located in two campgrounds, and visitors who don’t want to sleep on the ground can rent modern, two-bedroom cabins or a Civilian Conservation Corps-era cabin (but some are closed for renovation).


Why you’ll want to come back:

The trail system is open for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling during the winter.


Flora and fauna:

The hardwood forests harbor deer, raccoon, fox, turkeys and ruffed grouse.


Fact box:

  • Park size: 2,001 acres or 3.1 square miles
  • 2011 visitation: 350,000
  • Funky fact: Richmond Springs, located near the north gate of the park, pumps out more than 2,000 gallons of water per minute.

This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.


MNN tease photo: tiswango/Flickr


Backbone State Park: A user's guide
Rustic buildings scattered across this Iowa state park make the trails all the more worth forging.