Discover Backbone State Park, Iowa

Backbone State Park holds the honor of being Iowa’s first state park, nestled into the rugged terrain of northeast Iowa. The park is renowned for its striking ridge of bedrock known as the Devil’s Backbone, which winds through the park alongside the burbling Maquoketa River.

This area is rich in history, with Richmond Springs, a source of crystal-clear water, at its heart. For those daring enough to revel in outdoor recreation, 21 miles of trails are tailored for every adventurer—whether you’re a hiker, mountain biker, or snow enthusiast.


Top 3 Facts about Backbone State Park


Iowa’s Oldest State Park

Established in 1920, Backbone State Park is known as Iowa’s first state park. The park’s creation marked the beginning of Iowa’s state park system.


Geological Feature

The park is named after a prominent geological formation known as the “Devil’s Backbone,” a narrow and steep ridge of dolomite limestone that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. This ridge results from ancient marine deposits and has been shaped over millions of years.


Rich Biodiversity

The park’s diverse ecosystems support various plant and animal species. Its forests, prairies, and waterways provide habitats for wildlife such as white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and various bird species.

Where to Sleep

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1054 Grace River Road
Number of Guests 8
Bathrooms 1
Bedrooms 3
Carbon monoxide detectors, Fire extinguisher, First aid kit, Smoke detectors
$0.00 / day
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JP Rest House

V262+C5P, Manikganj, Bangladesh
Number of Guests 4
Bathrooms 2
Bedrooms 4
Sq Footage 2,400
Carbon monoxide detectors, Fire extinguisher, First aid kit, Generator, Smoke detectors
$300.00 / day
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Juniper Cabin

3601 Monck Road,Kawartha Lakes,ON,CA,K0M 2L0
Bathrooms 1
Bedrooms 2
$182.42 / day

Hemlock Cabin

3601 Monck Road,Kawartha Lakes,ON,CA,K0M 2L0
Bathrooms 1
Bedrooms 2
$194.14 / day

Greenash Cabin

3601 Monck Road,Kawartha Lakes,ON,CA,K0M 2L0
Bathrooms 1
Bedrooms 2
$182.42 / day

Camping and transportation in Backbone State Park

info_iconBackcountry camping permits required for wilderness camping opportunities.

How to Get to Backbone State Park

Getting to Backbone State Park in Iowa involves a straightforward drive, whether you’re coming from within Iowa or from neighboring states. Here’s how to reach Backbone State Park:

From Des Moines, Iowa

  1. Head North on I-35: Start by heading north on Interstate 35.
  2. Take Exit 111B for US-30 East: Take Exit 111B to merge onto US-30 East toward Nevada.
  3. Merge onto US-30 East: Continue on US-30 East for approximately 130 miles.
  4. Take Exit 266: Take Exit 266 toward IA-150/Oelwein/Independence.
  5. Turn Left onto IA-150 North: Follow IA-150 North for about 25 miles.
  6. Turn Right onto IA-3 East: Turn right onto IA-3 East and continue for approximately 10 miles.
  7. Turn Left onto W69 (into the park): Turn left onto W69 and follow signs for Backbone State Park.

From Cedar Rapids, Iowa

  1. Head North on I-380: Start by heading north on Interstate 380.
  2. Take Exit 41 for IA-150 North: Take Exit 41 for IA-150 North toward Vinton.
  3. Continue on IA-150 North: Follow IA-150 North for about 55 miles.
  4. Turn Right onto IA-3 East: Turn right onto IA-3 East and continue for approximately 10 miles.
  5. Turn Left onto W69 (into the park): Turn left onto W69 and follow signs for Backbone State Park.

Places to Stay Near Backbone State Park

There are several options for lodging near Backbone State Park, ranging from camping within the park to hotels and vacation rentals in nearby towns. Here are some choices:

Camping and Cabins within Backbone State Park

  • Campgrounds: South Lake Campground and Six Pines Campground. Amenities include electric and non-electric sites, modern restrooms, showers and a dump station.
  • Cabins: Backbone State Park has several modern cabins available for rent. Cabins include heating, air conditioning, kitchenettes and bathrooms.

Bed and Breakfasts and Vacation Rentals

  • Greeley Guest House: A cozy bed and breakfast offering comfortable rooms and a homey atmosphere.
  • Check for vacation rentals in the area. Options range from charming cottages to spacious homes, offering privacy and amenities suited to various group sizes.
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Best Time to Go to Backbone State Park



Summer is the peak season at Backbone State Park, with warm temperatures averaging between the 70s and 90s Fahrenheit. The park is bustling with visitors enjoying various outdoor activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing at Backbone Lake. The extensive trail system offers numerous hiking, biking, and horseback riding opportunities. Summer is also perfect for camping, whether in a tent, RV, or one of the park’s cabins. The lush greenery and full foliage provide ample shade and stunning scenery.



Winter at Backbone State Park presents a serene and quiet landscape blanketed in snow that offers a different kind of beauty. Temperatures can be cold, often ranging from the 20s to the 40s Fahrenheit. While some facilities may be closed, the park remains open for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing activities. The trails and Backbone Lake provide a tranquil setting for those who enjoy winter sports and solitude. Winter camping is available for the more adventurous, and the park’s cabins can provide a cozy retreat. The quiet, snowy landscape offers a unique and peaceful experience, perfect for nature lovers who appreciate the winter season.



Spring is a delightful time to visit Backbone State Park as the park comes alive with blooming wildflowers and vibrant greenery. Temperatures are mild, ranging from the 50s to the 70s Fahrenheit, making it ideal for hiking and exploring the trails. The park’s diverse flora, including rare and endangered plant species, starts to bloom, creating a colorful and picturesque landscape. Spring is also a great time for birdwatching, as many migratory birds return to the area. The water levels in streams and Backbone Lake are typically higher, making the scenery particularly beautiful and providing excellent conditions for fishing.

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Must-See Attractions

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Devil’s Backbone

This narrow and rocky ridge is the highlight of the Backbone Trail. It’s the highest point in the park and offers panoramic views of the surrounding area.

The Backbone Trail

This trail is the park’s most famous feature, offering stunning views from a ridge of limestone cliffs that gave the park its name. The hike provides both challenging terrain and scenic overlooks.

Backbone Lake

A beautiful lake in the park where you can enjoy fishing, boating, and swimming. The lake is stocked with various fish species, making it a popular spot for anglers.

Helpful Tips: Making the Most of Your Adventure to Backbone State Park

Plan Ahead

Plan Ahead

Before you go, check the park’s website for any updates on trail conditions, closures, or special events. This will help you prepare accordingly.

Pack Appropriately

Pack Essentials

Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, a map or GPS device, and appropriate clothing and footwear for hiking or other activities.

Respect Wildlife

Respect Wildlife

Remember that you are a guest in the animals’ home. Keep a safe distance from wildlife, do not feed them, and observe quietly to avoid disturbing them. Also, leave no trace by properly disposing of your trash and respecting the natural environment.

Stay Informed

Be Mindful of Safety

Stay on designated trails, especially near cliffs and steep terrain. Keep an eye on children and pets, and be cautious around water bodies. If swimming, follow safety guidelines and swim in designated areas only.

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Travel Tips girl

Frequently Asked Questions about Backbone State Park

Yes, a camping permit is required for overnight stays in the park. You can make reservations online through the Iowa State Parks reservation system or by contacting the park office directly.

Swimming is allowed in Backbone Lake at the designated swimming beach area. However, it’s important to swim responsibly and follow any posted safety guidelines.

Yes, Backbone State Park offers a variety of hiking trails suitable for all skill levels. The Backbone Trail, while challenging in some sections, also has easier portions suitable for beginners. Additionally, the park has shorter loop trails and nature trails that are great for beginners.

Yes, fishing is permitted in Backbone Lake. Anglers can expect to catch a variety of fish species, including bass, catfish, and bluegill. A valid Iowa fishing license is required for those aged 16 and older.

Yes, Backbone State Park has several picnic areas equipped with tables, grills, and restroom facilities. These areas provide a scenic setting for picnicking and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Yes, Backbone State Park offers winter activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing when weather conditions permit. Visitors can enjoy the park’s scenic beauty year-round.

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