Plan a Day Trip to Backbone

Backbone State Park features plenty of brick and timber boathouses, bridges and cabins next to its signature attraction, Backbone Lake. Photo: Gisele Carbone Kruger.

By Beth Eslinger

Tucked away amid the rolling farm fields of Delaware County, the state’s oldest park delivers countless surprises. With 70-foot limestone cliffs (rock-climbing is a thing here), 21 miles of paths for hikers, mountain biking trails, and even fly-fishing for trout, Backbone State Park delivers some of the signature features of the Driftless Area within just an hour from Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Waterloo.

Founded a century ago, the park is known for its scenic cliffs and forested vistas and Civilian Conservation Corps structures. The CCC created a number of stone and timber structures, including a boathouse, bridges and cabins (currently unavailable for rent due to road construction; check Iowadnr.gov for availability). Just 3 miles away, Strawberry Point offers visitors options to explore local flavors. Yes, you’ll even find the world’s largest strawberry statue downtown on your visit.

Here are a few highlights:

Richmond Springs: With turquoise spring-fed waters and geological features such as a natural bridge and limestone cave, a short stroll through the northern section of the park will have you thinking, This is Iowa? There’s trout-fishing on the cool stream flowing out of the springs.

Devil’s Backbone: One of the most popular hikes in the state, this trek is a must-visit in all seasons (though those with a fear of height might want to steer clear in winter). The trek is named for the narrow ridge carved by the Maquoketa River. It’s a top spot for photos of cliffs and steep overlooks.

Backbone Lake: While summer is still here, it’s a perfect time to get out on the lake, which was created by a CCC dam. Activities include swimming, boating and fishing.

Downtown Strawberry Point: After stopping to snap a photo of the giant strawberry for your social feed, take a quick trip through downtown. Plan on a bite and maybe an overnight at the historic Franklin Hotel, grab a sweet treat from the soda fountain at Clayton Drug, and stop by gift shop Jake & Company for stylish home decor.

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