Caving in Decorah

Northeast Iowa is part of the Driftless geological area shaped by karst topography, a landscape defined by the dissolution of carbonate rock such as limestone. The action of mildly acidic water eating away at the bedrock leads to large and small formations both above and below the surface. Features include flutes, sinkholes, vertical shafts, blind valleys, disappearing streams and reappearing springs. As the slightly acidic groundwater moves through the earth it dissolves the surrounding bedrock leading to the formation of caves. Caves are unique ecological systems that are a relatively common, distinctive characteristic of the Northeast Iowa landscape.

Area Caves

Coldwater Cave
Coldwater Cave is Iowa’s largest cave with over 16 miles of passages stretching from northeast Winneshiek County, Iowa, to southeast Fillmore County, Minnesota. Coldwater Cave was designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1987 and is the most significant cave of the Upper Midwest karst region. Research studies of the cave began in 1973, and restoration and conservation practices began in 1997 after over thirty years of visitation. There is only one natural, underwater entrance to the cave located at the base of a 100 foot cliff. This entrance requires scuba gear and is currently gated. Primary access to the cave is through a 94 foot research shaft. There is also a second, privately owned shaft entrance.

Ice Cave
Ice Cave is a small cave located near Dunning's Spring. Historically the cave was used to store ice that was collected from the river in the winter through the warm months. The entrance to the cave can be explored for a short distance.

Dutton Cave County Park
Forty-six acres located 2.5 miles northeast of West Union, north of Hwy 18. The park is heavily timbered with a deep ravine ending in 55 ft vertical limestone wall above a cave opening. The cave was discovered in 1848 by Lorenzo Dutton. The cave was explored for several hundred feet however the current explorable area has been reduced. The park contains camping areas, two electrical hook-up sites, a shelter, water, pit toilets and a hiking trail. The area also boasts beautiful spring wild flowers and bird watching.

Commercial/Show Caves

Mystery Cave
Preston, MN
(507) 937-3251 (Cave)
(507) 352-5111 (Main Park)

Niagara Cave
29842 County 30
Harmony, MN 55939
(800) 837-6606 or
(507) 886-6606

Spook Cave and Campground
13299 Spook Cave Rd
McGregor, IA 52157
(563) 873-2144