Backbone State Park

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Tucked away in the valley of the Maquoketa River lies Iowa's oldest state park, Backbone State Park, where the scenery is just dying to be explored. The rustic architecture of the park harks back to the time it was first established in 1920 and its charm has only been heightened through the years. The park stretches for a little over two square miles and offers all sorts of recreation for families, couples, friends, or solo adventurers.

The park is named for the natural geological formation known as The Devil's Backbone, a narrow, steep ridge of bedrock that was carved over by the river over several centuries. While staying at Backbone State Park visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities, including rock climbing, hiking, bicycling, fishing, hunting, boating, and wildlife viewing. Even during the winter, there is plenty to do at Backbone State Park, like snowmobiling and skiing, so no matter what time of year you plan your RV trip it's sure to be one to remember.

Backbone State Park and the surrounding area is packed with natural and cultural history that kids and adults alike will find riveting. History buff or not, don't leave the park without visiting the museum and learning more about the area. The rivers and lakes running throughout the park not only provide picture-perfect views but also attract a plethora of wildlife that you don't see every day, making it a special place for your next RV vacation.

RV Rentals in Backbone State Park

Transportation in Backbone State Park


Finding the park shouldn't be too hard, it is just south of Strawberry Point and right off of 129th Street, but beware of seasonal closings and check the website ahead of time to ensure the easiest route of entrance. The paved roads in the park make it easy to get from place to place, but the roads, especially the ones in the campground, are a little narrow and winding. Large RVs should use extra caution when maneuvering the roads. Depending on where your campsite is you may have to make a few sharp turns, but none that are too hard for experienced RVers. Since the campgrounds are far away from a lot of the action and the roads can be tricky, many visitors choose to bring an extra vehicle or bikes to get around the park. Bikes are great for using on the trails and can take you pretty much anywhere you need to go in the park. If you plan on staying within the park boundaries bikes should be sufficient transportation, but if you plan on exiting the park for food or shopping and then coming back, it would probably be easiest to bring an extra vehicle with you.


Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Backbone State Park

Campsites in Backbone State Park

Reservations camping

South Lake Campground

South Lake Campground offers a variety of campsites, with a total of 100 sites available. 49 of the campsites have electric hookups, but no direct water or sewage hookups. Luckily, there are water and dump stations nearby, so you still have everything you need. The campground is at the south end of the park, meaning it's not near a lot of the points of interest within the park, but the roads and trails around the campgrounds make it easy to get from one end of the park to the other. The campsites are spacious and can all accommodate RVs at least 45 feet long, although several sites can accommodate 50, 60, and even 70-foot rigs, so just make sure whatever site you reserve can fit your equipment. Most sites offer a picnic table and fire ring. The campgrounds are just a short walk from the neighboring lake. But that also makes it pretty popular, so reservations are recommended, but not totally necessary. Several modern one and two bedroom cabins are also available year round, but many visitors like to rough it out in their RV. If you interested in tent camping the nearby Six Pines Campground offers 25 sites that are mostly non-electric, making it an ideal spot for primitive tent camping. Sites that are open for reservations can be booked up to three months in advance. Pets are welcome to stay with you at the campground.

First-come first-served

South Lake Campground

A fourth of the campsites are non-reservable and only available for local sale on a first come, first served basis. So if you don't make reservations you still have a pretty good chance of getting a campsite.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Backbone State Park


Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing is a popular activity in the park for all the daredevils with an urge to reach the top. The rugged dolomite limestone cliffs within the park provide a challenging climb for climbers and repellers, but the adrenaline rush and fantastic views are worth it. The most popular spot for climbers is near Backbone Trail, but you can get more information at the park. If your ready to begin your rock climbing adventure make sure you don't set out without first registering at the park office.


For all your inner fishing urges Backbone State Park has you covered. Backbone is known for its amazing trout fishing. The stream is fed by Richmond Springs and is continually pumping over 2,000 gallons of water per minute, so there's never a shortage of fish. You can cast your line into the picturesque clear waters either on a boat or along the shore of the rivers throughout the park. Best of all, you can take your catch back to your camper and cook it up for dinner.

Hiking and Mountain Biking

Whether you love mountain biking or hiking, the several miles of trails within Backbone State Park provide the perfect setting for both. If you're looking for an easy and relaxing hike through the park, try out Bluebird Trail, which is only about two miles long and is suitable for both bikers and hikers. If you want more of a challenge, the nearly seven and a half mile forest trail may be more your speed. But be careful because there are lots of elevation changes and bumps on the way.


Cross Country Skiing

During the winter months after the snow begins to fall Backbone State Park becomes a winter wonderland of sorts. Even if you have explored the trails in the summer it's worth going over them again on cross-country skis for an unforgettable journey. Not all of the trails allow cross-country skiing, but the forest trail does, just be careful because it's the most challenging trail in the park. For an easier ride you may want to take a snowmobile down West Lake Trail or East Lake Trail.

Exploring the Museum

You won't want to leave the park without stopped the RV at the museum. Towards the middle of the park, near the nature overlooks and shelters is the Iowa Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum. The CCC built many of the building within Backbone State Park and the museum aims to provide more information about the CCC and the part they played in park development across the nation. The museum can be a nice escape from the bitter cold during the winter months, but it's worth a visit to any time of year.

Wildlife Viewing

Flora and fauna fill the park to the brim with their beauty. Although the wildlife is a little more limited during the winter months, the fall months are still a great time to spot wildlife such as raccoons, whitetail deer, foxes, and songbirds. Taking a relaxing stroll and trying to see how many different species of animals you can spot can be a fun way to spend an afternoon, especially with little kids that are fascinated by almost everything.

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