If you want to get away from it all, pack your RV and head for Iowa’s Wildcat Den State Park. Despite its isolated location and rustic nature, there are a lot of things to see and do at this park. Some of the rock formations are almost eight stories high. Furthermore, there are a number of historic buildings in this park, and two of them are on the National Register of Historic Places. Structures like the grist mill and schoolhouse remind people what life here was like so long ago. Wildcat Den State Park is also a serene jumping-off point for some of the other recreation areas located along the Mississippi River. That serenity also makes Wildcat Den State Park a nice place to enjoy picnicking, hiking, wildlife viewing, and more.
The RV campground does not have many more extras than the historic buildings in the park, and once again, that’s the point. Some sites are reservation-only and others are first-come, first-served. So, your Wildcat Den State Park RV excursion can be a pre-planned summer vacation or a spur-of-the-moment weekend getaway. Either way, you can still enjoy all the comforts of your rig.
Wildcat Den State Park is just a short drive west from Davenport along U.S. Highway 61. For some reason, there is an elbow-shaped curve at Blue Grass. But other than that, Highway 61 is wide and straight. There are a few other towns in the area, but Blue Grass is probably the only one you’ll pass on the way. Like the park itself, the area around Wildcat Den State Park is rather remote. Inside Wildcat Den State Park, you can park your rig near the picnic areas and near the major trailheads.
If you expect to watch TV and eat frozen dinners in your RV, you probably need to go somewhere else. But if you want to find some quiet solitude at one of 21 reservable campsites that are arranged on a loop, come on over. The RV park has a dumpster, but not a dump station. The park also has a restroom ara, but it has no flush toilets. Finally, drinking water is available, but only from May through September. Like we said, it’s rustic, and that’s not for everybody.
If you need a destination for a spur-of-the-moment RV camping trip, Wildcat Den State Park may be the place for you. Seven motorhome parking spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Drop-in campers have access to all the same amenities as reservation campers. As we said, that's not much, but that's why they call it camping.
Wildcat Den State Park has a half-dozen hiking trails. All of them are short. Only one (the Park Boundary Trail) is longer than a mile. All of them are also difficult. At many points, they are more like mountain-climbing trails than hiking trails. But that’s very common in the bluffs overlooking this part of the Mississippi River. Our top-rated Wildcat Den State Park trail is the Mill Trail. It runs alongside a creek. The Pine Creek Overlook is about halfway along this trail. Honorable mention goes to the Devil’s Punch Bowl Trail. It’s a winding trail which goes over some of the park’s famous rock formations as well as five picturesque footbridges. The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a waterfall, but don’t expect to see water falling unless it has rained recently.
There are two picnic areas at Wildcat Den State Park. The lower area is along Pine Creek. Some virgin forest area is nearby, so this spot is almost exactly like it was when settlers first arrived here. Part of this area is next to the creek, and part is further into the trees, so take your pick. The upper picnic area is not far away. It has both open and sheltered picnic tables. The upper picnic area also has non-modern restroom facilities which are open all year long.
This nearby facility is basically Wildcat Den State Park’s sister facility. Lots of people spend their days at Fairport and camp at Wildcat Den. FRA has two large boat launches and an RV dump station. For something completely different, you can also watch cargo boats loading and unloading at the dock.
Early Muscatine County settler Benjamin Nye built this grist mill in 1848. Today, it’s not just one of the few nineteenth-century grist mills still standing and in good condition. It’s also one of the only functioning grist mills in the country. Volunteers are working to restore the mill to mint condition. The mill operated profitably and successfully for several decades, but then the Great Flood of 1883 hit, and the mill never fully recovered. Today, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you’ve only seen pictures of one-room schoolhouses in books, or you have no idea what a one-room schoolhouse is, you definitely need to check out the nearby Melipine School. It was built at about the same time as the mill, and it’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years, volunteers have restored the building and also collected memorabilia, like desks, schoolbooks, teacher contracts, and other items. The walls are lined with pictures of the students and teachers who once sat in these desks and read from these books. Heritage Day is usually in September. It’s also worth mentioning that the only modern restroom at Wildcat Den State Park is near the school.
The Upper Mississippi is home to a diverse array of animals and birds. Bring your binoculars in your campervan or trailer and head to the aforementioned Pine Creek Overlook. It’s high and isolated, so it’s one of the best wildlife-viewing areas in the park. In late spring, just before the season begins, the wildflowers are also in bloom here.