Believe it or not, there’s more to Iowa than just cornfields. Dubuque offers a fascinating, diverse landscape that’s begging to be hiked. With the promise of limestone bluffs, meandering creeks, and dramatic canyons, it’s an outdoor lover’s dream. If you’re looking to escape the city and experience the beauty of Iowa’s natural landscape for yourself, don’t miss our traveler’s guide to hiking in Dubuque, IA.
Not all hikes need to leave you gasping for breath and breaking out in a sweat. If you’re searching for a peaceful little oasis that won’t tax your muscles too much, Dubuque Arboretum is the answer. Tucked away on the city’s northwest side, the Arboretum covers a vast expanse of ground featuring more than 60 different types of gardens. The gardens (which include Rose, Hosta, English, Japanese, Herb, and more besides), are connected by a series of well-maintained walking trails. Fragrant, fascinating, and gorgeously peacefully, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
The Heritage Trail
Stretching for 26 miles between Dyersville and Dubuque, the Heritage Trail is an amazing opportunity to break away from the city and get back to nature. The well-maintained crushed limestone trail is flat and easy enough for all ages and skill levels to enjoy- understandably enough, it’s hugely popular with families. Passing through woodland areas and scenic countryside, the trail meanders alongside a creek for much of the way, providing a pleasant backdrop to what’s already a very pleasant hike. The trail is open year-round but comes at a cost – to access it, you’ll need to buy either a $10.25 annual pass or $2.10 day pass.
Eagle Point Park
Described by betweenenglandandiowa.com as one of the best places to enjoy the outdoors in Dubuque, Eagle Point Park is Dubuque’s largest city park and an amazing spot to enjoy Iowa’s natural beauty. The park is perched atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, offering amazing, far-reaching views that are worth the journey alone. With tennis courts, pavilions, picnic areas, and even a fish pond, it’s a popular place for fun and relaxation. The trails and walking paths that run through the park are well maintained, flat, smooth, and perfect for stretching your legs on. The park is open all year-round, but if you can, time your visit for January or February when it becomes a nesting area for eagles.
Drive just 25 miles from Dubuque’s downtown and you’ll find Whitewater Canyon, a stunning area of natural beauty that was created several thousand years ago when an underground cave system collapsed. With numerous caves to check out and a good selection of both challenging and easy trails (the Overlook Trail and Stream Bottom Trail both come highly recommended), it’s the perfect place to spend a peaceful afternoon in nature.
Maquoketa Caves State Park
Technically, Maquoketa Caves State Park isn’t in Dubuque. But it’s such a fascinating place, it’s more than worth the short trip over to Maquoketa to check out. Described by stepoutside.org as Iowa’s most unique state park, the park’s rugged bluffs, dramatic limestone formations, and numerous natural caves offer a fascinating insight into the geology that’s shaped Iowa. Many of the caves are accessible, some by walking and others by crawling. The 1,100′ Dancehall Cave features walkways and a lighting system; the equally visit-worthy Dugout Cave will require a flashlight to get around. Linking the caves and rock formations is an intricate network of trails that offer a glorious hiking experience. Over the past few years, the state has invested substantially in upgrading and maintaining the trails, with the result that they’re now easy and pleasant to traverse. Regardless of the season, there’s a lot here to enjoy, from the wildflowers in spring to the dramatic colors in fall and the snowy peaks in winter.
Mines of Spain
The Mines of Spain were where the very first inhabitants of Dubuque settled. Eventually, it became a huge lead mining community: its founder, Julien Dubuque, is now buried at a memorial site on the park. Today, it’s a vast recreational area that’s immensely popular with visitors and locals alike. With picnic areas, benches, canoe launching pads, and a 15-mile network of trails, it’s an outstanding place to enjoy the great outdoors. Its trail network encompasses 10 hiking trails in total, all of which promise scenic vistas and excellent wildlife spotting opportunities. Some of them pass through forests; others glide over the prairie. Some of the trails are steep and challenging; others can be easily mastered by all ages and skill levels. Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll be promised a great hiking experience. Some of the ones not to miss include:
If you want to stretch your legs in nature, Mesquakie Trail is ideal. The 5.0-kilometer loop trail is long but easy, making it a great trail for the whole family to enjoy. After starting at the intersection of the Lead Mine Trail, the path cuts through the forest of the Granger Creek valley and along Catfish Creek, eventually ending at the trailhead for the Calicite Trail. Quiet, peaceful, and suitable for all skill levels, this beautiful hike will let you experience the beauty of the Mines of Spain in all its glory.
Horseshoe Bluff Nature Trail
Ranked by AllTrails as the number 1 hike in Mines of Spain, Horseshoe Bluff Nature Trail is a moderately challenging, 1.4 km hike that’s blessed with great lake views and gorgeous panoramas overlooking the surrounding prairie. Dogs are permitted but be sure to keep yours on the leash if you bring them along.
Catfish Creek Trail
Catfish Creek Trail meanders alongside the banks of the Mississippi River subsidiary, Catfish Creek. You’ll need to time your visit well: come when the river is at its highest, and the trail becomes impassable. Providing you’ve got your timings right, you’ll find it an eminently enjoyable trail, with great woodland views and an equal measure of challenge and reward.
Julien Dubuque Monument Foot Trail
Julien Dubuque Monument Foot Trail is a short but steep 1.1 km trail that leads directly to the Julien Dubuque monument. Surrounded by beautiful wildflowers and offering stunning views over the surrounding landscape, it’s a great way to appreciate the park’s natural beauty.