Backbone is a beautiful place for a family picnic. Several open shelters and the auditorium may be reserved online through the park reservation system. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the stone lodge overlooking the lake may be rented for a number of events including family reunions, weddings and other large gatherings. The lodge may be rented online at park reservation system. Backbone Concessions handles the lodge operation. Backbone has 21 miles of hiking and multi-use trails. Visitors can hike along trails winding through old twisted and windblown cedars and up rough, rocky staircases to one of the highest points in northeast Iowa, the "Devil's Backbone."

West Lake Trail is one of my favorites in this part of Iowa. Very scenic hike along the low bluff under a canopy of maples and oaks.

22 days ago

This is an easy, somewhat short trail that is well marked and features a wide path (about 6 feet across) and a few short, rocky ledges to stair step up (no scrambles where you would have to use your hands to climb). However, please know that at some points there is a sheer drop of over 100 ft on either side of the path. There have been more than a few cases of people getting too close to the edge for whatever reason and falling to their death. Too many times it was a child who died because they stray too far from mom or dad and just don't realize the risks they take. Don't get me wrong. The trail is very safe and easy to hike. But if you take kids with then make sure they exercise some caution just the same. The trail is short but takes longer to hike than you might think due to the frequent overlooks and interesting rock features along the way.

Unless you plan to hold their hands the whole time, do not take littles on this trail. There are cliffs on either side of the bottleneck. That being said, the same cliffs offer stunning views of the Maquoketa River on either side. It is a nice, easy, short hike if you are in the area.

It was fun my dad and I had a great time

Lots of frequent elevation change (600 ft is a net change), very poorly marked trail with markers only at trailhead or when it crossed a campground. There were no trail markers or distance markers, lots of lose rock and frequent forks to lose you way and your footing. On the plus side, some fantastic views and scenery along the way, just watch the transition from West Lake trail to East Lake trail. You have to find it yourself.

Pretty but got to watch out for the roots, rocks, and steep climb on the trails.

on Backbone Trail

3 months ago

Beautiful trail with lots of spots to breakaway from the trail to explore further

6 months ago

if your at backbone go ahead and hit this trail. great views and easy 40 min hike

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Amazing views for such an easy short trail!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Beautiful and peaceful in the spring. A lot of opportunities to go off the main trail and explore.

Great Iowa hike!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

An excellent winter hike if you don't mind the often ice-packed trails. Hiking in the winter is a completely different experience.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

great hike with fall colors!

trail running
Thursday, October 06, 2016

Nice trail with a variety of terrains and features. Would definitely do it again.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Fun short hike for the whole family that doesn't experience huge elevation gains but offers great views in a nice wooded savannah.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I arrived after a heavy rain and the area flooded. Many of the scenic areas were not accessible. I hiked parts of the lake trail and the backbone trail. Park did have nice campgrounds.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

We parked at the south end of the lake and hiked up the east lake trail. This trail follows the lake and provides a variety of geographic features, including rock formations. At the north end we picked up the backbone trail. The views were stunning. There is also a large crevasse that is safe to climb down. My children loved this. We then hiked a connecting trail to a campground where we picked up the west lake trail. The west lake trail is mostly a mowed path through prairie and woods. Compared to the rest of the trails it is not so exciting.

mountain biking
Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Biked the East and West Lake trails. This is a fairly technical trail on a bike. The east runs right next to the lake. At the end catch the road, head down the hairpin curve to the "flats". Continue straight and climb to the west Park entrance and right before you exit the park take a left into Twin Pines campground and there you can pick up the West Lake Trail. This side of the trail is difficult. Lots of steep hills and loose gravel and large rock. Definitely pushed us! Total loop was about 7 miles.

Lots of beautiful scenery!

Friday, April 08, 2016

Cool windy April day with a couple snow showers. My first visit to this terrific place. Hepatica was flowering, small group of white breasted nuthatches near the cave.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Daughter and I had a great hike and what a wonderful and peaceful view

Monday, January 04, 2016

Great views of Fall colors and even spotted two bald eagles.

rock climbing
Friday, August 14, 2015

Some of the most amazing views, hiking, and climbing in Iowa! Loved the Backbone Trail and all the climbing you can do here. Thanks to 'Roscoe' for showing us the 'Rabbit Hole' that lead us to some hidden places to climb up and through the beautiful bluffs! Recommended for a few hours of hiking and climbing fun.

nature trips
Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The slopes are great for climbing and the air is refreshing here! I found some really great reviews of the park at, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is new to exploring our beautiful state parks!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

rented a cabin in the first week of March and felt like I had the park to myself. They had a lot of snow a few days earlier which made it a lot of fun following animal tracks, mainly deer.
I walked around the south end and took the west lake trail seeing lots of turkeys, eagles, and deer. Took the six pine trail to the south flats shelter where I stopped for lunch. I then caught the east lake trail and found the views awesome. Coyotes were very loud a few times. It took me about six hours and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Completed a lake loop hike this weekend, starting from the East Lake/Backbone Trailhead parking area. Great hike with some nice elevation and nice views. Was able to make a loop by walking through the grassy/beach area on the south tip of the lake, and hooking back up with the West Lake Trail. Not a ton of people on West Lake at all, even though it was Labor Day! A short jog through the campground brought me to the Six Pines Trail, which was just a short trail. A bit rugged in spots! The final leg was just about 1/2 mile on the road back to the parking area. Wish I could make a true loop out of it on trails and be able to skip the road, but it was great as is. Restrooms at East Lake Trailhead, near the beach, and Six Pines Campground. First long hike with my dog.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Backbone Trail was stunning for the first 100 yards, or so, then it was flat until it looped around, thus this was a disappointing trail. The different trail heads were not well marked. This is probably nice for people in the area, but I won't drive an hour to go there again.

Friday, August 31, 2012

This was the first time in Backbone State Park for me, and the first thing I liked about the park is that it was laid out very exciting and inviting. The very well signed park road winded through the center of the park along its entirety, and the parks natural beauty and allure offered to turn everyone that ventured its grounds into a kid again. It offers a broad spectrum of outdoor recreation for every age group; such as camping, cave exploring, scenic overlook views, walking, hiking, biking, or running, snowmobiling in winter, lake activities, fishing, a beach which to play, or just a nice scenic drive. I saw families picnicking near the Maquoketa River and kids splashing around in the river, adults in bikinis were soaking up the sun, while retires angled in the stream. There are numerous trail heads to hike; about six main trails in all ranging from a 1/4 mile to more strenuous ones that are a demanding 4 plus miles of cliff and crevice obstacle hiking with elevation challenges all through the trails ranging 200 feet in differences. The trail I chose for my first challenge was a loop and was located in the center of the park and was about a mile or so of extreme up and down, and about 200 in differences of cliff hiking and terrain manipulating. The trail was noticeable in some areas and guesswork in others; and was entirely rugged with massive roots exposed above ground to hike and climb over and in other areas massive rocks and boulders peppered the trails. Towards the end of where the loop connects the remaining trail, you have to climb through a 24" opening in a crevice in the cliff just to access the remaining trail, and then it's almost straight-up-climbing over massive boulders and jagged rock formations in a very narrow 18-24" crevice about 150 foot long. The nice thing was the crevice was an inviting very cool opposite to the 98 degree heat of the day the rest of the trail had to offer.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Good terrain. Next time I'll have to start at the Backbone trail. Too much hiking for the kids.

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