Cheap Places: Northeast Iowa

As Melinda continues her series on cheap places, she has decided to broaden her focus area to include some of the most exciting and fun locations across the United States. However, she needs our help. If you know of any cheap places to take the family, let us know in the comments below! For now, let’s take a look at my neck of the woods: Northeast Iowa.

We Iowans love to spend time outdoors. Whether it be canoeing, kayaking, hiking, biking, boating or horseback riding, you can almost guarantee that we enjoy cramming as many sunshine-y activities into our days as possible before winter hits. That being said, not all of these activities are low cost, so let’s focus on hiking, a surefire cheap option for seasonal fun.

Heritage Trail

The first place we’ll hike to is the Heritage Trail. This 26-mile trail winds its way through the hills and valleys of Northeast Iowa to showcase picturesque farmland and the winding Little Maquoketa River. The trail itself has a gentle grade, even as it overlooks the hilly country, so it is ideal for hiking, biking and jogging. It is also used as a snowmobile and cross-country ski trail during winter months.

Costing a mere $2.10 per day for adults (12 to 62 years old), the trail can be very cheap family fun. Since children under 12 and seniors are free, the whole family can spend an afternoon together for less than $5.00. Pack a lunch to eat at one of the many rest areas along the trail and you can entertain the kiddies for a reasonable price.

Mines of Spain

Another popular hiking area in Northeast Iowa, the Mines of Spain, features 12 miles of hiking trails. Some of the trails can be too challenging for smaller children, but fit children over eight years old can often traverse the more difficult trails with little trouble. Those who cannot hike the entirety or the more difficult portions can park and walk to the feature areas, like Julien Dubuque’s Monument.

The park is open year round, and you can’t beat the price: free. Donations are always welcome and help maintain the park, but for those who seek a little outdoor activity that doesn’t break the bank, the Mines of Spain offers a lot for every family member.

Maquoketa Caves State Park

The final featured hiking trail is located 30 miles south of Dubuque. With six miles of hiking trails linking numerous caves together, the Maquoketa Caves State Park has been a popular free (that’s right – no cost!) destination for Midwestern families for years, offering gentle strolls, serious spelunking and camping to adventurers.

Unfortunately, the bats who call the caves home have been subject to white nose syndrome since 2010, and the park has been closed. There is no official word on the reopening date, but once the bats are clear of danger, the Maquoketa Caves is a must-see attraction at a must-visit price.

That’s it for the major hiking spots in Northeastern Iowa! We hope you can visit one of the parks if you live near the area or are ever passing through. The Caves, Mines and Trail all feature excellent family fun for little or no cash.

What about you: what are the best low-cost family fun options in your area? Give us a shout out and we’ll feature your family fun spots and your blog in one of our series posts!

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