Backbone State Park

Quick Facts

Backbone State Park


(563) 924-2527

Map Directions

Things To Do


Backbone State Park was dedicated in 1920. It was Iowa's first state park and remains one of the most significant. Backbone is named for its narrow and steep ridge of bedrock carved by a loop of the Maquoketa River. Folklore named this high ridge of rock the "Devil's Backbone". Nearly a hundred years ago, State Geologist Samuel Calvin wrote these words about "The Backbone":

"Its sides are in places precipitous, the rocky cliffs rising sheer for more than 80 feet. Erosion and secular decay have carved the rocks into picturesque columns, towers, castles, battlements and flying buttresses. "

Backbone consists of 2,001 acres and is heavily wooded with a variety of tree species, predominantly oak and maple. This woodland serves as a valuable refuge for a variety of wildlife including deer, raccoon, fox, turkeys, ruffed grouse and many species of songbirds.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established in April, 1933 as part of the New Deal program of President Roosevelt as an effort to provide work for unemployed Americans during the Great Depression. Many of Backbone's buildings were constructed by the CCC from 1933 to 1941. Among the projects completed at Backbone were the dams on the Maquoketa River forming Backbone Lake, a cluster of rustic family cabins, beach and boat house, an auditorium, bridges, roads, picnic shelters, rest rooms and trails. Some of these structures are currently being restored and the effort is continuing.

Map of Backbone (IA)

Latitude, Longitude: 42.618037, -91.560421



  • Boating

    A boat ramp is located near the southwest end of the lake. Motors are limited to electric only.

  • Bicycling

    The Northeast State Park Bike Route is a 130 mile route which connects Backbone State Park, Wapsipinicon State Park , and Pikes Peak State Park utilizing county highways.

  • Camping

    State park camping is available year-round in most places depending upon weather conditions. Heavy snowfalls may prevent access to the campground as not all roads are routinely maintained. Modern conveniences such as water, flush toilets and shower buildings are closed during the winter months. It is recommended that campers may want to call ahead and check the weather and road conditions before heading out to camp.

  • Climbing

    Climbers and rappellers will find many challenging cliffs of rugged dolomite limestone throughout the park. The most popular rock escarpments to climb are located near the Backbone Trail. Climbers and rappellers must register at the park office.

  • Fishing

    Backbone is well known for trout fishing in its cold, clear, quick-flowing stream. Richmond Springs, the source that feeds the stream, pumps out over 2,000 gallons per minute and is located near the north end of the park. Anglers can explore the stream through a variety of shady and easy accessible trails, portions of which are paved.

  • Hiking

    Richmond Springs has much to offer the angler as well as the outdoor enthusiast. Due to the fact that Richmond Springs is located within 1800 acre Backbone State Park, outdoor lovers can take advantage of great hiking trails, camping, picnicking, playground areas, and fantastic scenery.

  • Horseback Riding

    State regulations require horses, mules and donkeys being transported interstate (from one state to another) must have a current Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate) and negative Coggin's test (EIA). This paperwork must accompany the animal into the State of Iowa. Please refer to Iowa Dept of Agriculture Admissions Regulations for more information.

    For example, a person from Missouri who wishes to bring their horses, mules or donkeys into Iowa must provide a current Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health paper) which lists the description of the animals, date of a negative Coggin's test (tested within the last twelve months), date of the test, the lab that performed the test and the accession number of the Coggin's test.

    Persons transporting horses, mules or donkeys intrastate (within the same state) do not need to carry this paperwork.

    Again, a person from out of state who wishes to bring their horses, mules or donkeys into Iowa must bring their paperwork, but a person from Iowa who is taking their horses to another part of Iowa does not need to bring their paperwork.

    This applies to equestrian camping, day-use and trail riding in any Iowa State Parks, State Recreation Areas or State Forests.

    The following parks have designated equestrian campgrounds.

    # Brushy Creek State Recreation Area - Webster County # Elk Rock State Park - Marion County # Lake of Three Fires State Park - Taylor County # Nine Eagles State Park - Decatur County # Shimek State Forest - Van Buren County # Stephens State Forest - Lucas County # Volga River State Recreation Area - Fayette County # Waubonsie State Park - Fremont County # Yellow River State Forest - Allamakee County

    Campground amenities and campsite features vary from park to park. The state park reservation system ( provides information on campsites and campground amenities available. Please review the information PRIOR to making a reservation. Fifty-percent of the equestrian campsites are available for reservations. The remaining 50% are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  • Hunting

    Deer population management zones have been established to reduce high deer numbers in areas where traditional hunting seasons cannot be held - mainly urban areas and state and county parks. Backbone State Park - Dec 4, 2010 - Dec 5, 2010

    Elk Rock State Park - Jan 8, 2011 - Jan 9, 2011

    Green Valley State Park - Nov 20 - 21, 2010

    Lake Ahquabi State Park - Nov 3, 5-7, 2010 - Mentor Deer Hunt

    Lake Wapello State Park - Oct 1, 2010 - Jan 10, 2011

    Ledges State Park - Oct 1, 2010 - Dec 31, 2010

    Pikes Peak State Park - Sept 18, 2010 - Jan 10, 2010

    Rock Creek State Park - Nov 20, 2010 - Nov 21, 2010

    Springbrook State Park - Nov 1, 2010 - Dec 15, 2010 - Archery Springbrook State Park - Dec 11, 2010 - Dec 12, 2011 - Firearms

    Viking Lake State Park - Nov 20, 2010 - Nov 21, 2010

  • Off Highway Vehicles

    Snowmobiling is allowed on designated trails in winter.

  • Picnicking

    Picnicking is available in Richmond Springs, which is within the park.

  • RVing

    Sewer and Water Hook-ups available in modern and non-modern camping areas.

  • Water Sports

    Backbone Lake is an impoundment of the Maquoketa River created by the CCC. Recreation on the lake includes swimming, boating, fishing and a concession stand for refreshments. A boat ramp is located near the southwest end of the lake. Motors are limited to electric only. A boathouse for renting boats, a swimming beach and concession stand are located near the southeast end of the lake. Anglers casting their lines in the lake may catch a variety of fish such as bass and catfish.

  • Winter Sports

    Please contact the park for more information.



Backbone State Park is located 3 miles south of Strawberry Point in northwestern Delaware County. Dundee lies one mile to the south and Lamont 5 miles to the west.

Phone Numbers


(563) 924-2527