Last updated on December 7th, 2019
There are some moments in life where you ask yourself, Do I really want to see another cave? I’ve hit up a few in Minnesota already and enjoyed them. How different could this one be? It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the others. I just didn’t realize how lackluster they were in comparison to this one.
Before I visiting Dubuque I heard they have a cave. I blew it off deciding instead look for more unique adventures. It seems like we visit a cave once a year and had just done one this year. With a small hole in my schedule before the Field of Dreams, Celebrity Game was supposed to start, I decided to give it a try. Partly because I wanted to see if I could convince my mom to go. She had gotten dragged into another one earlier this season with my sister and hated every minute. In the end, no amount of guilt could get her convinced to go to another cave.
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The Crystal Lake Cave Tour
Getting to Crystal Lake Cave was a little on the outskirts of Dubuque. Even more so, you went right by a farm which had me questioning where the GPS was even taking us. But it turned out to be correct. We got there around lunchtime and it was already buzzing with visitors. We quickly got tickets and found out that the next tour was leaving in about 15 minutes. It seemed like we got there just in time because other visitors were waiting upwards of an hour. It was Labor Day Weekend and incredibly busy as everyone was trying to get their end of season trips in.
The tour leaves from inside the gift shop. We all piled into the narrow set of stairs built into the cave. It was there where we paused waiting for the all-clear to continue on. But I could already start to see formations hanging on the newest part of the cave walls. With the amount of water dripping into the cave, there was a lot more to come.
Crystal Lake Cave Discovery
The cave was discovered by James Rice in 1868. He was in search of ore-bearing stones. Instead, he found a bunch of crystals, including aragonite and some beautiful formations. Today it is the Largest Show cave in Iowa. Once it was commercialized, they lowered the floor of the cave and the passageways. On average it about six feet high by two feet wide.
The Cave Formations
The tour guides will take you through all the different passageways pointing out things like Honeycomb Pillars, St Peters Dome and fun formations like the Ostrich and Noah’s Ark. Basically any interesting things that can be interpreted as something else. My favorite part of the cave was Crystal Lake. It is a narrow lake about 4ft wide and 28 ft long. You can only see through a hole in the cave walls. This cave was unique in the number of different formations found.
One thing that I didn’t realize when entering the cave was how claustrophobic it would be. I found myself often having to walk sideways to get through. At many points, I was hunched over to avoid some of the lower ceiling formations trying to avoid hitting my head. As someone who is 5’5 it was a first. This was a little unnerving at first, but we all quickly became accustomed to this. I can’t imagine how the first explorers felt.
The cave never had a dull moment. There were always well lite points of interest through the place. The tour guides had a great mix of basic cave knowledge and entertainment. The one thing the tour lacked though was fossils and historical references. Instead, they focused more on the fun aspects that photograph well.
Common Questions Before Visiting Crystal Lake Cave in Dubuque
Is this Kid Friendly?
I do not recommend going in the cave with younger kids that need to be carried. This includes babies strapped into a front baby carrier. If you are larger or have problems bending over, you may not have the best time either.
The tour guide was very friendly with my talkative children answering all their crazy questions. They even let my oldest lead the tour with the official flashlight for a portion. This tour didn’t have any blackout portions. Both Niagara Cave in MN and Crystal Cave in WI tours both included that in their tours. Even the Sudan Underground Mine Tour in Northern MN did it. My kids were very thankful they weren’t subjected to it again.
What should you wear?
As with any cave, you always want to remember to dress appropriately. Warm Shirts and long pants are a must. I’d even consider a hoodie or light jacket. Crystal Lake Cave in Dubuque was a consistent 52 degree the whole time. For some reason this time around, I didn’t find it as cool as other caves. I was a little concerned considering I only had a pair of Teva’s and no dry socks. In the end, it worked out better because there were a lot of puddles on the cave floor. And when I stepped right in one by accident, I would have walked around with wet socks.
Are there Bats?
The cave has been known to have a bat or two, but typically no, you won’t see bats on the tour. I asked our guide and she said that they did spot one the day before, but it was very rare.
How long is the tour?
The tour lasts about an hour.
Are they open year-round?
No, they are seasonally open May – October.
How much is it?
The tour cost $15 for adult, $7 for kids 4-11 and under 4 is free.
Is there anything else to do there?
Like most commercial caves, you can also mine for gems outside the gift shop. It was small. If you have not done it before, every bag you buy is guaranteed to have some gems in it so the kids will have fun.
What are some other caves in Iowa?
Iowa has a lot more caves that you think. Maquoketa Caves State Park, Ice Cave State Preserve and Wapsipinicon State Park Caves. The most traditional style cave is Crystal Lake Cave in Dubuque. If you like to learn more, check out the book Iowa Underground: A Guide to the State’s Subterranean Treasures.
Was Crystal Lake Cave in Dubuque IA Worth It?
I was afraid that it would be nothing more than a tourist trap. From the traditional style gift shop and gem mining out front, I was not expecting the rich and wondering things inside. I really do think that some of the best adventures I have are those stop on a whim for. This one definitely tops the list of best cave adventures so far. I may have ruined all future caves for me.
When we left the cave, we were still buzzing about all the cool things in there. I think that my mom made a good choice staying in the car. Though she loved all the fun stories.