The Maquoketa River - South Fork
The scenic Maquoketa River begins in Fayette County and passes through Delaware, Jones, and Jackson County and joins with the North Fork of the Maquoketa before entering the Mississippi River near Green Island. In Jones County the Maquoketa flows roughly 35 miles passing through the community of Monticello before entering Jackson County near Canton. Several canoe liveries provide canoe and tube rental opportunities.
It is said that the black bear, once common to this area, helped give the river its name. “Maquoketa” is a Native American word for bear. The cave-ridden, heavily wooded bluffs and hills making up the river valley were once prime habitat for the black bear. Black bears would have lived here year round hibernating in these cavern areas. Today black bears are only occasional visitors from Minnesota or Wisconsin.
Wildlife abounds along this river and represents many of Iowa’s native species. Recreationalists along this river might be lucky enough to see a nesting pair of bald eagles performing a courtship ritual overhead or hear the pounding of a pileated woodpecker. Anyone willing to wet a line along the river will enjoy pulling walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, catfish, and suckers from hidden pools and riffles. A welcome wild place in our modernized world.
History is subtly evident as you travel the Maquoketa. Fossils of brachiopods and coral let us dream about a moment in time when Iowa was once covered by a shallow prehistoric sea. The steep bedrock walls inspire us to envision a period in Iowa’s history when rivers ran high and swollen as melt water made its way downstream from huge melting glaciers gouging deep valleys as they flowed. The sandy loess soil on the rivers bluff tops tell a tale of wind and erosion. Ornate box turtles still survive in this sandy loess and remind us of a drier time in Iowa’s history. Indian grass, little bluestem, shooting star, and wild bergamot cling to life on rocky outcrops, fallen boulders, and bluff tops reminding us that the face of Iowa was once covered by a tall and beautiful prairie ecosystem. Rock fishing weirs remind us man was here too, hunting and living long before our circles began.
People today enjoy the river by water and from shore. The Maquoketa River has several public river access points in Jones County including the Mon Maq Dam Access, Pictured Rocks, Indian Bluffs, Hwy 136 Access, and Supples Access. Camping is available at Walnut Acres.
CAUTION: Use extreme caution near the Mon Maq Dam near Monticello. Low head dams are extremely dangerous. Uniformly falling water below the dam scours holes where the water recirculates trapping its victims under water. People should not venture over, on, or close to these structures or will risk drowning.
The North Fork of the Maquoketa River
North Fork of the Maquoketa River passing through Jones County gives
one the opportunity to imagine oneself in true wilderness. Averaging 70
feet wide this shallow stream is characterized by a sandy bottom
sometimes interspersed with rocks and boulders below steep bluffs and
North Fork begins in Dubuque County north of Holy Cross, swings into
Delaware County then enters Jones County in Cascade before heading into
Jackson County and joining the Maquoketa River near Maquoketa.
Entering Jones County in the town of Cascade paddlers should portage around the Dam found in the center of town. CAUTION: Use
extreme caution near the Dam in Cascade. Low head dams are extremely
dangerous. Uniformly falling water below the dam scours holes where the
water recirculates trapping its victims under water. People should not
venture over, on, or close to these structures or will risk drowning.
according to local lore, was named for the 9 foot, double tiered
waterfall that flowed in the middle of town near the current dam’s
location. Pre-1925 postcards are some of the only reminders of this
namesake. Flood control measures led to the creation of the current
channel, dam, and bridge and the demise of the waterfall.
Cascade downstream paddlers will enjoy the agricultural and small town
views before entering a long and pristine stretch of inaccessible
wilderness, roughly 18 miles between access points. On the eastern part
of the Southern Iowa Drift Plain this area depicts typical “Karst”
topography with sinkholes, springs, and caves. Known for its impressive
bluffs and scenic beauty this river is a favorite of many seasoned
Cave State Preserve is the only public area found on this stretch of
river in Jones County. Named after the original homesteader, Searryl’s
Cave, twisting 565
underground, is known for its large colony of hibernating bats. To
protect the bats, entry into the cave is prohibited from October 15th
thru April 1. The cave is worth the effort to get to but spelunkers
should be prepared for standing water and muddy conditions inside.
Flowstone and soda straw formations are visible in some areas of the
cave and should not be touched or disturbed.
At the end of this 18 mile stretch paddlers can take out in Jackson County at the Ozark Bridge on 21st Ave.