The Maquoketa River
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 Wapsipinicon River
The Wapsipinicon, or Wapsi, as it is locally known, is a tributary of the Mississippi River, and the longest of the area, reaching approximately 225 miles.
Beginning in Mower County, Minnesota, the Wapsi enters Iowa in Mitchell County, and flows southeast through Howard, Chickasaw, Bremer, Black Hawk, Buchanan, and Linn Counties before it arrives in Jones County. Entering Jones County just north west of Stone City, it flows for roughly 43 miles, before exiting the county approximately 5 miles southeast of Oxford Junction. Along the lower 25 miles, it turns east, and forms the boundary between Clinton and Scott Counties. From there, it joins the Mississippi southwest of Clinton.
There are several legends of how the river was named. One interesting version comes from a Native American love story of two young lovers, Wapsie and Pinnekon, who went on a canoe trip, where a jealous rival for Wapsie’s love shot an arrow into the heart of Pinnekon. When Wapsie jumped to help Pinnekon, the canoe tipped, and the lovers were drowned in the fast-moving waters. Their names were joined and given to the river, thus unifying them forever.
Another interpretation is “river abundant in swan potatoes.” This came from the Native American tribes that lived along the river and early French traders, and refers to the abundance of arrowhead plants, known as “swan potatoes”, which once grew in large quantities along the river’s banks.
A variety of scenic views can be fully appreciated as you float along the Wapsipinicon in Jones County. Historical stone buildings and homes provide a sense of history and a “Grant Wood” feel as you float through Stone City. The pounding from local quarries, which provided much of the stone for local buildings as well as giving this community its name, can sometimes be heard along this stretch.
Downstream recreationalists will need to portage around the dam at Anamosa. CAUTION:Use extreme caution near the Anamosa Dam. 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.
Be prepared to be awed and inspired by the relocated and restored Hale Bridge located in Wapsipinicon State Park.
Canoeists paddling downstream from Anamosa will be amazed at the solitude and beauty that the limestone bluffs, cliffs, and wooded shorelines have to offer. Agricultural fields and pastures will remind you that you are in Iowa as you pass Olin and head downriver.
Wildlife abounds along this serene river.You can expect to encounter a variety of animal species along the river on a typical canoe jaunt including whitetail deer, wood ducks, wild turkeys, squirrels, bald eagles, Canada geese, and turkey vultures. More reclusive wildlife includes river otters, beaver, bobcat, red and grey fox, and mink. Bird lovers will be astounded at the diversity of woodland and song birds along the rivers banks. Don’t forget your binoculars and camera.
Commonly sought after fish include catfish, walleye, smallmouth bass, carp, sunfish, and northern pike. Several deep fishing holes and rocky shorelines provide excellent fishing. A popular fishing area is below the dam in Anamosa.
Wapsipinicon State Park in Anamosa offers recreational trails, boat ramps, and camping. Other public river access areas include the Stone City Boat Ramp, Anamosa Boat Ramp, Newport Mills Access, Olin Access, Jungletown Access, and Oxford Mills Access.
The North Fork of the Maquoketa River
The 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 wooded shorelines.
The 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.
Cascade, 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.
From 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 paddlers.
Searryl’s 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
feet 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.