Downtown Dundee

St. John's Lutheran Church

Volunteer Fire Department

Backbone State Park and Beach

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)



BREAKING NEWS: The editors of Outside Magazine have just named Backbone State Park's campground to the list of the Nation's Best Campground in Every State! Read more

Backbone State Park is Iowa's oldest state park, dedicated in 1919. Located in the valley of the Maquoketa River in Delaware County. It is named for a narrow and steep ridge of bedrock carved by a loop of the Maquoketa River originally known as the Devil's Backbone. The initial 1,200 acres were donated by E.M. Carr of Lamont, Iowa. Backbone Lake Dam, a relatively low dam built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, created Backbone Lake. The CCC constructed a majority of trails and buildings which make up the park.
East entrance to the park.

Looking out over
the Maquoketa River.


The area of the Devil's Backbone was a favorite of natural scientists such as W.J. McGee, Thomas MacBride and Samuel Calvin, who visited it to study its ancient geologic formations. Edward M. Carr bought 1,200 acres in the 1890s to protect the Backbone Ridge from destruction. MacBride and members of the Iowa Park and Forestry Association thought of it as a prime location for a state park. The State Board of Conservation, organized in December 1918, recommended buying the land at its first meeting. It took a little over a year for the purchase to be finalized. On May 28, 1920, Backbone was dedicated as Iowa's first state park.

Development of the park was deferred until 1925, although trees were planted and planning for a roadway was begun in prior years. Tensions developed between two groups in the 1920s and the 1930s over development. One group saw the state parks as places that protected the natural areas, and the second group had a multiple-use philosophy of conservation. The multiple-use concept won the debate. Two camps from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program during the Great Depression, developed the park between 1933 and 1942. Two CCC Camps developed the overnight cabin and recreational area on the southern end of the park; a picnic, hiking and camping area in the center; and Richmond Springs on the north end. Backbone became one of the largest and one of the most extensively developed parks in the state system.

RECREATION: There are many beautiful places for that family picnic. Several open shelters and an auditorium may be reserved through the park office. The park also has 21 miles of hiking and multi-use trails. Visitors can hike along trails winding through old twisted and windblown cedars and up rough, rocky staircases. During the winter, visitors can cross-country ski and snowmobile. Bicyclists can pedal through scenic splendor and explore the park on these designated trails: Barred Owl, Bluebird, East Lake, and West Lake. Mountain bikers must stay on the trails. 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.

CAMPING: There are 127 campsites located in two campgrounds. The South Lake Campground contains 77 non-electric and 23 electric sites. Two shower buildings, a playground, and dump station are located here. The Six Pine Campground, near the west entrance of the park, contains 27 non-electric sites and provides pit latrines. Camping is always a first-come, first-served basis. We ask that all campers self-register at the campground within 1/2 hour of arrival. There is a nightly fee for each campsite. Registration forms are provided at the campground entrance. One tent, or unit, is allowed at each site with up to six persons. We do not have facilities for group camping; however, we do try to accommodate organized youth groups such as 4-H and Scouts. Please contact us regarding your needs in this area.

CABINS: The park also has cabins for the family which are equipped with heating and air conditioning. There are two styles of cabins. Eight small one-bedroom cabins, which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and are on the National Historic Register, and four newer two-bedroom style cabins, which are available year round. The one-bedroom style cabins are available only from May through October. The cabins are available on a reservation basis: Backbone State Park, 1347 129th Street, Dundee, Iowa 52038, phone (563) 924-2527.

The old cabins built by the CCC.

The newer modern cabins.

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 2000 gallons per minute and is located near the north end of the park. The trout streams are stocked three times a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day and once a week after Labor Day holiday. From late October until April 1 no stocking occurs. To trout fish in Iowa you need to purchase a Trout Stamp. You can get a Trout Stamp at the Park Office, the Manchester Hatchery and most places that sell fishing licenses.

Backbone Beach
The beach area is located about 3 miles from Dundee. Go swimming, fishing, picnic or just enjoy nature at its best.
Beach area.

At the boathouse, rent a canoe or a paddleboat.
The boathouse.

The old shower/locker room building has been renovated into a new recreational building with restrooms and a concession stand. The room can be rented for family gatherings, wedding receptions or group events.
Concession stand and recreation hall.

When you need to get away from the hectic day-to-day routine, come by and spend a day or two with us, where it's peaceful and quiet.

...And don't forget your fishing pole!

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This page created by Dundee's own
Lisa Guenther-Rhoades

Last Modified: 07/26/21