Day Trip to Dubuque

Because we spent a week and a half on a Florida vacation in March, we chose not to travel during Spring Break 2018.  We stayed home, we worked, and it was like any other work week.  But we did have the very last day of spring break open so we decided to hit the road for a day trip.

We weren’t really sure where we wanted to go, how far we wanted to drive, or even what we wanted to do.  We knew we wanted to do a hike but beyond that, our options were open.  So I consulted my trusty travel guidebooks  Roadfood by Jane and Michael Stern and Falcon Guides:  Hiking Iowa.  There was nothing that really stoodout in the Roadfood book so I started looking at Hiking Iowa and in the end, I handed the book to Elsie and told her to pick a hike for us.  So she looked at the corresponding pictures and at first selected Effigy Mounds (Mountains as she calls it) National Monument but that was just too far away for a day trip (3 Hours).  And then she came to Mines of Spain State Recreation Area and exclaimed that this was where she wanted to go.  I wasn’t so sure-it was still 2.5 hours away but it was in Dubuque and I knew there was a reciprocal museum there so we could make a day of it. After a little contemplation, we decided to hit the road.

Dubuque is named after Julien Dubuque, who is credited to be the first European to set foot in Iowa in 1788. He married Potosa, the daughter of Chief Peosta, the Indian Chief of the Mesquakie (Fox) Tribe, who were the local inhabitants of the area at the time of his arrival. When he died is 1810, he was buried in a log mauseleum with tribal honors. In Mines of Spain Recreation, there is a monument erected in his honor. It was built in 1897 and serves as the major landmark of the area. When we visisted, the road to the monument was closed. You could hike there, but we had already spent some time on the trails and the girls were done. It will give us something new to see the next time we go.

Mines of Spain State Recreation Area

Mines of Spain is located in Dubuque, IA which lies on the banks of the Mississippi River. This recreation area is managed by the Iowa DNR and features 1,432 acres and has 12 miles of hiking trails of varying landscapes. Because this park is situated on the Mississippi, visitors get to experience the beautiful, towering, rugged bluffs.

View of the Mississippi River

When we arrived, we stopped at the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center and wandered around a bit and looked at the displays. It was a great little interpretive center that showed the history of the area. A good introduction for us since I am not terribly familiar with it.

After checking things out, we headed outside for our first hike around the nature center. There are some interpretive trails around this area that showcases some unique features of the park. These trails also provided a little history of the park and the local area.

Another piece of history of the park goes back to a man named Otto Junkermann, a German pharmacist. He moved into the area and eventually had an estate in what is now Mines of Spain. His “Farm” was what they called a “Gentleman’s Farm” where cattle and horses grazed and he had a large garden, including grapevines. Him and his family, came out to the farm and house in the summer and in the winter resided back in Dubuque. He eventually built a chapel to be a replica of his chapel back home in Germany. The Nature Trail that sets off from the Intepretive Center, leads you through the remants of this homestead.

Photos Above: Pine Chapel

After exploring this area, we headed over the Horseshoe Bluff Nature Trail. This was where the exciting views were for sure, but also where all the people were. A lot of parking areas were full on this beautiful March day. The nature trail is a loop trail that leads you past views of the Mississippi River and then also of the quarry.

Bluff overlooking the river towards Dubuque
Views of the Horseshoe Bluff

This was n exciting hike for the girls. They had fun exploring the rugged and rocky areas around the bluff. There were steep drop offs along the trail so you definitely need to hold tight to small children.

View of the Quarry-the trails is on different levels. There is the ground level trail and then the trail towards the middle of the bluff and loops around both sides. We stuck to the left side of the bluff since it was less icy and had less snow.

After exploring Horshoe Bluff, the trail leads to the south through a wetland before landing back at the parking area.

The very full parking area

Port of Dubuque

After spending the morning exploring the park, we headed into Dubuque to explore the downtown area. We have a membership to our local Science Museum and this allows reciprocal discounts to other museums all across the country. One of those museums is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. John and I had visited this museum a few years back but this was the first time visiting with the girls.

I think one of the biggist hits of the museum was the Sting Ray exhibit. When I think of the Mississippi River, I don’t think of sting rays but this museum explores the Mississippi River from the very start up Itasca State Park and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Historical displays depicting the role the Mississippi River had on the development of this area.
Also on display are boats in the harbor that you can explore.

There is plenty do at this museum for at least a half day, maybe even a whole day if you had more time. We stayed until closing and then headed to grab some dinner. After asking for suggestions from the staff in the museum we settled on a local place in downtown. I can’t seem to recall the name but I think I could find it if visiting again.

Dubuque is a great city, full of industry and history and for sure worth a weekend visit. There is no camping in Mines of Spain Recreation Area. I know there are a few county parks that have camping available, but are only available on first come, first serve. Because of the river, there are a few Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds in the area. This past summer we spent a night at Grant River Recreation which is located right on the river. We were able to see the 4th of July fireworks from our campsite so it is relatively close if you could just travel on the river but on roads it was probably about a 30 minute drive.

DATE OF TRAVEL: 3.18.2018

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