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Starr's Cave Park and Preserve
Vital Stats:
  • PLEASE NOTE: Starr's Cave (the cave itself, not the park or nature center) is closed indefinitely in order to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome within the bat population.
  • 184 acres
  • Owned by Iowa DNR; Managed by DMCC under 25-year management agreement
  • Trails: Two miles total, a 1/4 mile section being handicap accessible
  • Picnic shelter
  • Water
  • Restrooms
  • Access to Flint Creek
  • Location of Starr's Cave Nature Center
    • Rentable meeting rooms
    • Kitchen area
    • Nature displays
    • Naturalist office
    • Handicap accessible
  • Headquarters of DMCC's Environmental Education Program

Starr’s Cave Park & Preserve is located off Irish Ridge Road about a mile outside of Burlington on Starr’s Cave Park Road. The 184-acre park offers two miles of hiking trail and is a place rich with natural and cultural history.

Rock formations along Flint Creek in Starr’s Cave Park & Preserve are found no where else in the world. The bluffs are composed of limestone and dolomite and contain hints of the area’s past, frozen in time as fossils. These fossils include brachiopods, crinoids, cup coral, and gastropods. Besides Starr’s Cave, there are two other caves, Devil’s Kitchen and Crinoid Cavern. Unlike Starr’s Cave, these two were not formed naturally but instead are manmade. Word has it that mineral prospectors were looking for zinc back in the 1920s. To see what lay behind the surface, they blasted the rock with dynamite, creating large openings for future park explorers to marvel at and explore.

From Highway 61, take Sunnyside Ave. or Upper Flint Rd. to Irish Ridge Rd. Follow signs to Starr's Cave Rd. Nature Center is at the end.

Take me there!
Interactive GIS Map

Restrictions in Preserve Area
  • The preserve is intended only for visitor observation and other passive recreation.
  • The preserve is open to casual visitors, organized groups, and research visitors. Research permission must be secured in advance from the Preserves Board and the Des Moines County Conservation.
  • Visitor activities are limited to walking and observing. Visitors may traverse anywhere on the preserve without special permission from the Board, providing they stay on marked trails and do not disturb the preserve beyond the limit it can support without permanent deterioration.
  • Park hours are 6 am to 10:30 pm
  • No hunting or trapping
  • Rock climbing on cliffs is dangerous and illegal
  • Pets must remain under control
  • Fires in grill or fire ring only
  • No collection or destruction of plants, animals, fossils, rocks, or artifacts
  • No motorized vehicles on or off trails
  • Cross country skiing is allowed when there is 4" or more of snow on the trails
  • No littering or defacing natural features or park property
  • Report all accidents to Des Moines County Conservation (319) 753-8260

About Starr's Cave
The main cave within the park, Starr’s Cave, was formed naturally by water erosion and is approximately a football field in length. Those brave enough to venture inside have found themselves having to hunker down further and further until eventually in a belly slither. Upon reaching the small room at the end of the cave, visitors are relieved to find they are able to stand up and stretch their legs.

Along with humans, Starr’s Cave is also a popular bat hangout. It has been tradition for the cave to be closed to human traffic from April 1 to October 1 to let the bats hibernate without being bothered by people. However, Starr’s Cave is now closed indefinitely. In May of 2009, we had to close the cave to human traffic all year round in order to protect our Starr’s Cave bats from getting sick with a disease known as White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) caused by a fungus that likes the damp and dark cave environment. WNS has wiped out bat populations in many U.S. states and we do not want to take the risk of visitors spreading WNS to our cave. The disease is mostly spread from bat to bat but also by humans unknowingly carry in the fungus on their shoes and flashlights (FYI: WNS is nothing humans can get). No one knows when the cave will reopen, it depends on scientists learning more about WNS and how to stop its spread. The good news is that those who visit are at least able to peak into the cave through the iron gate. It is a shame Starr’s Cave is closed but there’s plenty else to see and do at the Park & Preserve.

About the Nature Center
Within Starr’s Cave Park & Preserve is also Starr’s Cave Nature Center, a building bearing a striking resemblance to a barn. That is because the original use of the nature center was as a barn. Estimated to have been built around the 1910-1920s, the barn belonged to William Starr (from whom the park is named after). Starr was a German immigrant who homesteaded the land of present day Starr’s Cave Park and Preserve around the 1860s. The Starr family lived in the limestone house which still stands today next to the nature center. Along with horses, cows, and other livestock, the Starr's ran a winery. The hilltops now shaded by trees were once covered in grapevines.

In the early 1970s, the barn was renovated and made into a bar and restaurant named the Sycamore Inn. Present Starr’s Cave Nature Center staff often hear visitor accounts of the good old times that were had at the Sycamore Inn. Later, in the late 1970s, the barn and 184 acres of land surrounding it, was purchased by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It was at this time the land was designated a Park and Preserve and made open to the public. Although Starr's Cave Nature Center is owned by the DNR, up to present day it has been managed by DMCC since the DNR purchased the land. Presently, Starr’s Cave Nature Center is the hub of DMCC’s environmental education program as well as home to a folk music concert series that has been going strong for 28-some years.

Starr's Cave Sign
Starr's Cave Nature Center

11627 Starr's Cave Rd.
Burlington, IA 52601

Ph: (319) 753-5808

Find Starr's Cave on Facebook

Summer Hours*
April 1 – September 30 
    Weekdays: 8 am – 4:30 pm 
    Saturday: 9 am 4 pm 

Winter Hours*
October 1 – March 31 
    Weekdays: 8 am – 4:30 pm 

The nature center is also open on Saturdays from 10 am – 4 pm in the winter to rent out country skis if there is 4" or more of adequate snow on the ground.

*The nature center may not always be open during these hours as staff is regularly out teaching environmental education in the schools and our parks. We always suggest calling before your visit to make sure the nature center will be open.