My childhood years were spent touring around various campgrounds in the UK, it was always the highlight of my summer. As I got older I even thought about getting my towing license so I could pull a caravan (failing that I really wanted a camper van). In the UK people my age don’t have the ‘grandfather rights’ to tow above a certain weight and have to take a test…I believe in the USA anyone can tow automatically. But now with the growing popularity of ‘glamping‘, it lets you have the camping experience without the need on having to pull your own accommodation to the campground! I visited Spook Cave and Campground, just outside of McGregor in East Iowa and stayed in their ‘Hut’ cabin. Here’s why Spook Cave should be on your Iowa bucket list!
Disclosure: My visit to Spook Cave and Campground was hosted. However, as always opinions are 100% my own!
Spook Cave Iowa
First things first, you don’t have to camp to be able to visit Spook Cave in Iowa! As the name suggests, Spook Cave is an actual cave! Spook Cave was first discovered in 1953 by a man called Gerald Mielke after he heard ‘spooky’ noises coming from the inside of the bluff. After some digging around and exploring, he eventually opened it to the public in 1955 and tours have been running ever since!
What makes this cave tour unique compared to some of the other caves in Iowa, is that the tours are taken by boat! The boats are the original ones which were bought by Gerald Mielke. They hold around 6 visitors at once and have a small battery powered trolling motor which is so quiet that I honestly didn’t even realise that they were powered this way!
The cave extends into the bluff almost half a mile, however the last 1000ft is unaccessible to the tours due to the water in this area being too shallow for the boats to pass through. I will say this, if you suffer from claustrophobia, the Spook Cave tour may not be for you. For example, the first 60 – 100ft of the cave is very small, you have to bend over to get through the tunnel, with the roof of the cave not being far above your back. It does soon open up, the biggest of the caves being 45ft high.
My favourite feature was the ‘Frozen Waterfall’. Our guide was very knowledgable and pointed out various features of the cave. You’ll see the different types of stalagmites and stalactites as well as the various rocks and minerals found within the cave. The cave was originally formed by cracks in the earth where water dripped through and eventually made the rocks dissolve into what we can see today. The caves are very drippy still, so expect to get a little damp! It is thought that the cave dates back around 750,000 years.
The temperature in the cave is a constant 47f/8c year round, which if you think about the extreme temperatures that Iowa can experience, in the winter, the caves are actually quite warm! When you first enter the caves, you are around 90ft below the ground. The deepest section is 120ft underground, however you don’t ever go ‘down hill’ on the tour, it’s due to the bluff on the outside that is higher.
For the most part of the year, there are no creatures that call the cave ‘home’. Near to the end of the season (late October), Pipistral bats will hibernate in the caves for winter. During this time, they usually will have one baby but then they’ll be gone before the tours start up again on May 1st.
The cave tours last around 30 minutes and cost $13 for adults (13yrs and up) and $9 for children (4-12yrs).
Spook Cave Campground
Which then leads me on to the Spook Cave Campground! There are different types of pitches available at Spook Cave, from seasonal sites to 30 or 50 amp hooks ups (caravan and RV) to what I would call a ‘tent pitch’ which is just a patch of grass.
Electric hook-up pitches
For me, one of the most surprising things was that there was free WiFi which had a pretty good signal all around the campground! I was half expecting to ‘switch off’ during my stay as I definitely wasn’t expecting a phone signal so the WiFi was a welcomed surprise!
Spook Cave ‘Hut’ Cabin
I was first drawn to the Hut cabin because of how unique it is…it looks like a little hobbit hole! It is also the most basic of the Spook Cave cabins, giving a more camping like feeling to the experience! The hut doesn’t have a bathroom but the toilet and shower block is just a short walk away.
If you look at the Spook Cave website, the Hut actually has a few more amenities than what is listed on the site. The cabin sleeps 3 people comfortably, with a double bed and a single bed (bedding included in the room rate). Inside you’ll also find: 2 chairs and a table, a mirror, a fridge, a microwave, a coffee pot (with coffee, sugar and powdered creamer), salt and pepper, paper towel, a stick lighter (for the fire pit), heating/AC and plenty of power outlets!
Outside of the cabin, there is a picnic bench, an in-ground fire pit AND a charcoal grill. Despite visiting at the very start of the season (May 2nd!), we lucked out with the weather and was able to sit outside and use the fire pit until late in the evening (it snowed the week before!!).
As we arrived after 5.30pm, we had to check in with the ‘camp host’ rather than at the office and we were able to purchase firewood directly from here ($5 per bundle…we found 2 bundles to be fine and lasted the whole evening). You could also buy bags of ice from here too.
I loved the location of the ‘Hut’. It sits right next to the Bloody Run Trout Stream which made a relaxing trickling sound. This is a state stocked trout stream and you can fish in it with a fishing license and a trout stamp.
Next to the hut is a waterwheel which was originally built to power the lights in the caves. It’s not used as an electricity source anymore (it doesn’t produce enough power), but it is still switched on daily!
What We Cooked On Our Fire Pit
We cooked brats (sausages) using fire pit forks that we had packed in preparation. We didn’t even have to hold onto the forks as we used some of the spare firewood to balance them over the heat! We also had baked potatoes wrapped in tin foil and vegetables also wrapped in foil but with a lump of butter too, and these were placed directly onto the ‘coals’.
The following morning, the fire was still hot enough to reignite and so for breakfast we had pudgy pies. These are made with slices of bread and blueberry pie filing and cooked in a pie iron (you can cook many different sweet and savoury meals in these campfire pie irons)! I also had a single pot of oatmeal, which I made in the microwave. Lunch was then a quick chicken noodle soup ‘bowl’ which was blitzed in the microwave!
Other Amenities At Spook Cave Campground
Another feature of the Spook Cave Campground is the large Campground Lake. This has a small beach, a swimming area and you are also permitted to fish in it without the need of a fishing license.
There are a couple of children’s play areas, a larger one which is located closer to the Spook Cave boat tour area and the second is in the middle of the seasonal sites.
The Spook Cave tour office also doubles up as a camp store, where you can buy locally made fire starters, maple syrup, suncream, drinks and ice creams, Spook Cave merchandise and gifts and there’s a small range of camping supplies.
You may even come across the ‘Spooky cats’, they are very friendly and enjoy attention!
Right near the entrance to the campground, is Beulah Falls which looks like it comes from right out of the middle of the bluff and flows into the Bloody Run Trout Stream.
Spook Cave Campground also have golf cart rentals available for $50 a day. We took one out to explore the campground as it sits on 93 acres of ground! The trails also double up as hiking trails and I highly recommend following the path that goes up on top of the bluff.
If you head towards the area that would be ABOVE Beulah falls, you’ll come across ‘Paula’s Pines and Pub’, a cute little area in the pine trees where you can hang out. (FYI, it’s not really a pub as such…you’ll have to take your own beer and of course TAKE ALL WASTE AWAY WITH YOU).
A Look At The Other Spook Cave Campground Cabins
The other cabins are all larger than the Hut and are located closer to the Campground Lake. There are three different designs, the two smaller cabins sleeping up to 6 people and the largest between 8-10 and were built locally by the Amish.
Lake View Cabin (6 Person)
These cabins come with more amenities than the Hut. Each having their own bathroom and shower, as well as a full kitchen with pots, pans, plates and cutlery etc.
Four of the cabins have lake views. The largest cabins have TWO lofts and two bedrooms, giving plenty of space to spread out if being shared between a couple of families or friends. The porch has lots of comfy outside seating.
Lake View Cabin (8-10 Person)
The Woodland Cabins are set further back into the woods. I like the way these cabins had a swinging bench and a rocking chair on the porch!
Woodland Cabin (6 Person)
Things To Do Near Spook Cave Iowa
Two large places of interest near Spook Cave are the Effigy Mounds National Monument (which is part of the National Park Service – 13 miles/17 minute drive) and Pikes Peak State Park (11 miles/16 minute drive).
I visited Pikes Peak State Park on the way back from Spook Cave. You’ll find a couple of nice viewpoints high up overlooking the Mississippi River. I also walked the Bridal Veil trail, which is a short walk to a waterfall and then looped back to the car park through the woods. Although the Bridal Veil trail is quite short, it does have a lot of stairs!
Driving Distances To Spook Cave Iowa
McGregor IA – 9 miles
Prairie Du Chien WI – 12 miles
Decorah IA – 38 miles
Dubuque IA – 62 miles
Madison WI – 112 miles
Spook Cave and Campground is open between May and October. For more information you can check out the Spook Cave Facebook page and their website for prices and booking!
Location: 13299 Spook Cave Rd, McGregor, IA 52157
Inspired to go on a glamping trip to Spook Cave Iowa?
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