At The Dyrt, we share camping tips from our community of campers and campgrounds. With so many campers staying home, we continue to share this info so you can plan future camping trips across the U.S.

“I am going to make the blood run today over on my hunting ground,” said Lieutenant Martin Scott of the 5th U.S. Infantry. The legendary hunter is said to have made the creek run red from the game he scored.  It was allegedly this quote and his eager hunting habits that led to a section of northeastern Iowa earning the name Bloody Run Creek.

Situated near the Mississippi River, the stream and its surrounding area have played an important role in Iowa’s eerie history since Lieutenant Scott’s day in the early 1800s. It was here, more than a century later, where townsfolk of Beluah discovered one of Iowa’s most legendary caves: The Spook Cave.

The Haunting History of Spook Cave

For campers looking to explore a bit of local lore, Iowa’s Spook Cave and Campground is the perfect place to visit. The story, as pieced together from news reports and oral tradition, is this: early Iowan settlers in a town called Beluah were perturbed by strange noises coming from a cavernous hole at the base of a hill nearby.

Many of the townspeople believed the noises came from tormented or trapped spirits of early settlers, so they stayed away from the area. Then in 1896, a treacherous flood turned Beluah into a ghost town, killing more than 20 of its residents.





All that remained of Beluah was its waterfall and the cave.

But in 1953, county resident Gerald Mielke decided to investigate the cave by further opening the hole, uncovering a large and flooded underground cavern. It is known today as Spook Cave for the fright it initially gave residents.

Located in McGregor, Iowa, the cave has been open to the public since 1955.

Hop Aboard for a Spook Cave Boat Tour

Today, the cave is privately owned and has been opened for guided boat tours. Visitors can learn about the history and development of the cave, from it’s frightful and misunderstood beginnings to its current status as a tourist attraction. However, it’s not ideal for those who are claustrophobic. The dark, clammy cave entrance is so small that when the water level rises, visitors have to lay down flat in their canoe to get inside. And for the half-mile tour, you’ll have to duck and dodge the many massive cave formations as you float forward.

Spook Cave is open for tours daily from early May through the end of October. As you take your short motorboat trip through the narrow cave, enjoy and photograph the natural limestone formations including stalactites. Visitors can see evidence of Iowa’s rich geological history as they drift through the cafe. A zebra-striped flowstone wall shows years of calcite and manganese buildup, and just around the corner the tiny chamber opens up to a nearly infinite chimney and a 35-foot dome room. Inside the dome lies a massive frozen mineral waterfall. And don’t forget a sweatshirt, as the cave is 47 degrees year-round.

As if the cave itself isn’t creepy enough, visitors can also find evidence of scratch marks on the walls made by Old Joe. Old Joe was a solo traveler who’d hoped to explore the Spook Cave. Sadly, he capsized his boat and drowned in the dark waters.

 

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Rest Your Bones at Spook Cave Campground

The campground at Spook Cave is also privately owned and offers full electric, water, and sewer hook-ups for RVs and campers. Tent campers will have a more rugged experience at the campground’s primitive sites. Visitors camp on the bank of a trout stream, with a waterfall nearby. Your furry friend can enjoy the site, too: the campground allows supervised pets who follow the rules.

However, Iowa’s relatively snowy and harsh winters make camping between November and March pretty undesirable. Plus, the campgrounds lie in a low valley, making it susceptible to flooding. So be sure to check the weather before you go. Also, the grounds are pretty close to train tracks, so don’t be surprised if one wakes you up during the night, or bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper.

 

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Looking for a cushy stay after the day’s boat tour? Spook Cave also offers log cabins overlooking a fishing and swimming lake. Each cabin has its own picnic table and fire ring. Leave Fido at home, as the campground doesn’t allow pets inside the cabin. The grounds around the cabins are as close to luxurious as you can get while camping, offering a volleyball court, shower facilities, wireless internet and a gift shop. Reservations for cabins and campgrounds should be made far in advance, as the site remains popular from the late spring to the early fall.

Nearby Activities That Are Sure to Thrill

In addition to cave tours, campers at Spook Cave can also rent golf carts to explore towering limestone bluffs and make their way to nearby hiking trails. Campers can also take advantage of the nearby attractions in a scenic corner of Iowa.

About 15 minutes east, Pikes Peak State Park offers 11.5 miles of trails and a lovely creek for nature lovers. The trails lead hikers along walls of Decorah limestone, fossil remains, and up to Point Ann which overlooks the town of McGregor.

 

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Just beyond Pikes Peak State Park, visitors can find river-riding options in Prairie Du Chien in Wisconsin. In the Lower Wisconsin River Valley, Captain’s Cove offers canoe and kayak rentals. The Lower Wisconsin River is perfect for families looking to enjoy serene, natural beauty and wildlife.


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  • Thea Voutiritsas

    Thea Voutiritsas

    Thea Voutiritsas is a Kansas City-based writer and editor. She believes adventure and storytelling go hand-in-hand, and she uses the outdoors to recharge her creativity. When she’s not writing or traveling, you can find her kicking back with a good book.