Our family visited Northeast Iowa almost every year for nearly 20 years, from when our kids were little to now (without kids). It’s one of our favorite places to go each summer; each time we visit, we find something new. And, of course, we camp at the local campgrounds. So here, we’ll share our favorite camping spots in Northeast Iowa (and why we like them).
Disclaimer: We have yet to even come close to camping in all the campgrounds in Northeast Iowa. Many lovely camping options exist beyond the ones listed below! We’re partial to camping in parks, and the camping spots below are the ones we enjoyed. Also, note that we camp in a camping trailer and like campgrounds with modern amenities.
Our four favorite camping spots in Northeast Iowa
Backbone State Park
Backbone State Park is special to us, not only because it’s full of fun outdoor things to do. But because it’s the first Northeast Iowa campground we took our kids to. We created lasting memories here!
It’s situated on the southern edge of Northeast Iowa. So it’s the ideal spot to spend a week (or two) and see the sights in Northeast Iowa and other fun areas of Eastern Iowa.
Staying at Backbone State Park can be a super fun Iowa vacation. There’s so much to do, from the beautiful park trails, stream, and beach to all the sites within an hour’s drive.
Backbone was our home base on one trip. We visited NE Iowa sites like Effigy Mounds National Monument and Pikes Peak State Park. And it was a good location for mini road trips to places like Dubuque and the Field of Dreams.
We camped in the South Lake Campground near the beach and boathouse. It has electric sites, modern bathrooms and showers, and a dump station. We enjoyed evenings by the campfire after a day on the trails and touring local attractions!
Pikes Peak State Park
It’s on a 500-foot bluff overlooking the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. So it’s the perfect spot for seeing the best of nature (wildlife too).
And from the park, it’s a super short drive to other area attractions, like Effigy Mounds National Monument, Spook Cave, and Decorah.
The campground is next to the overlook and a major trailhead and is one of the most beautiful Iowa parks to camp in. You can wake up in the morning, grab a coffee, and walk to the overlook for a gorgeous sunrise.
On a short walk along the boardwalk, we spotted wildlife, like fawns, bald eagles, and a black rat snake, to name a few. That’s not to mention the panoramic views and Bridal Veil Falls!
The shaded campground has electric sites, modern restrooms and showers, and a dump station. (It’s under construction until 2023.)
Volga River State Recreation Area
Volga River State Recreation Area is a fantastic place to camp in Northeast Iowa! It’s nestled in the beautiful Volga River Valley near Fayette. It’s a quiet spot surrounded by nature, with miles of trails and a beautiful lake.
Find some excellent outdoor activities in the park and fun places to visit nearby. We enjoy local businesses, like the winery and produce stand next to the park.
We use Volga as our base and make day trips to surrounding areas. It’s a little ways from some other Northeast Iowa attractions but still within 30-40 miles of most of them.
The Lakeview Campground is one of our favorite campgrounds. It’s on the park’s north side near the lake. We love its full hookups, spacious and level sites, and surrounding nature. It’s easy to stay a while! (An equestrian campground is on the park’s south side.)
Spook Cave Campground
Spook Cave Campground is near, you guessed it, Spook Cave. It’s known for its one-of-a-kind cave tour in a boat! And there’s a campground with a waterfall on site.
This place is special to us because of the memories of camping there with our children. What made our stay so great was the location of our campsite. We camped right beside the trout stream near the waterfall. The kids loved this spot for exploring the creek and trying their hand at trout fishing.
Then, of course, there’s the cave tour! Getting in a boat to explore a cave is definitely something to experience; it was a family favorite.
While there, we took the opportunity to see the other Northeast Iowa sites. Spook Cave is near Pikes Peak State Park, Effigy Mounds National Monument, and the Yellow River State Forest, to name a few.
An area campground we’d like to try
Another area campground on our list to try is Wyalusing State Park’s Wisconsin Ridge Campground (on the Wisconsin side of the river). We recently spent a day at the park and drove through the campground. The views of the Wisconsin River from some of the campsites are amazing.
Favorite places to visit and things to do while camping in Northeast Iowa
We don’t tend to move from campground to campground. Instead, we park it and take mini road trips to various area attractions. We even venture to Wisconsin and Minnesota sometimes!
Below are a few of the many (many!) things we enjoy seeing and doing when visiting Northeast Iowa:
- Visit & hike Pikes Peak State Park
- Tour the visitor center & hike Effigy Mounds National Monument
- Visit the City of Decorah (ride bikes, trout fishery, rent kayaks, & restaurants)
- Spook Cave tour
- Backbone State Park (hike, beach, boathouse, trout stream, CCC museum)
- Yellow River State Forest (hike & mountain bike)
- Rent kayaks and float the Yellow or Upper Iowa Rivers
- Bike Trout Run Trail in Decorah
- Go trout fishing
- Mountain bike & hike Volga River State Recreation Area
- Visit historic McGregor and Marquette
- Visit & hike Wyalusing State Park (Wisconsin)
- Tour Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum in Burr Oak, Iowa
- Visit Dubuque: National Mississippi River Museum & Mines of Spain
- See the Field of Dreams movie site
- Tour Niagra Cave in Harmony, Minnesota
• Campgrounds in Northeast Iowa
• Top 10+ things to see and do in Northeast Iowa
• Top Things to Do in Decorah, Iowa
• Trout Fishing in Iowa: Best trout streams and lakes
• Backbone State Park: Iowa’s Most Adventure Filled Park
• Pikes Peak State Park: Things to See & Do
• Volga River State Recreation Area: A Park For Nature Lovers
• Effigy Mounds National Monument: A Stop for All Ages
• Yellow River State Forest: A Forest with Tons of Outdoor Adventures
• Visit Wyalusing State Park: A Wisconsin Park Near NE Iowa