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Belva Deer Equestrian Campground in Iowa, A Hidden Gem

I was not at all sure what I was getting us into when I added Belva Deer Equestrian campground to our itinerary. Their website offers minimal information. I did call and ask some questions, but I wasn’t able to learn much more about the campground. Nevertheless, we decided to give it a try. We are so glad that we did, as it may end up being our favorite spot, or at least a top contender!

The website did make it clear that we wouldn’t have hookups of any kind, so we were prepared to boondock. We are most interested in having secure corrals for the horses. We can run our generator as needed.

We were traveling from our previous stop in Branched Oak State Park in Nebraska on to Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin. We needed an overnight stop, and I liked the fact that the little county park boasted 15 miles of horse trails. Belva Deer Equestrian camp was about halfway between our Nebraska stop and Wisconsin. The fact that it was 30 miles south of Interstate 80 wasn’t ideal, but everything else about it seemed like a good fit.

Although I had purchased a trucker’s atlas, I was still not totally in the habit of using it. Perhaps if I had been using it, we would have missed this little gem of a park. Because we were blissfully ignorant, we followed “regular” GPS into parts unknown, on our way to our little spot of private heaven.

We exited Interstate 80 and quickly found ourselves on gravel roads. No problem, we’ve been on many gravel roads. However, it was this sign that gave us pause…

Our coach and loaded horse trailer are probably closer to 21 tons. We made the executive decision to proceed as planned.

After talking to an RV technician (who is also an avid RVer) and doing some research, we learned that:

It is up to each person to decide how they wish to proceed when they see a “no trucks over x-tons” sign. It is a sign placed by local ordinance. It is not a sign notifying drivers of a weight limit of a bridge or other structure.

We won’t ever completely discount signs that display weight restrictions. But we now understand that most of those signs are placed to limit commercial traffic. Certainly, farm equipment exceeds some of those “weight limits.” In this case, there was a bridge. We crossed it both going and coming without difficulty. We are so glad we did because within a mile of that bridge was this delightful little park.

Belva Deer Equestrian campground

However, when we reached our destination, we were not the only ones there. Two delightful women were just tacking up a couple of beautiful Peruvian Pasos to go for a ride. This equestrian camp is tiny! Alan estimated its size as 75 feet square. These ladies, Marge and Barb, were most definitely not expecting company. Consequently, they hadn’t parked in a way that efficiently shared the space.

No problem for my awesome husband who can maneuver that beast of a coach with ease! He backed the trailer with the coach like he had been doing it for years. To be sure, he has backed boats and trailers for most of his life. But backing vehicles up behind a motor home is a whole ‘nother animal! Marge and Barb were impressed!

We immediately liked these ladies and were quite pleased when they offered to let us ride with them. We got the horses tacked up as quickly as possible and hit the trails with two dogs and our new friends.

The trails here were quite similar to what we encountered the previous day in Nebraska. They were wide, level, and either dirt or grass. Again, similar to Nebraska, the trail markers were best interpreted by people who regularly rode the trails! Even our impromptu trail guides got somewhat turned around. Once again, I depended on my phone and my compass to get us pointed back in the direction of camp. As you can see from my Garmin recording, it was a hot day! We covered slightly less than 5 miles.

The map on the top is provided by the park. My Garmin recording is on the bottom.

Lake Belva Deer covers 260 acres at a maximum depth of 41 feet. Most of the lake that we encountered on our ride didn’t look terribly inviting. The shoreline was muddy, as our (previously) white dog Finn aptly demonstrated. He went into the lake and literally emerged black on the bottom, with a distinct line of demarcation where he was submerged.

Although we didn’t realize it while we were there, apparently there is a regular campgound on the southeast end of the lake. It has 56 modern sites and 11 primitive ones. There are showers and flush toilets, as well as access to a dump station. (There is a water spicket and pit toilet at the equestrian camp but nothing else.) There are also 5 cabins available year-round.

The cost for us to stay at this private little spot was $10 per night. It was the honor system, with envelopes provided at the camp. There is no charge for day riders like Barb and Marge.

We really liked this place and would absolutely plan to stay there again if we are in the vicinity. My photos of the camp itself were taken rather early on the morning of our departure (at least for Alan and me) as we needed to get on the road.

After traversing our little bridge and gravel roads, we found ourselves continuing east on a newly paved road. We passed a buffalo ranch. Our destination after Belva Deer was Kettle Moraine State Park. We needed to get there by mid-afternoon as we had an appointment with a motorhome technician in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. We have a slide in the motor home that isn’t working.

We blew into Kettle Moraine, got the horses settled, and headed north to the RV shop. We were really hoping we could get the problem resolved. After over an hour of effort that evening, followed by another few hours the next morning, we admitted defeat. We are resigned to losing floor space for the dogs and living with the problem until we can leave it at our RV dealer in Tucson in November. It really is a First World Problem… Much less worrisome than what we have been dealing with recently.

Into every fairy tale life, some rain must fall…

Sadly, Alan and I are currently in a bit of a tsunami. I wrote last week about the perils of a puncture wound. On the day this blog posts, my boy Kadeen will be undergoing general anesthetic and surgery to more deeply debride the infection in his leg. It has now impacted the bone. I am too emotionally wiped out to write more, but I will describe our struggle next week in greater detail.

My friend Barb whom I met at Belva Deer reached out to me after she read last week’s blog. She told me a sad story about a 3-year-old Peruvian mare that suffered a puncture wound in her fetlock joint. A week after the injury, the mare was unwilling to bear weight on the leg at all. A trip to a state veterinary school resulted in a diagnosis of infection of the tendon sheath. Surgery was no guarantee of soundness (and very expensive) and the decision was made to euthanize the mare.

It has been a tough few weeks. Stay tuned for an update next week. In the meantime, stay safe and check those ponies every day!

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1 thought on “Belva Deer Equestrian Campground in Iowa, A Hidden Gem”

  1. Hi! I finally got on to read your blogs. They are so interesting! I’m Marge, the lady with Barb in the. Belva Deer blog. It was so much fun to meet you & Alan. We had such a good time riding & visiting.
    Be sure & let us know when you’re in the neighborhood again.
    Marge Smith

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