8 Historic Iowa Hotels Worth Planning A Weekend Getaway To Visit

Photo courtesy of Black Hawk Hotel

While they may not have the same level of name recognition as say The Plaza Hotel in New York or the Watergate Hotel in DC, Iowa is home to some pretty cool and historic hotels.

Most of the hotels are over 90 years old and, if you’re like me and a little superstitious, you might even think they are haunted. So let me tell you a little bit about these glamorous lodgings and speculate how haunted they are on a scale of 1-10. What are my qualifications to determine how haunted something is, you ask? Well, after watching a few episodes of “Ghost Adventures,” I have the experience to tell whether one is haunted.

The Warrior Hotel

Located in Sioux City, the Warrior Hotel has been in this northwestern Iowa city for over 90 years. Designed in an art deco style with terracotta ornamentation on the exterior, this hotel is the perfect getaway. It was closed for 40 years, but The Warrior reopened in 2020 after an extensive restoration, according to KSCJ. The Warrior Hotel is also on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to Woodbury’s: An American Steakhouse, a rooftop bar,  a spa, and War Eagles Lanes for bowling enthusiasts.

Haunted Score: 4. While older spirits may be present, the vibes of ghosts in this hotel are Casper-level friendly. 

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The Black Hawk Hotel

Photo courtesy of Black Hawk Hotel

This quaint hotel nestled in the college town of Cedar Falls takes a visitor back in time. This hotel is the second-longest operating hotel in the country. A hotel has operated on The Black Hawk Hotel’s site since the 1850s. In 1914, the hotel was redesigned to be a mix of second-empire- and mission-style architecture. With only 28 rooms, a visitor will feel special staying in this beautiful hotel which is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Bar Winslow, The Black Hawk Hotel’s in-house bar,  is ready to serve up drinks and in the morning, visitors can enjoy a complimentary breakfast.

Haunted Score: 8. Being a site of a hotel since the 1850s is a long-time and gives spirits lots of time to make their presence known.

Hotel Grinnell

Photo Courtesy of the Hotel Grinnell

Grinnell’s former junior high school building was built in 1921, but it closed in the 1970s and remained shuttered before finding new life in September 2017 as the Hotel Grinnell, according to KCRG. While a beautiful hotel, it plays to its academic history. Chalkboards are in every room, and ties with the words “Not Now” are used in lieu of “Do Not Disturb” door hangers. There are also 300 pieces of original artwork throughout the hotel. Hotel Grinnell offers complimentary bikes to all guests, a 24-hour fitness room, and a treatment room for massages or other relaxing treatments.

Haunted Score: 2. Being an old school and opening less than 10 years ago, it has not had the time to chalk up its haunted credentials. The only reason for keeping it above a one is the fear of waking up in the middle of the night to see a ghostly figure of my language arts teacher giving me an F on my writing assignment. (Editor’s note: Hotel staff confirmed to me the old auditorium is indeed haunted!- Ty)

Hotel Julien Dubuque

Photo courtesy of Hotel Julien Dubuque

Located in the Key City, a hotel or inn has existed on the present site of Hotel Julien Dubuque since 1839. Over the years, Abraham Lincoln, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Mark Twain, and Al Capone, who supposedly owned the hotel at one point, all stayed at the hotel. After receiving a renovation, the Hotel Julien Dubuque reopened in September 2009. The hotel has Potosa Spa, Caroline’s Restaurant, and the Riverboat Lounge where a visitor can enjoy drinks and a beautiful view of the Mississippi River.

Haunted Score: 6. If Al Capone stayed here, there must be some sketchy ghosts active.

Hotel Fort Des Moines

Photo courtesy of Hotel Fort Des Moines

Built over a century ago, the Hotel Fort Des Moines has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982. At least 13 US presidents have stayed at the hotel from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama, even Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev got in on the fun as well as Johnny Cash and Elvis. After a few years of renovations and a change in ownership, the Hotel Fort Des Moines reopened in 2021. Enjoy coffee or wine at Hobnob which is named after an eatery that existed in the same spot in the 1940s. If you feel like having an exquisite meal, head over to the in-house restaurant, Proudfoot & Bird, named after the original architects.

Haunted Score: 5. This hotel has had a lot of positive experiences, though the grandeur and old-school architecture feel lends itself to spirits making their presence known from time to time.

Historic Park Inn Hotel

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, FIle)

This is the last remaining hotel in the world designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Its unique look compared to the other hotels on this list makes it worth a visit to Mason City. Built in the prairie school style and opened in 1910, it is now a part of the National Register of Historic Places. For delicious fare, take a visit to its restaurant, Markley & Blythe, named after the two attorneys who introduced Mr. Wright in Mason City, or enjoy a curated menu and drinks in the basement of the hotel at The Draftsman.

Haunted Score: 1. No way this silly-looking hotel is haunted. If anything, the ghosts will be annoying with their “hipster” takes on how this hotel is soooooo different. 

Hotel Winneshiek

Photo courtesy of Hotel Winneshiek

Residing in the Nordic haven of Decorah, Hotel Winneshiek was completed in 1905. Being as Nordic as possible, Norway’s Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha stayed at the hotel in 1939. While the hotel was being repaired at the turn of the century, the hotel acquired The Steyer Opera House. Enjoy a beautiful view of downtown Decorah at the Hotel Winneshiek Bar and other hotel amenities including the dramatic octagonal atrium lobby.

Haunted Score: 3. This is Nordic country and every Nordic person is very nice. I am guessing Nordic ghosts are splendid. 

Hotel Pattee

Photo courtesy of Hotel Pattee

Opened in 1913 by Harry and William Pattee, this historic hotel located in Perry has been welcoming guests off and on for over 100 years. Hotel Pattee offers unique rooms including a marching band room, rooms themed after various parts of the world, and, my worst nightmare, a circus-themed room. Check out the historic Howard F. Ahmanson Lobby which features replicas of the original chandeliers, the Arthur “Oley” Olson Bowling Alley,  the Willis Library, the Pattee Café, and Inter-Urban Lounge, named after the former electric train that took travelers back and forth between Perry and Des Moines in the early part of the 20th century.

Haunted Score: The parts of the hotel that are not the circus room I will give a 2. As for the circus room, 10. I get shivers down my spine looking at its pictures. I do not need ghost clowns visiting me in the middle of the night.


by Sean Dengler

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