Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park
Stuart K.The Dyrt PRO User
Reviewed May. 29, 2023

Limestone-Stained Equestrian-Only Campground

For those that bring their noble steed to this campground, you’ll have it basically all to yourself. I have to admit, I was incredibly bummed to arrive here only to discover that this campground was reserved exclusively for those packing their four-legged, mane-baring, buggy-pulling horse friends, but hey, there were some pretty outstanding trails to hike during the day and the friendly on-site ranger made a call over to nearby Starved Rock SP to secure me a camping spot over there, so not all was lost. 

If you do plan on camping here alongside your horses, you will want to note that there is no reservation system and that all sites are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. There’s a registration envelope that you’ll pick up when you arrive at Matthiessen SP, where you’ll simply need to fill this out with your name, # of days that you are planning to stay and then deposit the envelope in the drop-off kiosk along with the nightly fee and you’re all good. 

With nearly 2,000 acres, there’s a lot to explore here at Matthiessen SP, located just south of Utica by a few miles and due east of Oglesby by 3 miles. Whether you are camping or not, from the many valleys you will surprisingly encounter (Illinois is an incredibly flat state, for those that may not know) and the small trickling waterfalls you will stumble across to the non-stop trails, canyons, bridges, stairways, dams and dells that you will come across in this place, there is a really good cross-section of prairie land that meets densely-packed forests. What makes this area particularly unique is the unusual rock formations that you will discover all over the place, and nearby Starved Rock SP is no exception, where you’ll encounter exposed lime and sandstone. With water seepage and rain occurring naturally and in overabundance here, the residual impact of the water that dries on the sandstone adds to the verdant colors that you will find decorating the canyon walls. 

Occasionally, if you are especially quiet, you’ll come across no shortage of white-tailed deer or wild turkeys foraging through the crabapple and plum trees that are scattered throughout the forest here. Cottontail rabbits are scurrying around trying to stay hidden from the several bald eagles that conquer the skies and who beat out the vastly over-populated flocks of red-tailed hawks that usually beat them to their lunch. You’ll be able to catch a glimpse of most of these unadulterated natural experiences along most of the 5 miles of trails that can be found here at Matthiessen SP, where believe it or not, the easier of the hiking trails are located in the upper bluffs and the more difficult trails to manage are those on the interior. 

Insider’s tips? Here’s a few: (1) If like me, you stumbled across this campground and forgot to bring your horse (er, or don't have one to begin with), no worries, there’s a ton of outdoor camping outposts near here, top of which I would highly recommend Starved Rock SP, actually located just kitty-cornered from Matthiessen SP, or Kishauwau County Cabins, which is but a 10 minute drive from here; (2) In all of my camping, I have never really worried too much about poison ivy or ticks, until I came here – you definitely want to not only look out for the 3-leafed poison ivy that thrives here (note: if the 3-leafed descriptor wasn’t enough, be sure to look for the greenish-white berries), but be sure to bring some suave to apply to any skin that comes into contact with this nefarious plant, and if you find that you have a vampire-like tick that has fallen in love with you, a simple match applied close to the bugger will usually do the trick; (3) When you get tired of foraging for your next meal from the depths of your Cordova cooler, then head on over to The Lodge at Starved Rock SP where they serve up some pretty traditional continental American food of which I highly recommend the fried Walleye, smoked duck or the pan-fried pork chop; (4) When you’re looking for a great place to drop your kayak or canoe into, then head no further than the lower portion of Starved Rock SP where there is a boat and kayak launch into the turbulent currents of the Illinois River; and (5) After a good several days of camping, hiking and kayaking, you’ll definitely be looking for a place to ‘whet your whistle’ of which I would recommend heading over to Utica where you can try out one of the many taps they have on hand at Skoog’s Pub& Grill. 

Happy Camping!

Month of VisitMay
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023
  • Review photo of Matthiessen State Park Equestrian Campground — Matthiessen State Park by Stuart K., May 29, 2023