Let’s be honest. When you think about traveling to Illinois, you likely think about hot dogs, deep dish pizza, and baseballs getting lost in that iconic wall of ivy. Chicago is great, but Illinois is more than the beautiful grit and grind of the Windy City.
There’s an entire state outside of Chicago and it’s full of natural beauty and fantastic campgrounds in Illinois. In the land of Lincoln, you can venture from the shores of Lake Michigan to the depths of the Shawnee National Forest to discover a variety of escapes and adventures.
5 of the Best Campgrounds in Illinois
Check out what some avid campers in The Dyrt community have to say about their favorite campgrounds in Illinois to pitch a tent or park an RV:
It’s only about 90 miles from Chicago, but it’s a stark contrast from the bustling city. The ancient sandstone landscape was carved by glacial meltwater. The 13 miles of hiking trails showcase amazing waterfalls, and with access to the Illinois River, it’s perfect for boating and fishing enthusiasts. There are 130 class-A campsites with electric hook ups.
“Our family has been camping here for years. Starved Rock State Park and nearby Matthiessen State Park offer beautiful hiking, canyons, and waterfalls along the Illinois Michigan River. I definitely recommend making reservations in advance as it tends to fill up quick! There is a small town close by with lovely little cafes, shops, and gas station.” — The Dyrt camper Sara W. Camp Here
Rock Cut State Park’s 3,092 acres feature two lakes, hiking and horseback riding trails, and 270 premium campsites. Located near Rockford, also only about an hour and a half from Chicago, it’s a great escape from the city, and an excellent way to experience the naturally rocky northern part of the state.
“Of all of the campgrounds that I have visited in Illinois, I would say that Rock Cut State Park is the best that I have seen. It has a large lake with almost 40 miles of hiking trails, including equestrian trails and an equestrian campground. There is boating and fishing as well as swimming in the lake.” — The Dyrt camper Matt S. Camp Here
Those looking for a rugged escape from the hustle of urban Illinois can find what they’re looking for at the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, a part of the Shawnee National Forest. It offers a more primitive option for camping compared to some of the others listed, and a smaller selection of sites, featuring just 12 campsites. Enjoy hiking and horseback riding, and some unique rock formations created by ancient uplifted sandstone. You’ll also get a glimpse into past settlements, with old homesteads, fruit orchards, and historic cemeteries.
“My daughter and I decided on an impromptu weekend camping/hiking trip coming from Western Kentucky. The weather was great, location amazing and scenes are breathtaking. The area was mildly populated so we had time to take pictures without being rushed. We camped at the campsites right down the road which were very clean and well-kept. The hike was very easy and we recommend a sunset hike. — The Dyrt camper Michelle G. Camp Here
Water lovers can find all their favorite activities in the heart of central Illinois. Coon Creek Recreation Area sits on the western shore of Lake Shelbyville, a little more than two hours from St. Louis. It’s great for kids with a playground and swimming, and the adults will enjoy the shaded campsites during hot summer days. There are over 180 campsites, some offering reservations.
“We’ve been camping at Coon Creek, on a beautiful Lake Shelbyville, for a few years now, the place is perfect for family vacations. And that’s exactly what we do. Gather 10-12 of us, reserve a buddy site, so we can all be on one campsite (big enough to fit 5 tents and an RV). If you have a small group and want to get a small site, there are plenty of those. Some even with lake views. — The Dyrt camper Meg S. Camp Here
Cliffs, ferns, waterfalls, limestone bluffs, and caves can be found throughout Ferne Clyffe State Park. Trails weave throughout thick forest and moss-covered rock-formations, giving hikers and campers a close-to-nature experience.
The campsites offer a variety of styles, from semi-primitive to gravel pads with electric hook ups.
“Really, this state park is a must for anyone who lives nearby or is driving through. It’s just that gorgeous! There are lots of well maintained trails to hike… hikes that include bluffs, caves, creeks, etc. Our favorite is Hawk’s Cave Trail. It’s an easy hike and the kids explored the caves for hours!” — The Dyrt camper Dani B. Camp Here
- Clinton Lake Camping, DeWitt, IL
- Camp Manitowa, Makanda, IL
- Castle Rock Camping, Oregon, IL
- Camping near Starved Rock
- Carlyle Lake Camping, IL
- Garden of the Gods camping, Derby, IL
- Camp Covel Creek, Ottawa, IL