The 9 Best Places to Camp in Illinois

No matter where you go in the state of Illinois, you’ll find the best camping in the U.S. It completely stands to reason. First and foremost, the Chicago area has access to the second-largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. But this is just the beginning. 

Illinois has a completely diverse terrain of rolling hills, extensive forests, wetlands, and rivers for many camping adventures. There are 309 state parks, covering 475,000 acres, including popular Starved Rock State Park and Illinois Beach State Park. Add in major rivers like the great Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois, and you clearly have a campers’ paradise. 

Perhaps what’s most interesting about camping in Illinois is that all campers will encounter some kind of history lesson. That said, here are some of the best places for campers who visit Illinois to find outdoor excitement:

Starved Rock State Park, Oglesby, Illinois

Starved Rock State Park has been dubbed as the number one attraction in Illinois, and for good reason. It has everything for the outdoor enthusiast, but more than this, Starved Rock State Park is great for families. This is a pet and kid-friendly place for all campers in your group.

The main draw here is the spectacular hiking trails. There are 14 waterfalls and 18 canyons in all to be explored. This can be done on your own or with a guide. Incredible to behold, the Starved Rock State Park terrain was formed thousands of years ago by melting glaciers. This is an amazingly stark contrast to the flat farmlands that surround it.     

Starved Rock State Park boasts 133 sites for campers with electricity and water hookups on 2,630 acres. In addition, there are public showers and restrooms with flush toilets in the park. More than anything, there is something here for everyone. So if you are traveling with a group, every person will find something to do here. Even the non-campers.

Starved Rock State Park Features:

  • Visitor’s Center
  • Snack Bar/Shopping
  • Lodge with Rooms, Cabins
  • Dining Room, Lounge
  • Illinois River Cruises
  • Indoor Pool
  • Area Scenic/Winery Tours
  • Guided Hiking Tours
  • Campground store: wood, ice, batteries
  • Less than 100 miles from Chicago

Pro Camping Tip – Illinois 

You can show up to any state park campground in Illinois without a reservation. Simply pick the number of the unoccupied site and register at the park ranger’s office. (You may not get a campsite on a busy weekend.) You can also make reservations by going online (suggested) at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. No reservations are taken by phone or mail.  

Illinois Beach State Park, Zion, Illinois

Quite the counterpart to Starved Rock State Park, Illinois Beach State Park is a beach campers’ paradise. This is because Illinois Beach State Park includes 6.5 miles of sandy Lake Michigan shoreline to hike. There are another 4,160 acres to explore at Illinois State Beach Park with many activities for everyone. 

There is a wide variety of terrain here, including extensive marshes, oak forests, and the sand dunes along the shore. This is because the park was created by a combination of glacier movement and the steady winds of Lake Michigan. So the landscape here was definitely centuries in the making. There are also plenty of documented plants, flowers, and animal life to see here. 

There are 244 Class A sites in Illinois Beach State Park with electricity hookups for campers. There are also showers and a sanitary station. There are two areas to the park which offer different activities.

Illinois Beach State Park Features

  • 96-Room Lodge & Conference Center
  • North Point Marina (1,500 slips)
  • Concessions/Grocery Trailer
  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • Picnic Area
  • Trails (Guide Available)
  • Some Cycling
  • Nature Center
  • About 50 miles north of Chicago

Giant City State Park, Makanda, Illinois 

Giant City State Park is a 4,052-acre park that sits in the massive Shawnee National Forest. Located in southern Illinois, this breathtakingly beautiful park is populated with massive sandstone structures. The name of the park comes from these 12,000-year-old bluffs which peculiarly resemble buildings. The popular Giant City Nature Trail is also known as the “Giant City Streets.”

The forest here is lush, with many trails to hike. There is an informative visitor’s center to familiarize campers with the flora and fauna of the area. Besides hiking on foot, Giant City is also popular for horse-riding enthusiasts. There is a dedicated 12-mile loop trail and an equestrian campground with stables. There are 25 campsites here with electricity hookups and access to water.   

In the main campground, there are 85 Class A sites that provide water and electricity hookups for campers. There are also showers and sanitary facilities. As well, a Class C camping area provides the opportunity for primitive camping with 14 walk-in campsites. Fire rings, outdoor privies, and access to showers are available for these campers. 

Giant City State Park Features

  • Lodge – 34 Full-Service Cabins
  • Dining Hall
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Visitor’s Center
  • Archery Range
  • Metal Detecting
  • Rock Climbing
  • Picnicking
  • Fishing & Boating
  • Hiking Trails
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting

Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area, Carlyle, Illinois

The Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area is one of the larger campgrounds in Illinois. With 3,000 acres of park sitting on a 26,000-acre man-made lake, it is a popular destination for campers. Eldon Hazlet is definitely family-friendly and there is a lot to do here in west-central Illinois. This includes enjoying the restored natural habitats of wetland animals as well as a 3-acre tallgrass prairie field. 

Boating and swimming are big here, and so is hiking. The campground is large, with 328 Class A campsites that have electricity hookups for campers. There are also 36 Class C campsites for walk-in tent camping. For those who like vacationing at the lake, there are 20 full-service cottages that overlook it. 

Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area Features

  • Campground Store
  • Lake Cottages
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Archery Range
  • 9 Miles of Hiking Trails
  • Sailing
  • Fishing
  • Picnicking
  • 5 hours south of Chicago

Fort Massac State Park, Metropolis, Illinois

For history buffs, the Fort Massac State Park in southern Illinois provides a unique camping experience. Unlike more traditional state parks, like Starved Rock State Park, Fort Massac is located at an actual historic fort. 

At 1,500 acres, it is also a little smaller than parks like Illinois Beach State Park. Nevertheless, the Fort Massac State Park makes up for its size with breathtaking views overlooking the mighty Ohio River. Campers can also visit the replica of Fort Massac and even take part in living history weekends. 

The original fort was built by the French in 1757 and then destroyed in battle. It was then rebuilt in 1794 by President George Washington. Eventually, though, the fort itself was dismantled in 1828 for timber. However, in 1908 Fort Massac officially became the first state park of Illinois. Later, a replica of the fort was built for posterity. 

There are 50 Class A campsites with electrical hookups for campers, a shower building, and a sanitary station.

Fort Massac State Park Features

  • Visitors Center
  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Cycling
  • Hiking Trails
  • Ohio River Trail

Mississippi Palisades State Park, Savanna, Illinois

Mississippi Palisades State Park, in northwestern Illinois, is a national natural landmark. This is an awesome place for hikers, who can take the same trails as the people 1,000 years before. There are many lofty trails here that climb high into the cliffs above the Mississippi River. Rich in Native American history, this 25-acre park is located right on the slow waters of the Mississippi Palisades. 

There are 241 Class A and B campsites in the park. However, only 110 sites have electricity hookups for campers. Water is available, along with two sanitary dump stations for campers. As well, there are flush toilets and showers in 3 different buildings located on the campground. There are also two areas for youth camping.

Mississippi Palisades State Park Features

  • 15-Mile Trail System
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Rock Climbing
  • Picnicking
  • Cross Country Skiing (winter)

Pro Camping Tip – Illinois

State park campgrounds are economical. Fees for campers are much less than staying at a hotel.

  • Class A Campsites – $25 a night, electricity hookups, sanitary station, showers, toilets
  • Class B Campsites – $18 a night, electricity hookups, showers, toilets
  • Class C Campsites – $8 a night, gravel parking, water, and toilets
  • Class D Campsites – $6 a night, water and toilets nearby
  • Youth Campsites   – $2 per person, $20 minimum

Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton, Illinois

The Pere Marquette State Park, in west-central Illinois, is definitely a destination for nature-loving campers. This is an 80,050-acre protected nature area located right where the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers meet. 

The historic lodge at Pere Marquette was built in the 1930s. It has been restored and provides 50 guest rooms along with 22 stone guest cabins. Just to see the 50’ tall, 700-ton stone fireplace in the lobby is worth a stop by the lodge. 

A trip to the visitor’s center will help campers enjoy the views along the bluffs of the Illinois River. There are twelve miles of hiking trails along the bluffs, as well as cycling and horseback riding. Bald Eagle watching is especially popular in January and February. 

The Pere Marquette State Park has 80 Class A sites for campers with electricity hookups. The campground also has a shower building, a sanitary dump station, and drinking water. There are also three full-service group camps with cabins, dining rooms, kitchens, and showers. 

The Pere Marquette State Park Features

  • Lodge
  • Dining Room
  • Tennis Court
  • Swimming Pool
  • Conference Center
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Rock Climbing 

Pro Camping Tip – Illinois

If you are tent-camping, booking a site at a state park with a lodge may save your camping trip. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, get a room at the lodge for the night. It’s usually cheaper than a hotel and much closer. Then you can go back to tent-camping the next day.    

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

Garden of the Gods is a 3,318-acre wilderness area located in the Shawnee National Forest. It is an awe-inspiring collection of sandstone rock formations, sculpted by rain over the span of 320 million years. Because of this, the Garden of the Gods is also the most photographed state park in Illinois. 

Besides the scenic beauty of the Shawnee Forest, there is quite a bit of plant and animal life. And there are over 5 miles of interconnecting hiking trails to see it all very easily. However, there are only twelve primitive campsites here (known as Pharaoh’s Campground), and they are first-come, first-serve. 

This campground offers toilets, picnic tables, and drinking water. Small campers are welcome, but there are no hookups. 

If you have a camper, though, nearby Pine Ridge campground accepts campers. There are 13 sites here for campers that have electricity hookups. There are also 22 sites without electricity hookups for dry camping or boondocking. This 25-acre campground has toilets, drinking water, and picnic tables. Garden of the Gods Features

  • Hiking Trails
  • Photography
  • Shawnee National Forest Amenities

Camping in the Chicago Area

There are plenty of campgrounds within driving distance of the Chicago area, but they are a little pricier. Nevertheless, Chicago residents who want to get away to the outdoors will appreciate them. These Chicago area campgrounds are not as spectacular as the state parks, but they are still a nice break.  

One example is Camp Sullivan, located in Oak Forest, Illinois. It’s a private campground, with 10 sites for campers with electricity hookups, but no water or sanitation station. There are also 15 sites for tent camping. As well, there are 2 full-service bunkhouses with a capacity for 36 people along with 4 other small cabins. 

Camp Sullivan Features

  • 28-Ft. Climbing Wall
  • Conference Center
  • Pet-Friendly, Kid-Friendly
  • Hiking Trails
  • Weekend Campfires

Another example of a private campground near Chicago is Fish Lake Beach Camping Resort, in Volo, Illinois. It’s a campground about an hour from Chicago, which partners with Six Flags Amusement Park, Great America. 

Fish Lake Beach Camping Resort is a family-oriented campground. As the name suggests, there is a beach, a pool, and a lake for swimming, kayaking, and paddle boating.  Campsites have water and electricity hookups for campers, or there are cabin rentals available. There is a dog park and many other recreational facilities. All-in-all, this a nice commercial camping ground for the families that enjoy communal, full-service camping in their respective RVs. 

Sam Brooks

Sam Brooks

Hi, my name is Sam Brooks and I'm a huge hiking, fishing and camping enthusiast. I bring my dog Max as often as I can because he also loves the great outdoors. Although I consider myself a private person, I really want to share my passion and knowledge with the readers here at outdoorcommand.com