Before You Go
To plan your Illinois camping trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks, CampBook and TourBook guides.
Order free information about Illinois through the Reader Resources.

For Information
When planning your camping adventure in Illinois, call the following agencies or visit them online for additional information:
Illinois Tourism, 1-800-2CONNECT (800-226-6632) or visit online at
Southernmost Illinois, 1-800-248-4373;
Greater Alton/Twin Rivers Convention and Visitors Bureau,
State park information and Pere Marquette reservations, Illinois Department of Natural Resources,
(217) 782-7454;
Shawnee National Forest, Vienna Ranger District; (618) 658-2111, (click on “recreation”)
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, (618) 997-3344;
New Salem State Historic Site,
(217) 632-4000; or visit online at

Outdoors in Illinois
Whether you’re a hermit, hedonist or somewhere in between, you’re sure to find a camping spot just for you in Illinois

Published: Jul/Aug 2002
By Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer

Campers enjoying a spectactular view in Shawnee National Forest, which covers a good portion of southernmost Illinois. /Illinois Tourism photo
In the woods or on the lakeshore, in a park or near a quaint town, camping in Illinois is a fun, inexpensive family getaway. So pack up the RV, pitch a tent or rent all the necessary equipment–whatever is convenient–and hit the road this summer. You’ll be amazed at the state’s natural beauty and history.

Shawnee National Forest

Interesting rock formations and many activities make Giant City State Park near Makanda a favorite spot among campers. Park the RV or set up your tent in an 85-site campground near Little Grassy Lake. The tent sites are relatively small–although larger than the RV sites–and all offer flush toilets, showers and electricity. Primitive campsites include a campground located on the 16-mile Red Cedar Backpacking Trail

For campers with horses, consider staying in the equestrian camp found in the southwest corner of the park near the 12-mile horse trail. All sites have electricity, water and hitching posts. The 146-mile River-to-River hiking and equestrian trail between the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers joins the horse trail through the park.

The cliffs at Giant City give the impression of city streets edged by tall buildings, thus the name. Rugged trails lead between high sandstone walls, up to bluff tops and to a 1,000-year-old stone wall built by American Indians. The Post Oak Nature Trail, accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, winds past a pond and looks out from the bluff top.

Rock climbing and rappelling are permitted on the bluffs behind Shelter No. 1 and Devil’s Standtable. The park does not provide equipment or training–conduct these activities at your own risk.

Other park services include an active interpretive program, such as guided hikes and a junior ranger program. Giant City Stables offers guided trail rides from May through October. Rent a cabin or enjoy a meal at Giant City Lodge, a sandstone and white-oak building constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Another nice woodland spot is Red Bud Campground in Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area near Eddyville. Although the 21-site campground has only pit toilets, the spaces are large and wooded.

Trails lead below high cliffs to a 125-foot natural bridge and through beautiful rocky stream valleys. Nearby Teal Pond has 10 sites.

This park offers access to two scenic spots, Lusk Creek Canyon and Indian Kitchen. The five-mile hike is over moderate-to-steep terrain. Other nearby sites worth seeing include Millstone Bluff Archaeological Site, which features American Indian petroglyphs; the Ohio River Scenic Byway; Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge with its fascinating cypress swamp; and the 45-mile Tunnel Hill hiking and cycling trail.

By the lake

Water enthusiasts might consider Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge located between Marion and state Route 13. Carbondale has several campgrounds with almost 400 sites right on the shores of three lakes: Crab Orchard, Little Grassy and Devil’s Kitchen. Shaded sites range from compact to sprawling and accommodate both tents and RVs. The campgrounds have electricity, flush toilets and disposal facilities.

State Route 148 leads to the visitor center, which distributes information on the refuge. An accessible trail, one of four nature trails in the refuge, begins at the center.

This is a prime area for wildlife viewing, boating, water sports and fishing. Crab Orchard Lake is noted for largemouth and white bass, Little Grassy for crappie, and Devil’s Kitchen for rainbow trout.

There are more than 200 bird species at the refuge, and accessible observation deck over backwaters of Crab Orchard Lake gives good views of migrating waterfowl. With luck, hikers can also see deer, a fox or a bobcat.

Other programming includes self-guided Discovery Auto Tours on Saturdays in October. These tours allow the viewing of wildlife and fall foliage in areas of the refuge that are normally closed. During National Wildlife Refuge Week in October take a kayak tour or nature walk. Join a guided eagle tour on Saturdays in January.
Near the action

Campers at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site near Petersburg can explore the adjoining living history village that has been reconstructed to look as it did when Abraham Lincoln spent six years of his life as a young adult. /Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer photo
Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site, two miles south of Petersburg on state Route 97, has a pleasant 200-site campground that’s next to the sprawling living history village. None of the sites offer hook-ups, and half have electricity. Public facilities include electricity, showers, flush toilets and a dump station.

Lincoln’s New Salem, a reconstructed village where Abraham Lincoln spent six years as a young adult, has a variety of activities. Interpreters of frontier history are stationed at some of the 23 buildings and explain what life during Lincoln’s time might have been like. In addition, the park hosts an outdoor theater series during weekends from mid-June through late August. The visitor center houses exhibits and presents events, like craft and music workshops, quilt and traditional music festivals, and the annual gaslight Christmas tour.

Lincoln’s New Salem is only 20 miles northwest of Springfield, close enough to make a day trip to see the Lincoln sites and other attractions.

The campground at Pere Marquette State Park on the Illinois River near Grafton also gives access to numerous sights and activities. It has 80 sites with hook-ups. The Rent-A-Camp cabins allow campers to stay in tents or cabins. Reservations are required and it’s recommended to book far in advance.

Boat, waterski, swim, and fish in the river. Explore the many wooded trails on foot or horseback. A nature center gives interpretive programs, including eagle watching in late winter. The rustic lodge serves hearty meals.

Area attractions include the new Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway, which follows Route 100 beneath towering white and honey-colored cliffs along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Bicyclists enjoy the popular 20-mile Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail, which parallels the byway between Alton and Pere Marquette.

The historic city of Alton has a collection of shops, eateries and sights to enjoy. Nearby Elsah and Grafton also are good stops for refreshments and shopping. Cool off at Raging Rivers Water Park in Grafton, where AAA members can save $2 off adult and child admission at the gate. On Wednesdays, the discount is $4 off children and adult tickets.

In the fall, bask in the splash of red and orange leaves against white cliffs and pick apples at nearby Eckert’s Orchard. Grafton also hosts periodic events like the Gathering of the Waters Rendezvous, Oct. 20–21.

Whether you want to hike, cycle, walk, horseback ride, waterski or merely go sightseeing in Illinois, there’s a campground nearby. Pitch a tent and stay a while.

Jinny Danzer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

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