The 5 Best Places to Camp in Illinois This Summer

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: August 22, 2022
© Joseph Gage / flickr – License / Original
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Are you planning a trip to Illinois this summer and want to enjoy some camping? Maybe you live in Chicago and need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here are the 5 best places to camp in Illinois this summer!

1. Shawnee National Forest: Garden of the Gods Recreation Area-Pharaoh Campground

shawnee forest
Garden Of The Gods Camel Rock is one of the great views at the park. After a day of hiking head over to the Pharaoh Campground for a campfire and night under the stars.

©Tonya Kay/Shutterstock.com

The Shawnee National Forest has 5 different Recreation Areas including the Garden of the Gods. This is one of the best places to camp in Illinois because of the unique rock formations, amazing hiking trails. The ¼ mile Observation Trail has bridges and walkways through the forest and takes around an hour to complete. Keep your eyes open on the trail for chipmunks, groundhogs, deer and there are even armadillo that live in the park.

Camping at the Pharaoh Campground is very economical with campsites only $10/night. Reservations are not required and include the campsite with picnic table and fire pit. Vault toilets and drinking water are available on site. After hiking through the sandstone trails settle in for a night under the stars!

Pharaoh Campground
LocationSouthern tip of Illinois
Nearest CityHerod, IL (about 20 min away, so plan ahead)
RV/Tent sites12
Picnic Tables at each siteYes
Fire Pit at each siteYes
AmenitiesVault toilets, drinking water
Pet FriendlyYes
ReservationsNo, first come first serve
What makes it one of the bestBudget friendly with access to some of the best hiking!

2. Carlyle Lake Dam West Campground

Carlyle Lake Illinois
Popular for sailing, Carlyle Lake is the largest lake in Illinois.

©Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock.com

The largest man-made lake in Illinois is Right on Carlyle Lake, located about 50 miles east of St. Louis, MO. This is a popular lake for sailing and holds races and regattas hosted by the Carlyle Sailing Association and Carlyle Yacht Club. Even if you don’t sail, the races are fun to watch. You can also kayak, canoe, SUP and boat. There are six Watchable Wildlife Sites located around the lake with tall lookouts for bird watching and other wildlife. Mallard, snow geese and Canadian geese are frequent visitors to the lakes edges.

The Carlyle Lake Dam West Campground sits at the far SE corner of the lake with 109 campsites, all with electricity. Many of the sites are lakeside sites with the beautiful lake just outside your RV or tent. Sit in your camp chair sipping a cup of coffee while you watch the sunrise over the lake. Nice!

Carlyle Lake Dam West Campground
Location50 miles east of St. Louis, MO
Nearest CityCarlyle, IL
RV/Tent Sites109 sites
Picnic Tables at each siteYes
Fire Pit at each siteYes
AmenitiesRestrooms, showers, amphitheater
Pet FriendlyYes
Reservations64 reservable, 45 first come first serve
What makes it one of the bestLakeside campsites on the largest lake in the state!

3. Illinois Beach State Park

European Beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria)
Illinois Beach State Park is one of the best places to camp in Illinois this summer because it is right on Lake Michigan!

©iStock.com/Edda Dupree

If you want to stay right on Lake Michigan then Illinois Beach State Park is one of the best places to camp in Illinois this summer. The park has 6.5 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan providing a beach for swimming, sunbathing, boating and fishing. Some of the best fishing for walleye, pike and largemouth bass is right off the shores of Lake Michigan. Walk the shoreline and look for some of the native waterfowl like warblers, flycatchers and sandhill cranes.

The campground has several loops with 241 campsites for both RV and Tent camping. The sites have electrical hookups, picnic tables and a fire pit. Drinking water is available in the campground but not at each site. Take some time to visit the Nature Center, let the kids run around on the playground and then head to the beach. A fun camping adventure for all!

Illinois Beach State Park
LocationRight on Lake Michigan, 45 miles north of downtown Chicago
Nearest CityChicago
RV/Tent Sites241 sites
Picnic TablesYes
Fire Pits/GrillsYes
AmenitiesRestrooms, showers, electric
Pet FriendlyYes
ReservationsYes, walk-in sites are first come first served
What makes it one of the bestWalking distance to the beach!

4. Starved Rock State Park Campground

French Canyon Starved Rock State Park
Take the French Canyon at Starved Rock State Park to reach this falls. Definitely some of the best hiking in Illinois.

©Joseph Gage / flickr – License

For some of the best hiking in Illinois you have to visit Starved Rock State Park. There are 13 miles of hiking trails that bend and wind through the forest along the rocky landscape and seasonal waterfalls. With 18 different canyons to visit you might want to take one of the Free guided tours in the summer. The guide will know the best places to spot grey fox, red fox, turkeys, bald eagles or maybe a raccoon on a night hike.

The campground has 133 sites with a some having full hookups for your RV and others more primitive for tent camping. There are restrooms, a shower house, camp store and playground right on-site. The state park is on the Illinois river so bring your fishing poles for some shore fishing. Maybe you will catch something to fry up over your campfire for dinner!

Starved Rock State Park Campground
LocationHalfway between Chicago and Peoria
Nearest CityPeru, IL
RV/Tent Sites133 sites plus one large youth group site
Picnic Tables at each siteYes
Fire Pit at each siteYes
AmenitiesRestrooms, showers, camp store, playground
Pet FriendlyYes
ReservationsReservations 3 days in advance or walk-ins
What makes it one of the bestRight on the Illinois River!

5. Burden Falls: Hayes Canyon Campground and Cabins

Burden Falls Illinois
Visit Burden Falls in the Wilderness Area of the same name. There are miles of horseback riding trails and a campground nearby where you can board your horse.

©Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Another great place to camp in the Shawnee National Forest is at the Hayes Canyon Campground and Cabins. This is near the Burden Falls Wilderness area where you can hike to the waterfall to take some amazing pictures. If you are into horseback riding the trails at Burden Falls are great for riding and the campground accommodates riders with pens and covered stalls for your horse.

The Hayes Canyon Campground is one of the best places to camp in Illinois this summer because you can have your horse stay at your site. You can ride the many trails right at the park. If you prefer to hike the trails there are lots of visitors that stay at Hayes Canyon just to hike to the caves, like Peter Cave and Sand Cave. There might be bats at night near the campground with caves that close!

Hayes Canyon Campground and Cabins
LocationSouthern tip of Illinois
Nearest CityEddyville, IL
RV Sites34 sites, all with pens for your horse at the site,
some covered
Cabins1 cabin, 2 Campers for rent
Overnight horse accommodationsYes
Picnic Tables at each siteYes
Fire Pit at each siteYes
AmenitiesYes
Pet FriendlyRestrooms, bathhouse with showers, small camp
store, horse pens
ReservationsYes
What makes it one of the bestBest place to camp for horseback riding!


The Featured Image

French Canyon Starved Rock State Park
The French Canyon Falls are named after French explorers who visited the area in the 1600s
© Joseph Gage / flickr – License / Original

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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