From Lake Michigan beaches to Shawnee National Forest trails—campers have options in Illinois.
Illinois might be notoriously flat—the state’s highest natural point, Charles Mound, is easily eclipsed by Chicago's Willis Tower—but there are still plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures in the Land of Lincoln. Head to the windswept shores of Lake Michigan, grab your backpack and hit the trail in the Shawnee National Forest, or hop in your RV and set out along Route 66. With more than 300 state parks to explore, and a huge choice of campgrounds, glampsites, and cozy cabin rentals, campers have options to suit all four seasons. Summer is peak season, so book well in advance.
Once you’ve marveled at the skyscrapers and filled up on hot dogs in Chicago, you’ll find several of Illinois’ most impressive state parks within day-trip distance of the Windy City. Cool off at Illinois Beach State Park along the shores of Lake Michigan, hike to waterfalls and camp in the woods at Starved Rock State Park, or admire the fall foliage in Matthiessen State Park. For winter campers, Rock Cut State Park is a hotspot for cross-country skiing.
Nineteenth-century towns, vineyards, and scenic river valleys provide a change of pace in Western Illinois. Hop between towns like Peoria, Moline, and Galena along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers; spot bald eagles in Grafton, or rent a cabin at nearby Pere Marquette State Park. Mississippi Palisades State Park is another regional highlight, where you can hike, rock climb, or cross-country ski, depending on the season.
Illinois’ bucolic heartland was the long-time home of Abraham Lincoln, and historic sites are scattered around the countryside between Springfield, Bloomington, and Decatur. If you’re up for one of the world’s most famous road trips, drive your RV on down to Springfield, the birthplace of Route 66, or if woodland views and lake fishing are more your jam, head to Walnut Point State Park, Wolf Creek State Park, or Sangchris Lake State Park.
The rambling Shawnee National Forest stretches over much of southern Illinois, encompassing miles of hiking and horseback riding trails between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Take your pick of some of the state’s most rewarding hikes, including the River to River Trail and the Rim Rock National Recreation Trail, and don’t miss the extraordinary rock formations of the Garden of the Gods. First-come, first-served campsites are available at several NF campgrounds, or you can pitch your tent or park your RV in the dispersed camping areas.