Boondocking in Illinois

Last updated on May 25th, 2021 at 09:56 am. Originally published on March 23rd, 2021

Illinois is a boondocker’s paradise. The state offers much more than the great city of Chicago. It consists of a mixed landscape from Lake Michigan in the northern part of the state to the Shawnee Hills in the south with prairies and cornfields in between. You can get away from the hustle of the day-to-day and spend time in quiet solitude, enjoying the natural beauty of Illinois. Whether you want to go rock climbing in Jackson Falls, visit a canyon, catch a waterfall, spend the day hiking or explore the grasslands, it is possible in the Prairie State. And for boondockers, Illinois provides plenty of opportunities to find dispersed and primitive camping in and near state parks and forest areas.

Waterfall surrounded by trees in Glen Forest Preserve in Illinois.

Boondocking Sites in Illinois

Apple River Canyon State Park

Near the Wisconsin state border, Apple River Canyon State Park offers 49 RV sites. Enjoy hiking along one of their five trails, where you might spot a family of deer. Or go fishing for carp in the Apple River. Keep in mind that alcohol is not allowed. From Stockton, take US-20 W to S Canyon Park Rd. Then drive 6.2 miles to the state park.

Dutchman Lake

Enjoy the solitude that comes from dispersed camping near the secluded 118-acre Dutchman Lake. Go boating or fishing for bass and catfish. Motor restrictions are 10 hp. This area is located in the Shawnee National Forest, one-half hour south of Marion.

Jackson Falls

Enjoy waterfalls, dispersed camping and rock climbing in Jackson Falls. Pets, including horses, are allowed. The Shawnee National Forest is only a fifteen-minute walk away from the campground that is accessed by following a narrow road paved with gravel until you reach the trailhead. After that, it becomes a dirt road. Visitors should be warned that there are high and potentially dangerous cliffs in the area.

Sand Ridge State Forest

Be on the lookout for coyotes, deer, foxes, and quail while hiking or mountain biking along the trails of the forest. Equestrian trails are available for horseback riding. Sand Ridge State Forest offers 12 primitive camping sites for a genuine back woodsy, wilderness experience. The forest is located a little more than one hour west of Bloomington via IL-9 W.

Shawnee National Forest

Birdwatchers and boondockers will be at home in this fun-filled wonderland. Challenge yourself to spot over 200 species of birds in the Shawnee National Forest. Fishing, climbing, kayaking, and hiking are just some of the outdoor adventures awaiting you. Primitive camping is available in several designated sites. Located roughly a half-hour south of Marion via I-57 and I-24. From I-24, take exit 7 to County Hwy 1575/Dutchman Lake Rd to Fishing Hole Lane in Ozark.

Tower Rock Campground

Catch views of the Ohio River. Enjoy peace and quiet as you go boating and fishing at the Tower Rock Campground. Keep in mind that the campsite is prone to flooding. The campground is part of the Shawnee National Forest. It’s located half-hour away from the Garden of the Gods. If driving from Elizabethtown, follow IL-146 E.

Turkey Bayou Campground

A great choice for bird lovers, Turkey Bayou Campground offers a designated Waterfowl Refuge Area that is closed during the waterfowl hunting season. There is also a boat launch, picnic area, and pond. Dispersed camping is available throughout the year. If you are coming from Murphysboro, take Hwy 149 W to Hwy 3 for 5.5 miles to Oakwood Bottoms Road. Follow Oakwood Bottoms Road for 4 miles to the campground.

Where to Boondock in Illinois

The majority of campgrounds in Illinois are near state parks and forest areas. The Shawnee National Forest is a big draw for boondockers wanting to experience a forest paradise and primitive camping. Notable places to visit are Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, Ferne Clyffe State Park, Giant City State Park, Cedar Lake, Little Grand Canyon and the Trail of Tears State Forest, a rugged historic trail once taken by Native Americans. You will also be able to find campgrounds near the Wisconsin border and in the prairie lands of central Illinois. 

Free Camping in Illinois

When preparing for your boondocking trip, consider you destination. Illinois offers something for everyone, including rugged and flat, grassy lands, lakes, forests, historical sites, wildlife, and numerous varieties of birds for birdwatchers. Many of the roads leading to primitive campgrounds are narrow and difficult to follow, and some of the nature surrounding those campsites are potentially dangerous. Be prepared to look out for steep cliffs and uneven rocks. Also, be prepared for poisonous snakes, particularly in parks where the indiscriminate killing of them is illegal.

There should not be a problem finding enough food anywhere in the state of Illinois if you decide you want to leave the campsite. However, make sure your RV is fully stocked up with enough of your favorite foods to last your entire trip. Keep an emergency kit on hand for emergencies as well as any tire trouble. You should have an extra tire in the back in case one of yours goes flat. And plan ahead to know where to find gas stations so that you always have plenty in the tank. Before you head out on your trip, check out our blog for all you need to know about boondocking.
Boondocking in Illinois brings peace and serenity as well as a lot of fun in the outdoors. If you do not own an RV, consider renting one through RVshare. Having an RV makes it easy to park with everything you need to comfortably experience and fully commune with nature.

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