“Summer” and “camping” go together like PB and J. But if you live in Chicago, you're lucky if you can catch a glimpse of the stars on any given night, let alone secure pristine outdoor space to sleep beneath them. Fortunately, you don’t have to go *too* far to get a taste of wilderness—the Prairie State is rife with spots to pitch your tent or park your RV. Here, the best camping in Illinois where you can hike, fish, canoe, ride a horse or simply lay back and feast your eyes on all those stars.

What to Bring Camping

What you bring camping will largely depend on how you’re planning to do it. If you’re roughing it with a tent and a sleeping bag, for instance, you’re probably going to want to bring along a sweater, some water, a flashlight (and extra batteries) or a solar-powered light, sunscreen, a First Aid kid and a tent repair kit—i.e. the necessities you can carry on your back.

If you're posting up with a monstrous RV, however, you'll have plenty of room for all of the above plus your toiletries, spare clothing, water wings for your kids—you name it. Which brings us to our next topic: camp classifications.

Camp Classifications

Before you choose a camping locale, you’ll want to figure out what kind of campsite you’re looking for. Most sites in Illinois don’t require a permit unless you’re going with a group of 20 or more (at which point you'll need an activity permit) and use a standardized camp classification system, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. We've outlined them for you below.

  • Class A: A class A site will have just about everything you need in the wild (and then some), including showers, electricity and vehicular access.
  • Class AA: With a class AA site, you’ll get all of the above, plus sewer access.
  • Class B/E: At a class B/E site, you’ll be able to drive to your site, where electricity will waiting for you.
  • Class B/S: This offers the basics, which, in this case, means showers and vehicular access (no electricity, though).
  • Class C: You’ll be able to drive to your campsite at a class C site, but you won’t have a whole lot of amenities (that includes showers or power).
  • Class D: The most rugged of the bunch, a class D campsite is about as barebones as it gets: tent camping only with no vehicular access, so you’ll have to hike to get to your sleeping spot.
  • Class E: Class E sites are strictly for equestrians.

You may also see references to premium class A (Class AP), B/E ( B/E P) and B/S (B/S P) sites, which means they consistently operate at capacity. (Read: They’re busy AF).

No matter which type you're looking for, you're likely to find it our list of sites for the best camping in Illinois below.

Best camping Illinois Garden of the Gods
Michael Kappel/Flickr

1. Garden of the Gods Recreation Area

  • Why We Recommend It: Historic, killer scenery, clean
  • Distance: 5 hours, 38 minutes
  • Class: C
  • Reservations: No
  • Attractions: Hiking, horseback riding, fishing, historical sites
  • Dates: Year-round
There’s a reason Camel Rock, which is found on a 1/4 -mile trail in the Garden of the Gods, is reportedly one of the most photographed spots in Illinois—it’s absolutely gorgeous. Rock formations that date back 320 million years (nbd) provide for the Insta-worthy views, and equestrian trails allow you to take in the scene from a whole new perspective. It’s also just a hop, skip and a jump away from historical areas, like the Trail of Tears and forest sites used in the Underground Railroad.

$10 per night, 618-253-7114, Picnic Rd., Herod IL, 62947; fsusda.gov

Best camping in Illinois Starved Rock
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2. Starved Rock

  • Why We Recommend It: Unique landscape, expansive hiking trails
  • Distance: 1 hour, 41 minutes
  • Class: A-Premium
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Hiking, kayaking, fishing, boating, ice climbing
  • Dates: Year-round
Starved Rock is one of the most famed parks in Illinois (which means it’s liable to be one of the busiest this summer). Luckily, there’s plenty of room, with 129 class A-premium campsites to speak of and vast, expansive trails you can easily get lost in (don’t worry—there are guided tours available). No matter how you choose to explore it, however, its 18 canyons with vertical walls of moss will have you marveling at your surroundings.

$25 per night, 815-667-4726, 2570 E. 950th Rd., Oglesby, IL, 61358; www2.illinois.gov

3. White Pines Forest State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Charming cabins, incredible hiking views
  • Distance: 1 hour, 55 minutes
  • Class: B/S
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Bonfires, hiking, picnicking, bird-watching, cross-country skiing
  • Dates: Year-round
Think sleeping on the ground is for the birds (er, squirrels)? Us too, TBH. White Pines offers a slightly elevated camping experience courtesy of the cutest little log cabins you ever did see. Built in the 1930s, they’re plenty rustic, yet equipped with a gas fireplace, queen beds, a mini fridge and yes, even AC, so you can take in the great outdoors in modern comfort. In the morning, you can hit one of seven different trails (several of which will take you high into the moss-covered cliffs), and by lunch, you can have a quaint little picnic in one of the spacious fields. Conditions permitting, you may even be able to drive over several shallow fords for an extra magical touch.

$258 to $298 per night, 815-946-3717, 6712 W. Pines Rd., Mt. Morris, IL, 61054; whitepinesinn.com

Best camping Illinois Wildlife Prairie
Katherine Johnson/Flickr

4. Wildlife Prairie Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Interact with wildlife, unique lodging
  • Distance: 3 hours, 1 minute
  • Class: Varies
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Fishing, biking, hiking, kayaking, disc golf, animal sightings
  • Dates: Spring to October 30
If your favorite part of nature are the creatures that come along with it, we’ve got just the spot for you. Say hello to Wildlife Prairie Park: An 1,800-acre recreational oasis, the trails of which are home to 60 different species of animals. When you’re not “ooh”-ing and “aah"-ing over Bambi and friends, you can engage in all of the usual camping suspects (think fishing, kayaking, disc golfing and more). The cabins are all available on Airbnb, and range from house-sized spaces to prairie stables and renovated train cabooses.

$30 to $360, 309-676-0998, 3826 N. Taylor Rd., Hanna City, IL, 61536, wildlifeprairiepark.org

Best camping in Illinois Chain O Lakes 2
Chain O'Lakes State Park

5. Chain O’ Lakes State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Surrounded by water, wildlife watching
  • Distance: 1 hour, 23 minutes
  • Class: Varies
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Fishing, ice fishing, boating, archery, horseback riding
  • Dates: Year-round
Water lovers, rejoice! As its name implies, Chain O’ Lakes is basically an aquatic wonderland, making it a popular destination for fishing and boating (rentals are available, though there is a user fee required). It borders three natural lakes (the Grass, Marie and Nippersink) plus the Fox River, so it also just so happens to be a popular destination for grassland birds, if nature photography is your bag. When you’re ready to hit dry land, there will be four trail systems waiting. There’s also 8 miles of equestrian trails, so you can do a little riding while you’re there.

From $12 per night, 847-587-5512, 8916 Wilmot Rd., Spring Grove, IL, 60081; www2.illinois.gov

Best camping Illinois Ferne Clyffe
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6. Ferne Clyffe State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Incredible views, diverse camping options
  • Distance: 5 hours, 12 minutes
  • Class: Varies
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Hiking, picnicking, fishing, horseback riding
  • Dates: Year-round
Come for the hiking, stay for the absolutely breathtaking scenery. You’ll have your pick of a whopping 18 different trails interlaced with pretty waterfalls, the Ferne Clyffe lake, primitive backpacking and more at varying levels of difficulty. There’s also a 53-acre nature preserve that’s ripe with lovely flowers in the warmer months and colored leaves come fall. You’ll have the option to experience Ferne Clyffe just about any way that you choose, with class C campsites available for backpackers who just want to be one with nature and class A facilities with proper showers and flushing toilets (aah) for those who like to stay more connected to the modern world.

$20 per day, 618-995-2411, 90 Goreville Rd., Goreville, IL, 62939; www2.illinois.gov

Best camping Illinois Castle Rock
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7. Castle Rock State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Isolation, high overlook
  • Distance: 1 hour, 53 minutes
  • Class: D
  • Reservations: No
  • Attractions: Hiking, picnicking, fishing, canoeing
  • Dates: Year-round
This one admittedly takes some work to get to—the camping is primitive, and you’ll have to canoe or take a boat to get to it, since it’s not accessible by foot or car. If you’re up for the challenge, however, you’re in for a treat, with 6 miles of trails to explore. The main event, of course, are the stairs you’ll climb up to Castle Rock Overlook, where you’ll be privy to all the sights the Rock River Hills region below has to offer you.

815-732-7329, 1365 Castle Road, Oregon, IL, 61061, www2.illinois.gov

Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park RV Resort at Pine Lakes

8. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park RV Resort at Pine Lakes

  • Why We Recommend It: Kid-centric, nostalgic
  • Distance: 4 hours, 22 minutes
  • Class: A
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Aqua parks, boat rentals, water and electricity hookups, inflatable slide
  • Dates: April 15 to October 30
Scoff all you want, but Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park holds a special place in my heart, as it likely does for anyone who’s ever visited one of its campgrounds as a child (or a parent). Sure, it may not be bedecked with stunning cliffs or waterfalls, but if you’re looking for a place to make lasting memories around the campfire with your family (shoutout to grandma Joan and grandma Jennie) and your friendly RV neighbors, this is your spot. Maybe it’s the surprise appearances (and photo opps) you'll get from the camp’s mascots, Yogi, Cindy Bear and Boo Boo, or maybe it was my young, impressionable age, but 30-some odd years later, I still remember this place fondly.

$66 to $196 per night, 212-285-6719, 1405 Lakeview Heights, Pittsfield, IL, 62363; campjellystone.com

9. Camp Aramoni

  • Why We Recommend It: Luxury camping at its finest
  • Distance: 1 hour, 46 minutes
  • Class: A-Premium
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Hiking, biking, lawn games, fishing, canoeing
  • Dates: April to November
Some of us just weren’t meant to be one with nature—at least not in the traditional sense. And that’s OK! In fact, that’s exactly who Camp Aramoni—the “first and only boutique campground” in the state—was made for. Here, you’ll stay in one of 11 safari-style tents that have everything you could ever want, including AC, heat, a mini fridge and a comfy bed with luxury linens, plus breakfast, dinner and gourmet S’mores for your own personal bonfire. There are private hiking trails, so you won’t be bothered while you’re taking in nature, fishing and canoeing, and plenty of wildlife to behold, including turkeys, deer, birds and turtles. And if you get tired after all your busy activities? You can opt to ride in a free golf shuttle back to your nature-inspired suite.

$450 to $550 per night, 815-224-7333, 818 N. 229 Rd. Tonica, IL, 61370; camparamoni.com

10. Sankoty Lakes

  • Why We Recommend It: Relaxing on the lake
  • Distance: 2 hours, 33 minutes
  • Class: Varies
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Fishing, ice fishing, biking, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, bird-watching, boating
  • Dates: Year-round
Sakoty Lakes, on the other hand, offers the best of both worlds. You can go traditional in your RV or opt to stay in one of the facility’s glamping tents for a more upscale vibe. Boasting some of the clearest, cleanest water on Earth, this is a big spot for fishing (and ice fishing come wintertime), but there’s tons more to do if that’s not your bag—“bored” is simply not in the vocabulary here. Head out in a kayak or canoe, soak up some rays on the beach or marvel at the wildlife around you—many a bald and golden eagle have been known to fly over these parts.

$66 to $629 per night, 309-570-1111, 1583 Spring Bay Rd., Spring Bay, IL, 61611; sankotylakes.com

Best camping Illinois Illinois Beach State Park
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11. Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Relaxing,on the lake
  • Class: A
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Hiking, biking, swimming, fishing
  • Dates: April 1 to December 30
Illinois Beach State Park is the perfect place to press “pause” on life. Situated directly on Lake Michigan, swimming here is a must, though there are plenty of nature trails to explore as well (5 miles worth). Once you’e worked up an appetite, there’s a charming park area where you can grill up some hot dogs or burgers while listening to the tree leaves blow in the breeze and the birds softly chirping. There’s also a massive lodge with an Olympic-size heated pool and other amenities (hello, cocktail lounge) that you’re sure to appreciate in the colder months.

$25 per night, 847-662-4811, 1 Lake Front Dr., Zion, IL, 60099; www2.illinois.gov

12. Matthiessen State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Horse camp, waterfalls, wading pools and cliffs galore
  • Distance: 1 hour, 50 minutes
  • Class: E
  • Reservations: No
  • Attractions: Horseback riding, fishing, hiking, picnicking
  • Dates: May 1 to October 31
Horseback riders will have free reign to camp at one of the most beautiful spots in the state—Mathiessen Park. For $10 per night, you and your horse can post up at one of just 14 campsites with a picnic table and a grill. There’s no electricity, so you’ll need to bring a generator if you want to use it, but you’ll have full access to restrooms, water hydrants and a mounting station. While we haven’t been by horse, walking into Matthiessen State Park sort of feels like walking into an enchanted forest, between the moss-covered cliffs, the waterfalls that flow down into wading pools and the high, overarching bluffs (can you say FernGully?), so we can only imagine how gorgeous the multi-use trails are from atop your steed.

$10, 815-667-4868, 2500 IL-78, Oglesby, IL, 61348; www2.illinois.gov

Best camping Illinois Apple Canyon
Anthony Auston/Flickr

13. Apple River Canyon State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Beautiful canyons, in the wild
  • Distance: 2 hours, 33 minutes
  • Class: C
  • Reservations: No
  • Attractions: Fishing, hiking, picnicking
  • Dates: Year-round
Nature is just showing off with the likes of Apple River Canyon, which features (what else?) canyons that have formed after many years of effort by the Apple River. With its class C campsites, it’s a little more isolated than, say, an RV park full of kids, but it’s probably best to leave your babes at home, anyway—these trails can be treacherous, if rewarding. You’ll see hills. You’ll see bluffs. You can even fish for your dinner. In short? It’s primitive hiking at its finest.

815-745-3302, 8763 E. Canyon Rd., Apple River, IL, 61001; www2.illinois.gov

Best camping Illinois Pere Marquette
Eric Bueneman/Flickr 

14. Pere Marquette State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Designated rock climbing area, bird-watching hotspot
  • Distance: 5 hours, 8 minutes
  • Class: A and B
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Biking, bird-watching, boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing
  • Dates: Year-round
Pere Marquette stands out from the pack for several different reasons. Sure, it’s got all the standard activities (biking, boating, fishing, ect.), but it’s also got some unique features, such as a designated rock climbing wall where experienced climbers can scale the park’s natural limestone formations. It’s also a popular spot for bald eagles, making it a bird-watcher’s paradise. Twelve miles of trails run through the park that make it more expansive than others on this list, too, offering campers views of picturesque bluffs, color-changing forests and glimpses of wildlife.

$20 per day, 618-786-3323, 13112 Visitor Center Lane, Grafton, IL, 62037; www2.illinois.gov

Best camping illinois Alison Campground
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15. Alison Campground

  • Why We Recommend It: Lakeside water parks, 3 pools
  • Distance: 3 hours, 4 minutes
  • Class: Varies
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Golf, water games, swimming, boating, tennis
  • Dates: April 14 to October 17
Lake Storey is the kind of place where mom and dad can get a little R&R in at the same time that the kids are letting loose by the (one of three) pools or running around on the playground. And if that doesn’t tire them out, the nearby Lakeside Water Park is available to campers, free of charge. You can paddleboat, canoe or fish on the 130-acre lake, and you’ll have your choice of a primitive or class A campsite to best suit your family's preferences.

$5 to $600, 309-344-1534, 1351 S. Lake Storey Rd., Galesburg, IL, 61401, ci.galesburg.il.us

Best camping Illinois Bullfrog Lake
Camp Bullfrog Lake

16. Camp Bullfrog Lake

  • Why We Recommend It: Near Chicago, tons of trails, weekend programs
  • Class: Varies
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Hiking, fishing, kayaking, bicycling, horse riding
  • Dates: Year-round
Like to hike? You’ll have your pick of options at Camp Bullfrog Lake. Rolling hills and deep ravines make up the campground’s extensive Palos Trails System of 15 trails, though those with a vehicle can also check out the nearby Swallow Cliff Woods, where they’ll find unpaved trails leading to a punishing set of 293 stairs (gulp) to a 100-foot bluff. You can cool off afterward with a relaxing kayaking trip around Bullfrog Lake, and the extra-adventurous can also take a short drive to Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park roughly 20 minutes away for some added thrills.

$22 to $143, 312-636-9785, 9600 Wolf Rd., Willow Springs, IL, 60480, fpdcc.com

Best camping Illinois Horseshoe Lake
Kevin/Flickr

17. Horseshoe Lake State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Privacy, rugged vibe
  • Class: C
  • Permit: No
  • Reservations: No
  • Attractions: Fishing, hiking, picnicking
  • Dates: May 1 to September 20
This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Besides the fact that there are no showers and no plugs for your iPad, you’ll be working with a pit toilet for a restroom. But if you’re really longing to be one with nature, this park, named for its horseshoe-shaped lake (the second largest in all of Illinois), will likely be right up your alley. There’s only room for 26 tents, so even on a busy day, company will be few and far between, and you can fish and hike the 4-mile trail to your heart’s content.

618-931-0270, 3321 Highway 111, Granite City, IL, 62040; www2.illinois.gov

Jacksonville

18. Crazy Horse Campground

  • Why We Recommend It: Family-centric, planned activities
  • Class: Varies
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Kayaking, paddle boarding, mini golf, fishing, live entertainment
  • Dates: April 1 to October 30
If it’s good old-fashioned family-style camping you’re after, we'd like to welcome you to Crazy Horse. While its shady trees and picturesque swimming hole offer a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of life, you can also get plenty social here, since there’s a big lodge to enjoy, live entertainment and planned activities every weekend of the season (think petting zoos for the kids and chocolate pudding slip ‘n’ slides). You’ll also have your pick of primitive campsites or ones that are fully equipped with Wi-Fi, electric and water hookups, too.

$55 to $75, 217-886-2089, 2117 Crazy Horse Rd., Ashland, IL; crazyhorsecamp.com

Best camping Illinois Fort Massac
Fort Massac

19. Fort Massac

  • Why We Recommend It: Rich with history, runs along the Ohio River
  • Distance: 5 hours, 44 minutes
  • Class: A
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Disc golf, picnicking, hiking, boating, visitor center
  • Dates: Year-round
If you’re thinking, “That looks different,” you’d be entirely correct—this is no ordinary campground. After being used in the French and Indian War, Fort Massac was rebuilt by order of President George Washington himself and served as a military structure for the next 20 years. It was then ravaged by an earthquake and rebuilt once more, this time for the War of 1812. It even briefly used as a training camp in the Civil War. In 1903, however, it was officially dedicated as Illinois’ first state park. Needless to say, it’s a history buff’s dream. You can learn all about it at the visitor center, then head out into the fresh air for a good old fashioned hike along the Ohio River or a catch some rays on a boat. There’s also some heavy disc golf competition.

$20 per day, 618-524-4712, 1308 E. 5th St., Metropolis, IL, 62960; www2.illinois.gov

Wolf Creek State Park

20. Wolf Creek State Park

  • Why We Recommend It: Bird-watching and boating
  • Distance: 3 hours, 20 minutes
  • Class: A
  • Reservations: Yes
  • Attractions: Boating, swimming, picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing
  • Dates: Year-round
The world—or shall we say, Lake Shelbyville—will be your oyster during your stay at Wolf Creek State Park, since you can boat, swim and more to your heart’s content. The campground is on the larger side (like 300+ campsites large), so there’ll be plenty of room for you and your family, and you can opt for a cabin if you’re not exactly friends with Mother Nature. There are seven different hiking trails, and it’s been known to turn up some great bird-watching, too, if that’s your thing.

$20 to $30 per day, 217-459-2831, 1837 N. Wolf Creek Rd., Windsor, IL, 61957; www2.illinois.gov

RELATED: Camping With Kids: What to Bring, What to Do and What to Eat

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