Camping near Springfield
Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site. About 21 miles away, it takes about 35 minutes to drive there, and nearly nine hours to walk there if you're taking your time. Huge campsite with about 200 spots.
Sangchris Lake State Park. About 21 miles away, it takes about 35 minutes to drive there.
Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area. 32 miles away. It takes about 50 minutes to drive there. There are a few rustic cabins that can be rented here.
Beaver Dam State Park. About 58 miles away. It takes about 1 hour and 11 minutes to drive there. There is a cabin for rental.
Ramsey Lake State Park. About 64 miles away. It takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes to drive there. Woods, hills, and a lake.
Weldon Springs State Park has one of the best campgrounds in the nation, and it's only 67 miles away from Springfield (allow about 1 hour and 20 minutes drive time to get there.)
Clinton Lake State Recreation Area is 75 miles away and requires about 1 hour and 25 minutes drive time to get there. This is the closest nice beach if you want to go swimming at a beach.The various parks and campgrounds around Lake Shelbyville are 75 to 85 miles away, and you'll need about 1 hour and 40 minutes to drive there. You can camp in Opossum Creek, Eagle Creek State Park, Coon Creek, Wolf Creek State Park, and many others.
Moraine View State Recreation Area. 86 miles away. It takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes to get there.
Siloam Springs State Park. 89 miles away. It takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive there. There are about 180 campsites, and no reservations are taken. Cabin for rental.Pere Marquette State Park. 99 miles away. A drive there takes about 2 hours and 5 minutes.
Camping in the Midwest
Some other campgrounds I like, all within a day's drive of Springfield:
Stephen A. Forbes State Recreation Area. About 125 miles away, requiring about 3 hours of driving. Has a nice sandy beach.
Starved Rock State Park. About 135 miles away, requiring about 2 hours and 20 minutes of driving.
Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site. About 145 miles away, requiring about 2 hours and 50 minutes of driving.
Meramec State Park in Missouri. About 155 miles away, requiring about 2 hours and 50 minutes of driving.
Nauvoo State Park (Illinois). About 156 miles away, requiring about 3 hours of driving .
Red Hills State Park (Illinois). About 165 miles away, requiring a drive of about 3 hours and 40 minutes.
Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. About 166 miles away. Driving time would be about 2 hours and 55 minutes.
Wildcat Den State Park in Iowa. About 191 miles away, requiring a drive of about 3 hours and 20 minutes. The bathroom facilities are rustic here, but you can drive six miles away to the Fairport Recreation Area to take showers in the modern shower houses. This is a good place to camp if you are visiting the Quad Cities (it's near Davenport, IA) or Muscatine, Iowa.
Ferne Clyffe State Park (Illinois). About 200 miles away, requiring a drive of about 3-and-a-half hours.
Giant City State Park (Illinois). About 206 miles away, requiring a drive of about 3 hours and 40 minutes.
Mississippi Pallisades State Park (Illinois). About 215 miles away. The drive there takes about 3 hours and 55 minutes.
Boy Scout CampingAs a boy and as an adult I have been active in the Scouting movement. Here are some Scouting campgrounds where I have enjoyed camping as a Scout or Adult Scout Leader. These campgrounds are generally for the use of scout troops.
Camp Illinek on Lake Springfied, near Chatham, Illinois (It's just a few miles south of Springfield, about a 10-15 minute drive).
Camp Bunn, near Hettick, Illinois (It's about 50 miles from Springfield, about a 1 hour and 30 minute drive).
Beaumont Scout Reservation near Saint Louis. (It's about 122 miles from Springfield, about a 2 hour and 10 minute drive). I must have spent a month's worth of nights camping here as a boy.
Camp Wildwood near Terre Haute, Indiana. (It's about 153 miles from Springfield, about a 3 hour and 15 minute drive).
S - F ("S bar F") ranch in Missouri. (It's about 180 miles from Springfield, about a 3 hour and 10 minute drive). I went to summer camp here in 1984 and 1985.
Camp Lewallen and Wappapello Lake in Missouri. (It's about 212 miles from Springfield, about a 3 hour and 45 minute drive).
Camp Belzer in Indianapolis. (It's about 226 miles from Springfield, about a 3 hour and 45 minute drive).
Ransburg Scout Reservation near Bloomington, Indiana. (It's about 219 miles from Springfield, about a 4 hour and 30 minute drive). I went to summer camp here in 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983.
Camping Vacation Plan
Sample 9-day (one week with two weekends) family vacation using camping.
Here is a plan for a 1-week summer camping travel trip from Springfield.Day one (Saturday), drive to Quad Cities and visit the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, IL (about 175 miles away, it will take about 3 hours to drive here). Have lunch in Moline. Use the rest of the afternoon until 5:00 to see one of the other attractions in the Quad Cities (perhaps the Rock Island Arsenal, the Figge Art Museum, the Family Museum, the Putnam Museum, or the Quad City Botanical Center. Stop in a grocery store to pick up what you need for dinner unless you want to eat out, and then drive to Wildcat Den State Park or the Fairport Recreation Area in Iowa. Wildcat Den is about 25 miles and 45 minutes from the Quad Cities (Davenport, Rock Island, Bettendorf, and Moline).
Camp in Wildcat Den State Park (1 night). In the morning take a hike on the trails, and use the shower facilities in the Fairport Recreation Area as you are leaving (your camping fee for Wildcat Den covers use of the facilities at Fairport)On Day two (Sunday) you should stop for a walk around Muscatine. Most everything in this town is closed on Sundays, but the Art Center and Musser Mansion is open at 1:00 p.m. This is about 11 miles from Wildcat Den (6 miles from Fairport Recreation Area). As you drive through Central and Eastern Iowa you might stop to see the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and birthplace. You might stop in Iowa City, which has a lot to see. Cedar Rapids is also on the route today. I'm a big fan of Grant Wood, so I would visit the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. (but it closes at 4:00 on Sundays, so one would need leave Muscatine by 1:30 to arrive at the museum by 2:50 p.m. to allow time to see the art). It's about 70 miles from Muscatine to Cedar Rapids, and add 10 miles if you stop to drive around and see anything in Iowa City.
From Cedar Rapids
to Pine Lake State Park is about 97 miles (allow 1 hour and 45 minutes driving time).
Stay for the night in Pine Lake State Park.
There is a nature trail and some other trails in this park.
You can go swimming in Pine Lake; there is a beach in the park.
On the morning of the third day (a Monday) start off by enjoying the park, and then set out on your way to Fort Dodge. It's about 67 miles from Pine Lake State Park to Fort Dodge (allow 1 hour 20 minutes driving time). In Fort Dodge you can visit the Fort Museum and not much else in Fort Dodge. The Blandon Art Museum is closed on Mondays.From Fort Dodge you continue on to West Bend, Iowa, where you must visit the Grotto of the Redemption. There is a campsite right by the Grotto with good facilities and a very low fee, so stay the night here and enjoy the Grotto at night. It's about 44 miles from Fort Dodge to West Bend, and you need about 1 hour and 15 minutes to cover the distance.
Day four of your trip (a Tuesday) you can continue to marvel at the Grotto of the Redemption before driving north to Minnesota. So far you've mainly been in small towns and rural areas, so today you'll head straight east, then north up to Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Assuming you leave West Bend, Iowa by 9:30 a.m. you should be in Minneapolis by 1:00, in time for a late lunch (it's about a 200 mile drive, much of it on I-35 freeway).
In Minneapolis and St. Paul there are many things to see. I like the Cathedral and State Capitol in St. Paul. You can ask for information about Minneapolis or Saint Paul from the convention and visitor's bureaus. They'll send you glossy brochures and magazines if you call them or fill out forms on their websites.
A campground that is only about 57 miles from the Science Museum of Minnesota is the Bob Dunn Recreation Area on Ann Lake. Allow about an hour and 10 minutes to get there, assuming you leave St. Paul or Minneapolis after rush hour (leave the city at 6:30 p.m. and you can arrive at the campground before 7:45 p.m., which gives you plenty of daylight left in the summer). This is where you could spend your fourth night of camping.On your fifth day (Wednesday) you can start the day with a hike in the Sand Dunes State Forest (by Ann Lake, where you've been camping). Then, it's a long drive (175 miles, or 3 hours and 40 minutes) to your next camping destination. So, instead of driving straight there, you might enjoy a stop in St. Cloud, Minnesota where you could see the Munsinger Clemens Gardens and the Stearns History Museum.
Your final destination for today is Lake Itasca, MN. This is the source of the Mississippi River, and it's a lovely place to stay for a couple nights. You can play in the lake and in the Mississippi River, which is really just a delightful little stream at this point, and there are good hiking trails.
Your sixth day (Thursday) is a day to just rest and enjoy Lake Itasca State Park.
Your seventh day (Friday) takes you across northern Minnesota and Wisconsin to the Apostle Islands. Assuming you leave Lake Itasca by 9:00 a.m., you should arrive in Duluth, Minnesota by 1:30 p.m. (with a 40 minute stop for lunch along the way). That's a drive of about 180 miles. In Duluth, you might visit the Great Lakes Aquarium, the Great Lakes Floating Maritime Museum, or the Lake Superior Marine Museum. The Tweed Museum of Art and the Duluth Depot are also worth visiting.
Finally, in the afternoon before 5:30 p.m. (if you want to catch the 8:00 p.m. ferry), you should head east to Bayfield, Wisconsin and take the Madeline Island Ferry to Madeline Island, where you will find Big Bay State Park. This is where you will camp for the night. From Duluth you should expect a drive of nearly three hours to reach the campsite (it might take less time, depending on whether you catch the 7:00, 8:00, or 9:00 evening ferry departures for the island). It's about a 95 mile drive.
On your eighth day (Saturday), you should begin the morning hiking around Madeline Island. Leaving the island around 11:00 a.m., you head south from Bayfield, Wisconsin on your way to Ironwood, Michigan. After you've crossed the ferry from Madeline Island you have about 70 miles of driving ahead of you (1 hour and 40 minutes) before you arrive at Ironwood. After lunch, from Ironwood you can take the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway and see five waterfalls. After you've seen those, you go back into Wisconsin and continue south on US-51 highway, which becomes the I-39 freeway. It is about 183 miles from Ironwood to the Hartman Creek State Park in Wisconsin, and this should take about 3 hours and 45 minutes of driving time. So, if you leave Ironwood by 4:00 p.m., you should have plenty of time to set up your tent in the campground.
Your ninth and final day (Sunday) only requires you to drive the final 370 miles from Hartman Creek State Park to home in Springfield, Illinois. That will require about six hours of driving time, but you'll want to break it up with a few stops. If you leave the State Park at 9:30 a.m., and you want to get home by 9:00 p.m., that will leave you about 4 hours for doing things plus time for two 45-minute breaks for lunch and dinner.
You could go a little out of your way to visit the Wisconsin Dells, play some miniature golf there, or take a tour of the Dells. You'll be passing by Madison, which is the state capital. The State Capitol Building is especially lovely, and there is also a state museum across the street. You'll also pass by Rockford, Illinois, which is home to the Burpee Museum (which closes by 5:00 p.m. on Sundays). From Rockford you're about 200 miles (about 3 hours and 30 minutes of driving time) from home.
This trip has you camping eight nights in seven different campgrounds, and your total costs for camping will be around $120, or about the cost of a single night in a discounted room in a downtown hotel in Chicago. Your main cost will be gas. You will travel less than 2000 miles. If your car gets about 26 miles per gallon and you must pay about $4.50 per gallon, the cost of gas will be about $340. Admission to various parks and museums will also be a major cost. You may end up paying a couple hundred dollars for admission fees and park permits. So, considering everything, this trip might cost $700 more than you would spend if you just stayed at home. I'm assuming you buy most of your food in grocery stores and make sandwiches for picnic lunches or cook your own food in campgrounds or eat inexpensive fast-food meals, just as you might at home, and that you generally avoid eating in restaurants. If you want to try local restaurants and eat out more often, this might raise the cost another $100 or so over what you would spend on food if you remained at home. By my calculations, this trip would cost a bit less than a long (four-day and three night) weekend in Chicago if you drove and stayed at a good downtown hotel (parking, gas, and the hotel room alone would be about $530, and that's before you pay for food or museum admissions).Here is more advice about what you need for camping.
For shelter: A tent.
You need a waterproof ground cloth (actually a plastic tarp) to put down on the ground before you put up the tent. This keeps the bottom of your tend dry when there is dew or rain. It also protects the bottom of your tent from sticks and stones that might tear it. You don’t want the ground cloth to stick out beyond your tent, except possibly for a little bit in front of the door to your tent where you can place your shoes. If the ground cover sticks out beyond the tent and it rains, then water that falls on the ground cloth (or falls on the tent and slides down onto the ground cloth) will flow under your tend and come up and make your sleeping bags damp.
You need stakes to keep your tent in one place. If there is wind, the tend will act like a sail on a sailboat, and it will move or fly away. The stakes keep it held in place. A typical tent may need six-eight stakes, plus another four-six tents for the rain fly.
Unless you know your camping spot has soft grass and soft soil, you’ll probably want either an insulating pad or air mattress or cot to put down between your sleeping bag and the floor of the tent.
Tents usually come with a thing called a “rain fly,” which is a second layer of tenting fabric (like a ground cloth or plastic tarp) that you can put over the tent to protect yourself in case of rain. I don’t use mine if the forecast is for dry weather, but when there is a chance of rain, I always put mine up.
So, for sleeping quarters:
1 ground cloth (plastic tarp)
1 Tent (with 1 rain fly)
14 tent stakes
4 insulating pads or else 4 air mattresses or else 4 cots, or some combination of these.
If the night temperatures are likely to go below 15 degrees Celsius (down below the mid-50s F) you will want to sleep in a sleeping bag. If the temperatures are likely to be in the 20s or upper teens (Celsius) at night (above 55 degrees), you’re probably fine with just wearing warm pajamas and using a light blanket. In the hottest days of the year you may only need a light blanket under you (so you aren’t sleeping directly on the mattress or pad or cot) and a sheet to cover you. Small pillows work well, although if you have room you can bring your normal-sized pillows from home. When backpacking I always just roll up my coat or sweater with some shirts and pants and use that as my pillow.
So, for sleeping you need:
4 sleeping bags.
Ask yourself if you want to cook in the campground or else just buy your food in stores and make sandwiches or else carry fast food to the campground. If you want to cook at the campsite, you’ll need camp cooking gear, which takes up space and adds weight to your gear. If you’re just going to eat sandwiches and store-bought prepared foods at the campsite, you can save time and space and weight.
I typically do light cooking at the campsite, so I bring one large frying pan, a very small portable charcoal grill, some utensils for grilling, and a variety of plates and cutting boards and so forth. Sometimes I might also bring a sauce pan or stew pot. I like to grill steaks or sausages while camping, but I don’t like to deal with ground beef (too messy when you’re camping). A key to fun cooking while camping is to prepare your food in advance as much as possible. If you’re going to be camping for three days, go ahead and cook some of your dishes at home and bring them along in leftovers containers so all you’ll need to do is warm them. If you need to chop up vegetables or marinate meats, do that at home and bring along the pre-cut or marinating foods for easy quick cooking without much preparation at the campsite.
For each person, a private mess kit would include a plate, a bowl, a cup, and silverware.
It is possible to go camping and never use a fire, and still eat very well. You can purchase lunch meats, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, raw fruits, and bread, and then eat sandwiches for most of your meals.
Many foods can be cooked right in a fire using aluminum foil. Just wrap up your food tightly in two layers of aluminum foil and throw the food packet into the hot coals of a fire after the flame has died down. This is similar to baking something in a very high heat oven. Potatoes cook well this way.
Certainly, when camping you must bring along a cooler and you must use ice in the cooler to keep your food (milk, meat, etc.) cool enough to retard the growth of bacteria.
So for food, at most you need:
1 stew pot or soup pot
1 large frying pan
1 dutch oven (if you want to do any baking or slow cooking, but if not, leave this behind)
1 small charcoal grill
1 bag of charcoal
1 set of spoons, knives, spatulas, stirring spoons, serving spoons, and so forth for cooking.
1 set of tongs and long forks for handling the meats you will grill (if you’ll be doing this)
1 cutting board (if you haven’t already prepared everything before you left).
4 sets of silverware
Most campgrounds have areas where you can wash your cooking ware and personal gear. If you will need to clean everything without the use of a sink, you can carry along three large pots. One of these will bit of detergent added to it, one will be for rinsing, and one will have boiling water. Each pan or plate or dish must be carefully wiped and scraped to remove most food residue, and then scrubbed in the pot with soapy water. Then, after being again scraped to remove the soapy water, each dish can be swished around in the rinsing water. Finally, using long-handled tongs, each item should be dipped into the boiling water for disinfecting. If the campground has sinks or water spigots that are handy, you may be able to wash everything at the spigot or sink and leave behind the three large pots.
You need to wear long pants rather than shorts if you’ll be doing much walking in tall grass or bushy woods. The long pants will protect you from ticks and chiggers. Also, you should wear socks and shoes, rather than slippers and sandals. Again, this is for protection from arthropods and poison ivy. However, if you have a campsite in a area with short grass that has been mowed, you probably will want some comfortable slippers or sandals to wear around the campsite or when making a quick trip to the restrooms. Aside from this advisory about covering your legs, you can pack clothing for a camping trip just as you would if you weren’t camping.
I don’t think there is anything special about how you pack this stuff when you’re camping. Most campgrounds have nice bathrooms where you can take showers and so forth. Even the rustic campgrounds without showers usually have water spigots where you can brush your teeth or clean your contact lenses, if you wear those.
Camping fees vary. Extremely rustic campsites can still be free in National Forests, but usually you need to pay between $5 and $10 for such campsites, per night. Public campgrounds and campgrounds run by religious groups usually charge between $10 and $20 for a campsite. Facilities run from rustic to delux in such places. I’ve been in campgrounds with modern, clean, comfortable bathrooms and shower houses where I only had to pay $10 per night, and I’ve been in similar campgrounds that cost $20 per night. Private campgrounds that specialize in hosting families traveling in recreational vehicles (such as the KOA campgrounds) are very expensive, almost as much as staying in a cheap motel. I’ve paid over $30 per night to stay in a KOA campground. Facilities are usually very good, and there are extra things to do in such private campgrounds.
Best places to camp or camping trips from central Illinois.
Upstate Wisconsin and Michigan base their economies on tourism. A multitude of state parks and private campgrounds compete for campers, so prices are often reasonable and facilities are good. The scenery is beautiful, and temperatures are usually fine in the summer. There are many lakes, so swimming is common. The drawback is that these places are very crowded.
State Parks in Iowa and Illinois and Indiana may be easier to reach. Most people on a camping vacation don’t think of going to Illinois or Iowa, yet we have some very lovely state parks and the temperatures here aren’t usually bad. The advantage here is that most campgrounds won’t be very crowded.
State parks and private campgrounds in the Ozarks of Missouri, or the lakes areas of Kentucky and Tennessee. These areas have good rivers (in the Ozarks) or lakes (in Kentucky), and the woods and culture are quite different from Illinois.
Not too far away you can consider Ontario in Canada (if you have your passports up-to-date), Ohio, Minnesota, and Nebraska.