With over 141 parks and recreation destinations, it’s no surprise that free Illinois boondocking locations are plentiful. With multiple areas for Illinois RV parking and almost unlimited Illinois camping spots. The Department of Natural Resources coined the slogan “State Parks, Great Parks” in 2013 as the name of their program to develop local natural areas with renovated campgrounds and extra staff to cater to the more than 44 million tourists that come to Illinois each year to hike and camp.
Jump directly to the 16 Free Illinois Boondocking Spots
About Illinois Boondocking Spots
Illinois, the most populous state in the Midwest, has a diversified topography that encompasses both the massive metropolitan sprawl of Chicago and the flat central plains, which are virtually completely agriculture. You can visit historical landmarks dedicated to local heroes Abraham Lincoln and Ernest Hemingway further out from this massive urban hub. Visitors are welcomed to use Illinois boondocking spots.
People travel from all over the state – and even the country – to Starved Rock State Park, a 1.5-hour drive from Chicago, where they may trek 13 miles of trails with elevation climbs along woodland paths along the Illinois River. After a shower, the 18 canyons are wonderful for seeing waterfalls, and families enjoy to end the day with s’mores around the bonfire at the neighboring Starved Rock State Park campgrounds.
If you’re camping in Illinois and want to learn about the state’s history, drive south to Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park & Memorial. This 162-acre park, located 12 miles southwest of Decatur near Harristown, Illinois, is the site of Abraham Lincoln’s first Illinois residence. If you go, make a point of seeing the memorials to this great president.
Palos Park, a forest preserve noted for its outstanding biking, hiking, and equestrian trails that encompass over 50 miles of terrain, is a great place to go mountain biking in this Midwestern state. When it comes to camping in Illinois, Camp Bullfrog Lake has lovely amenities where you may pitch a tent adjacent to a lake and trek short or long loops that return you to your campground.
If you want to see Lake Michigan up close, head to Illinois Beach State Park and spend some time in the water along the 6.5 miles of sandy beach. The park is 4,160 acres in size, with plenty of hiking, watersports, picnicking, fishing, and camping activities. Visitors are welcomed to use Illinois camping spots
16 Free Illinois Boondocking Spots
1. Tower Rock Campsite
Tower Rock Rd
GPS: 37.458331, -88.233107
Management: Public – USDA (Official)
Free Illinois boondocking spots near Tower Rock by the Ohio River and is part of the Shawnee National Forest. Stayed here a passenger car. Small critters pitter-pattered on my car roof.
I was alarmed and texted my friend. He said I could always drive away. However a giant (for a moth) moth attacked me from the inside, couldn’t drive away from that! Something knocked over my folding chair during the night. Site and toilets were clean, would be a definite yes for staying here again.
2. Shawnee Forest “Gullet Ridge”
GPS: 37.427639, -88.535713
Management: Public – Forest Service (Official)
The road in is Paved. Shawnee Forest “Gullet Ridge” is open year round. The maximum RV length at Shawnee Forest “Gullet Ridge” is 35 feet. You may stay 14 at Shawnee Forest “Gullet Ridge”. Illinois camping spots.
3. Indian Point (Hike-in Only)
GPS: 37.592786, -88.384451
Management: Public – National Park Service (Official)
Indian Point (Hike-in Only) is open Year round. There are 1-5 Free Illinois boondocking spots at this location. You may stay 14 days at Indian Point (Hike-in Only). Indian Point is a 2 mile loop trail adjacent to Illinois’ Garden of the Gods. The trailhead is located at the backpacker parking in the Garden of the Gods.
4. R2R Trail in Garden of the Gods (hike-in)
GPS: 37.601719, -88.408112
Management: Public – National Park Service (Official)
This is one of three free hike-in campsites on the River to River Trail between the Herod, Il TH and the Garden of the Gods Observation trail. You are afforded full solitude and beautiful views of the Shawnee Nation Forest. Simply park at the Herod TH and head East on the R2R Trail or the Backpacking Parking at the Garden of the Gods. Illinois camping spots.
5. Teal Pond – Shawnee National Forest
off of rte 145
GPS: 37.542061, -88.640869
Management: Public – Forest Service (USDA) (Official)
The road in is Gravel and 6 miles from a paved road. Free Illinois boondocking spots near Teal Pond – Shawnee National Forest is open Year Round. You may stay 14 Days at Teal Pond – Shawnee National Forest. A nice, small campground in Shawnee National Forest, a couple of miles from Belle Smith Springs and Burden Falls.
6. Jackson Falls
Glen Saint Falls Road
GPS: 37.50863, -88.682999
Management: Public – Forest Service
Free Illinois camping spots in the Shawnee National Forest’s Hidden Springs Ranger District. Reservations are not accepted at this campsite. No Illinois RV parking areas here.
7. Dutchman Lake
Fishing Hole Lane
GPS: 37.489366, -88.913394
Management: Public – Forest Service (Official)
The road in is Dirt. There are 1-5 Free Illinois boondocking spots at this location. You may stay 14 days at Dutchman lake.
8. Kaolin Pit Pond
3240 State Forest Rd, Jonesboro, IL 62952
GPS: 37.512442, -89.304523
Management: Public – State Forest (Official)
The road in is Gravel and 1 miles from a paved road. Kaolin Pit Pond is open Year Round. There are 1-5 Free Illinois camping spots at this location and the maximum RV length is 25 feet. You may stay 14 days at Kaolin Pit Pond. Free campsite in the Trail of Tears State Forest. There is a tent site past the rocks forming the end of the parking area, with fire ring and picnic table.
9. Turkey Bayou Campground
1 Oakwood Bottom Rd
GPS: 37.684837, -89.411484
Management: Public – Forest Service
The road in is Dirt. There are 15 Free Illinois boondocking spots at this location. A 16 unit developed camping site and picnic area with restrooms is located near the lake.
10. Rend Lake Rest Area
GPS: 38.094311, -88.914823
Management: Public – Rest Area (Official)
This is just a highway rest area. Free Illinois camping spots right off a lake with plenty of outdoor picnic tables, 24 hour facilities and a big emergency post that I assume called the police directly. The lake view is in the car parking towards the back of the rest area.
11. The Point in Grayville, Illinois
GPS: 38.259466, -87.986384
Management: Public – County Park (Official)
The road in is Dirt and 1 miles from a paved road. There are 1-5 Free Illinois boondocking spots at this location and the maximum RV length is 15 feet. You may stay 14 days at The Point in Grayville, illinois. Illinois RV parking for smaller units.
12. No 22 Park N Fish
GPS: 39.639971, -91.23559
Management: Public – Corp of Engineers
No 22 Park N Fish is open all year. Free Illinois camping spots located within the Corp of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division’s Rock Island District.
13. Rainey Park
GPS: 39.306335, -90.40728
Management: Public – City Park (Unofficial)
We were allowed to park our trailer beside the city park with no problem. Police checked on us on arrival and drove by regularly. Kids in the park during the day and at the pool were polite and not a problem. We spent four days there while researching genealogy. Free Illinois boondocking spots in Nice little town.
14. Waverly Lake City
Waverly Lake Road
GPS: 39.600509, -90.012433
Management: Public – City Park
We stayed here one night as it was “free” and near McMurry College. Sign at park said up to four night allowed in a 28-day period. There are three Free Illinois camping spots that can accommodate RVs, but the one we picked was a back in only as my trailer is 28’ long and there was no turnaround at the end.
15. Fay Pickering Mountain Bike Trailhead
GPS: 39.410594, -87.793342
Management: Public – County Park (Official)
Free Illinois boondocking spots near large gravel parking lot, comes with a water spigot, pavilion with electric hooked up. Outlets to plug a radio in. No WiFi, but it overlooks a beautiful lake. Very peaceful. No signs prohibiting overnight parking. I stayed here with no problems.
16. Bear Creek
GPS: 40.111444, -91.480064
Management: Mississippi Project
The road in is Gravel and 1 miles from a paved road. Bear Creek is open year round. There are 30 or more Free Illinois camping spots at this location and the maximum RV length is 35 feet. You may stay 14 days at Bear Creek.
Illinois Parks and Recreation Destinations
The state of Illinois does not charge state park entrance fees, so no pass is required. Disabled and senior citizens pay anywhere from $0 to $17.50 per night. All other visitors pay $8 to $35 per night for a campsite. Check with the park you are interested in visiting for their nightly camping fees (if any).
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources does not charge an Entrance Fee to any state owned or operated land with the exception of Wildlife Prairie Park and sites with beaches. Beaches charge a $1 a day per person for beach use only.
• 69 State Parks
• 11 State Recreation Areas
• 6 State Forests
• 2 State Memorials
• State Nature Preserve
• 5 State Natural Areas
• 17 State Wildlife Areas
• State Wildlife Management Area
• National Forest
• 2 National Historic Sites
• 3 National Wildlife Refuges
Free Illinois Camping Spots
Despite its designation of “Prairie State,” Illinois is more likely to conjure up thoughts of huge cities than wide-open spaces. Free camping is also difficult to come by–but not impossible. Private business parking lots will provide the majority of free RV parking and camping opportunities in the state, but they are not your only alternatives.
Free Camping in National Forests of Illinois
The Shawnee National Forest has a lot of rustic tent camping and even vehicle camping alternatives, but there aren’t many free RV parks. Turkey Bayou offers free camping in the campground and possibly dispersed camping in nearby forest roads along the Big Muddy River. When it comes to free Illinois RV parking and camping locations, they are your best hope for finding any form of seclusion. However, as the name of the neighboring river suggests, this is a seasonal activity, and becoming stuck in the mud is a serious threat.
Before driving down dirt roads, always scout ahead and plan ahead in general. If this is your first time boondocking, you should familiarize yourself with the etiquette and best practices.
Free Casino Camping in Illinois
If you want to gamble, Harrah’s Metropolis Casino offers free overnight parking in their lot. Expect little in the way of amenities at your campsite, as is typical of casino camping–essentially it’s a free place to stay and at your own risk. Even so, if you enjoy playing the slots, this is a good area to get Illinois RV parking for free overnight.
Free Camping in Private Business Parking Lots
Certain businesses in Illinois, as in the rest of the country, are eager to let RVers looking for free camping stay in their parking lots for a night or two. Walmarts and Cracker Barrels may be found all over the state, as well as a Bass Pro Shop in Peoria.
While you aren’t required to check in with the owners of these businesses, it never hurts, and doing so, especially if you don’t see other RVs doing so, can help you avoid a knock on the door after dark. Of course, they expect you to shop their items, and it’s a nice way to express gratitude for the opportunity. It should also go without saying that you are visitors to the business and should keep your effect to a minimum: don’t set up your awning or camp chairs. Be discreet and courteous so that establishments like this can continue to provide the same level of service for years to come.
More Free Illinois Camping Spots
Finally, rest spots along the road occasionally offer overnight accommodations. Near Rend Lake in Illinois, for example, offers just such a camping experience.
Illinois Primitive Camping
Except in planned recreation areas, natural areas, along lake shores, near streams, and on trails, primitive camping is permitted in the Shawnee National Forest. Camping in designated wilderness areas is not permitted for equestrians. Outside of recreation areas, primitive camping is free and permitted at any time of year. Trespassing on private property is prohibited, as is cutting down living trees, shrubs, or other vegetation. Remove any personal waste and ensure that all fires have been extinguished. Campers may stay for up to 14 days in a row, but no permanent buildings may be constructed.
You must park your vehicle in a permitted overnight parking spot, such as the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area’s backpacker’s parking lot or a certified trail head. You would not be permitted to park your vehicle overnight in any authorized Day-Use location or where it would obstruct a road or other means of access.
Dispersed Camping Areas
• Camp Cadiz Campground
• Dutchman Lake
• Garden of the Gods Recreation Area
• Jackson Falls
• Lake Tecumseh
• Lake of Egypt
• One Horse Gap Lake
• Pennant Bar Openlands
• Tower Rock Campground
• Whoopie Cat Lake
• Cedar Lake
• Kinkaid Lake & Trail System
• Oakwood Bottoms
RV Boondocking in Illinois
Illinois has a diverse environment that stretches from Lake Michigan in the north to the Shawnee Hills in the south, with prairies and cornfields in between. You can get away from the daily grind and spend time in quiet seclusion, taking in Illinois’ natural beauty. In the Prairie State, you can go rock climbing in Jackson Falls, visit a canyon, catch a cascade, spend the day hiking, or explore the grasslands. Boondockers will find lots of dispersed and rustic camping sites in and near state parks and forest regions in Illinois.
Boondocking Sites in Illinois
Apple River Canyon State Park
Apple River Canyon State Park, located near the Wisconsin state line, has 49 RV sites. Hike one of their five trails and see if you can locate a family of deer. Alternatively, try carp fishing on the Apple River. Keep in mind that alcoholic beverages are not permitted. Take US-20 W out of Stockton to S Canyon Park Rd. Then drive to the state park, which is 6.2 miles away.
Dispersed camping near the isolated 118-acre Dutchman Lake provides a sense of tranquility. Go boating or bass and catfish fishing. The maximum power of the motor is ten horsepower. This region is one-half hour south of Marion, in the Shawnee National Forest.
In Jackson Falls, you may enjoy waterfalls, dispersed camping, and rock climbing. Horses and other pets are welcome. The Shawnee National Forest is only a fifteen-minute walk from the campground, which is reached by driving down a tiny gravel road to the trailhead. It then turns into a dirt road. Visitors should be aware that the area contains high, potentially dangerous cliffs.
Sand Ridge State Forest
While hiking or mountain biking in the forest, keep an eye out for coyotes, deer, foxes, and quail. Horseback riding is permitted on equestrian trails. Sand Ridge State Forest has 12 primitive camping spots for those looking for a true backwoods wilderness experience. The woodland is about an hour and a half west of Bloomington on IL-9 W.
Shawnee National Forest
In this fun-filled utopia, birdwatchers and boondockers will feel right at home. In the Shawnee National Forest, you can view over 200 different bird species. Outdoor activities such as fishing, climbing, kayaking, and hiking are just a few of the possibilities. Several designated primitive camping areas are available. I-57 and I-24 take you about a half-hour south of Marion. Take County Hwy 1575/Dutchman Lake Rd to Fishing Hole Lane in Ozark from I-24 exit 7.
Tower Rock Campground
Views of the Ohio River are available. At the Tower Rock Campground, you may enjoy the peace and quiet while boating and fishing. Remember that the campground is prone to floods. The Shawnee National Forest includes the campground. It’s half an hour’s drive from the Garden of the Gods. Follow IL-146 E if coming from Elizabethtown.
Turkey Bayou Campground
Turkey Bayou Campground is a fantastic choice for birders because it has a designated Waterfowl Refuge Area that is closed during the waterfowl shooting season. A boat launch, picnic area, and pond are also available. Throughout the year, dispersed camping is accessible. Take Hwy 149 W to Hwy 3 for 5.5 miles to Oakwood Bottoms Road if arriving from Murphysboro. To get to the campground, drive 4 miles down Oakwood Bottoms Road.
Where to Boondock in Illinois
The majority of Illinois campgrounds are located near state parks and forests. For boondockers seeking a forest paradise and basic camping, the Shawnee National Forest is a significant lure. Free camping near 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 rough historic trail originally used by Native Americans, are all worthwhile visits. Campgrounds can also be found near the Wisconsin border and in the central Illinois prairie lands.
Free Camping in Illinois
Consider your destination when planning your boondocking excursion. Illinois has something for everyone, with steep and level terrain, green plains, lakes, forests, historical places, wildlife, and a diverse bird population for birdwatchers. Many of the roads leading to primitive campgrounds are narrow and difficult to navigate, and the natural environment surrounding those campsites can be hazardous. Prepare to be on the lookout for cliffs and uneven rocks. Also, be aware of deadly snakes, especially in parks where indiscriminate snake killing is prohibited.
If you decide to leave the campsite, you should have no trouble getting enough food anyplace in the state of Illinois. Make sure, though, that your RV is adequately equipped with enough of your favorite foods to last the duration of your vacation. Keep an emergency kit on available in case of an emergency or tire issue. If one of your tires goes flat, you should have an extra tire in the back. Also, know where to find gas stations ahead of time so you always have plenty in the tank.
For complete photos and videos of our trips, visit our photos on our Facebook Page
You May Want to Join Our Boondocking Group on Facebook For More Information