Camping in the Shawnee National Forest
The Shawnee National Forest offers visitors over 280,000 acres of prairies, rivers, meadows, lakes, ponds, and waterfalls, perfect for hiking, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, and more. Visitors to the park will enjoy the variety of camping and lodging options available including primitive camping, RV camping, and horse camping, with many locations near the famed Garden of the Gods, the second most photographed spot in all of Illinois.
Below is a list of a few of the camping options for your next stay at the Shawnee National Forest. Whether you’re looking to camp under the stars, with your equine family, or in the comfort of your RV, the Shawnee National Forest has a place for you.
It is important to note when planning your trip to the Shawnee National Forest that the forest is divided into two sides along I-24. The Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District of the Western Shawnee National Forest campgrounds boasts the Little Grand Canyon, Pomona Natural Bridge, Larue-Pine Hills, and other breath-taking areas. On the East side of the Shawnee National Forest, the Hidden Springs Ranger District hoasts Garden of the Gods, Indian Kitchen, Millstone Bluff, Pounds Hollow, Rim Rock, Burden Falls, Jackson Falls, and more.
Camping in the park is the perfect way to ensure that you will have enough time to experience all that this beautiful wilderness has to offer. Wherever and however you camp, you’re sure to enjoy all that the Shawnee National Forest has to offer. Safe travels, and happy camping.
Primitive Tent and Dispersed Campgrounds in Illinois Shawnee Forest
Tent campers have the option of utilizing the many established campgrounds throughout the forest or the available dispersed camping areas.
Tent Campgrounds in Illinois
Another camping option near Garden of the Gods is Pine Ridge Campground at Pounds Hollow. Campers here can enjoy access to the 25-acre Pounds Hollow Lake located just down the ridge from the campground. Pine Ridge offers 13 electric sites and 22 non-electric sites on a first come- first served basis at a cost of $10 per night. This campground, perfect for tents and small trailers, has drinking water, toilets, picnic tables, and accessible sites.
The campground is open March 15th to December 15th, while the beach can be accessed May to September. To access the campground: From Harrisburg take Highway 34/145 south for 6 miles, and then continue on Highway 34 south for 9 miles. Turn east onto Karbers Ridge Road and go 9 miles to the recreation area entrance. Or, from Evansville, Indiana, take Highway 62 west and continue on Illinois State Route 141 to Highway 1. Go south on Highway 1 for about 24 miles to Karbers Ridge Road, and then head west for two miles to the recreation area entrance.
The Redbud Campground is located in the Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area, one of the most unique and picturesque in the forest. This 21-site campground is tucked away amidst the rocky streams and cliffs lined with Illinois flora. There are no reservations at Redbud and sites are $10 a night. This is the perfect area for hiking lovers with direct access to eight miles of trails leading to Devil’s Backbone, Boulder Falls, as well as many scenic overlooks and hidden springs. This campground offers accessible camping, toilets, drinking water, and parking. With no electrical hookups, it is best suited for tents and small trailers. To access the campground: From Harrisburg, take Highway 145 south for 11 miles to Burden Falls Road. Then turn right, go 5 miles to Ozark Rd, turn left, and go to Bell Smith Springs Road. Turn right and travel 2 miles to Bell Smith Springs. Or, from Vienna, take Highway 45 north for 12 miles to Ozark Road. Turn right and go 10 miles to Bell Smith Springs Rd. Turn right and proceed 2 miles to Bell Smith Springs.
Nestled beneath the pines, Pine Hills Campground has 13 campsites well suited for tents and small camping trailers. This is a more remote site with no water or electric hook-ups. The sites are all first come- first served and are $10 a night. Campers at Pine Hills can take Pine Hills Road to the top of the bluffs which offers a beautiful panorama of the LaRue Swamp and Mississippi River Floodplain. To get to the campground from Jonesboro, take Illinois 146 west to Route 127 North, then go north three miles to the State Forest blacktop road. Turn west and travel 9 miles to FR236 or Pine Hills Road. The campground is .07 miles north on Pine Hills road.
Located near Little Grand Canyon, Pomona Natural Bridge, and Larue-Pine, the campground at Trail of Tears State Forest is a secluded option for those looking for car camping and backpacking options. Some campground sites include log shelters with adjacent privies. From December 24th to the end of the spring wild turkey hunting season, the road into the campground is closed, but campers are still welcome to walk into available sites. A standard site is $8 per night with shelters available for $25. Group camping is also available.
Dispersed Camping and Backpacking in Shawnee National Forest
Those looking for a bit more privacy can enjoy dispersed camping in many areas of the park. Primitive camping is allowed Shawnee National Forest except in recreation areas, natural areas, along lake shores, near streams, or on trails. Vehicles should be left at overnight parking areas. Some of the notable dispersed camping areas include:
Campers here can enjoy the tranquility of this 118-acre lake. Anglers might want to try their luck catching the bass, catfish or panfish that populate the lake.
One of the most popular sites in the Shawnee National Forest, the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area is also great for backpackers. There is a backpacker’s lot located within the recreation area that allows access to both the Indian Point Trail and the River-to-River Trail. Once you have hiked beyond the recreation area boundary, you are free to set up camp and enjoy this beautiful wilderness.
Climbers might prefer the bluffs and rock faces offered at Jackson Falls. Camping in the area is free, and there is a vault toilet.
For those looking for hunting and trapping options, the Pennant Bar Ranch is over 100 acres of grasses, shrubs, and lowlands, offering opportunities for both fishing and hunting.
RV Camping in Shawnee National Forest
Although not in the Shawnee National Forest, the Rosiclare Campground, settled on the banks of the Ohio River, has 12 riverside sites perfect for campers, RVs, or tents. Each site has water and electric hook-ups at both 50 and 30 amps. The campground is 19 miles from Garden of the Gods, and shopping is available in town for last minute food and supplies. Firewood is available at the campground, and there is a convenient dump station. The site also has a boat ramp and lighted children’s playground. Because it is a city park, reservations are unavailable, but if you call the number listed on their site within 8 hours of your arrival, they are happy to tell you if spots are open.
The Oak Point Campground at Lake Glendale is located near the center of Shawnee National Forest, making it a great basecamp to explore both sides of the forest. This campsite has 34 electric and 59 non-electric spots. It offers bathrooms with showers along with a camp store. At the site, visitors can enjoy swimming, fishing, boating, and hiking through the towering pines and hardwood forests. While the campground is 35 miles to the Garden of the Gods, the drive there will take you by other area attractions including Millstone Bluffs, Burden Falls, Bell Smith Springs, Jackson Falls, and Indian Kitchen. Single Electric sites are $22, and double electric sites are $44. To get to the campground:
From Harrisburg take Highway 145 south 26.5 miles and turn left into the recreation area off of Hwy 145.
From Vienna, take Hwy 146 east 11 miles to Hwy 145. Go north on Hwy 145 for 2.2 miles and turn right into the recreation area.
From Metropolis, take Highway 145 north 18 miles and turn right into the recreation area.
The campground in Dixon Springs State Park in the Illinois Shawnee Hills is a perfect location just south of the Shawnee Forest. This campground has a dump station along with power and water hook-ups. Tucked beneath soaring elms, oaks and birch trees, is a large, modern swimming pool with a bathhouse and water slide, ideal for cooling down after a day exploring the Shawnee Forest. Reservations should be made at least three days in advance. Rates vary by site type and season from $8 – $25.
The Shawnee Forest Campground is one of the newest in the state of Illinois, offering 60 RV sites, each with water, sewer, and electric hook-ups, as well as picnic tables and fire rings. Sites are available for $40 a night or $15 per night for tent camping. The campground also has 2 miles of walking paths, laundry facilities, and a catch-and-release pond. This family owned and operated facility is a fully equipped gateway to both the Shawnee National Forest and the Shawnee Wine Trail.
Situated in the Village of Karnak, the Main Brothers Campground offers primitive camping for $10, tent and RV sites with water and electric for $15 to $21, and also has available full hook-up sites with sewage at $24 a night. Those making this campground their home away from home may want to check out the nearby hike to Heron Pond.
For reservations, email [email protected] or call (618) 634-9311
Centrally located between the east and west sides of the forest, Little Grassy Lake Campground has sites for tents, trailers, RVs, and groups. This luxury camp features indoor restrooms with showers, on-site boat rentals, a general store, ice and firewood sales, and 24/7 security. Full hook-ups run at $30 per night for 30 Amp electric and $35 for 50 Amp. Water and electric sites are available for $25 per night, and non-electric sites are $15. Non-electric group sites are $50 per night. Discounts are given for campers who plan to stay for a week or more. The campground is located 7 miles south of Carbondale. Reservations can be made online.
Horse Camping in the Shawnee National Forest
If you’re traveling with your equine family, the Shawnee Forest has plenty to offer with 100s of miles of trails and wilderness recreation areas to ride. When it’s time to rest, there are two main horse camping options in the forest.
This primitive camp is located on the east side of Shawnee National Forest. The 8 campsites at Camp Cadiz Campground are first come- first served and cost $10 per night. The site is open year-round and offers water and a vault toilet. All of the campsites are level and feature a fire ring, grill, and picnic table. This camp is perfect for those hoping to explore the 160-mile River-to-River Trail, which can be accessed from the trailhead just north of the campground.
Located on the northwest finger of Kinkaid Lake, camping in the Johnson Creek Recreation Area offers riders access to one of the few Forest Service campground equipped with hitching posts and Highline poles. Double and triple sites are available for larger groups. Equestrian trails lead from the campground to Kinkaid Lake trail system but do note that horseback riding is not allowed in the day-use areas. The campground has 20 non-reservable sites at $10 a night.