The Prairie State provides a spectacular backdrop for some of the most scenic campgrounds in the country. But do you know which campgrounds offer the most privacy? Which are the best for first-time campers? John Schirle has traversed the entire regionfrom Apple River Canyon State Park in the northwest, with its bubbling creeks and steep ravines, to the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area in the south, one of the most photographed locations in the stateand compiled the most up-to-date research to steer you to the perfect spot!
Best Tent Camping: Illinois presents 50 private, state park, state recreation area, forest preserve, and wildlife area campgrounds, organized into three distinct regions. Selections are based on location, topography, size, and overall appeal, and every site is rated for beauty, privacy, spaciousness, safety and security, and cleanlinessso you’ll always know what to expect. The new full-color edition of this proven guidebook provides everything you need to know, with detailed maps of each campground and key information such as fees, restrictions, dates of operation, and facilities, as well as driving directions and GPS coordinates.
Whether you seek a quiet campground near a fish-filled stream or a family campground with all the amenities, grab Best Tent Camping: Illinois. It’s an escape for all who wish to find those special locales that recharge the mind, body, and spirit. This guide is a keeper.
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Sam Parr State Fish and Wildlife Area
Beauty 4 / Privacy 3 / Spaciousness 4 / Quiet 4 / Security 4 / Cleanliness 5
The walk-in tent sites on the lakeshore are well worth the short hike.
- LOCATION: 13225 East IL 33, Newton, IL 62448
- CONTACT: 618-783-2661, bit.ly/SamParr-IL
- OPERATED BY: IDNR
- OPEN: Year-round
- SITES: Class B/E: 33 electric sites; Class D: 21 walk-in tent sites
- EACH SITE HAS: Picnic table, fire ring or ground grill; electricity in Class B/E only
- WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Restrooms and at least one accessible tent site
- ASSIGNMENT: First come, first served
- REGISTRATION: Select site, then register at the office
- AMENITIES: Water spigots, vault toilets
- PARKING: At site (Class B/E); in lot (Class D)
- FEE: Class B/E: $18/night; Class D: $6/night
- ELEVATION: 523'
- PETS: On leash only
- QUIET HOURS: 10 p.m.–7 a.m.
- FIRES: In fire rings only
- ALCOHOL: Permitted
- VEHICLES: 2 per site
- OTHER: 14-day limit; 1 RV and 1 tent, or 2 tents per site; 4 adults or 1 family per site
When I was a kid, I never understood how my great-grandfather could sit fishing for hours, even with nothing biting. I realize now that fishing was just an excuse to enjoy the outdoors, and whether the fish cooperated or not was immaterial. I’m reminded of that because Sam Parr State Fish and Wildlife Area is just a few miles from where my great-grandfather lived most of his life and is just the sort of peaceful place he loved. The terrain is typical of central Illinoisa mix of low timbered hills and prairie, with a narrow V-shaped 183-acre lake at the center. The park doesn’t have a lot of amenities, but the separate tent-camping area offers quiet lakeside camping and a good place to enjoy fishing, boating, and simply relaxing.
As you enter Sam Parr off IL 33, go 0.3 mile, to the second road on the right, and follow the signs for tent camping. The walk-in tent area is at the southwest corner of the lake and has 21 sites spread out over a large grassy lawn sloping gently toward the lake. Though all the sites are visible to one another, most are spacious and widely separated. Some are close to parking, so you don’t have to carry your gear very far at all, while those on the lakeshore require a short hike of 300–450 feet. Most of the time you should have plenty of choices. The walk-in area is busy on holidays, but other weekends may only see two or three parties camping, and it’s rarely even half full.
Site 1 is attractive but too close to the parking lot for my comfortyou’ll see and hear everyone who drives in. If you want to be close to your vehicle, try sites 2, 3, 11, or 14, which are a bit farther away and shaded by pine or maple trees. I prefer the sites on the fringes (out of the line of foot traffic) and closest to the lake. Sites 6, 8, 9, 10, 16, and 20 all fit the bill. Site 8 is on a bit of a slope but is pretty and well shaded. My two favorites are site 9not much shade but a beautiful view of the lake, and right by a little fishing dockand site 20. They’re the farthest from parking but well worth the extra steps. Most nonholiday weekends you’ll have few if any neighbors in this area.
Each site has a table and a fire ring or a ground grill; vault toilets and a water spigot are located near the parking lot. Only the water spigot at the park office is open in winter. Once you’ve selected a site, register at the office if it’s open, on the first road to the right as you enter the park. Otherwise, just set up, and staff will come by the next day.
The RV campground, with 33 electric sites, is at the end of the park road, to the north and around the lake. The location is beautifula wooded peninsula between the arms of the lakebut the sites are small, with gravel pads and not a lot of tent space. On most fairweather weekends this campground will be busy to full.
Sam Parr has 2 miles of foot trails, and the nicest section, along the lakeshore, begins at the dam on the southern end. There are two boat ramps, but no boat rental or concession.
If you enjoy natural history, check out Prairie Ridge State Natural Area, about 10 miles southwest of Sam Parr. These 4,100 acres of tall prairie and marsh are the last refuge of the once-abundant prairie chicken and home to numerous other state endangered or threatened species. From late March–April, you may be privileged to witness the loud “booming” of the male prairie chicken’s courtship dance. Limited access means roadside viewing, except around the office and in the portion owned by the Illinois Audubon Society. To get to the Prairie Ridge office from Sam Parr, take IL 33 for 2.5 miles into Newton, then turn left onto Liberty Street (1100 East). Drive 3.8 miles south to 600 North, turn right, go 1 mile west to 1000 East, turn left, and travel 1.75 miles south to the white house with the wire fence. The Robert Ridgway Nature Preserve of the Audubon Society, with trails and an observation deck, is located 0.25 mile farther south, then 0.6 mile east. For more information, see bit.ly/ILAudubonRidgeway.
For more conventional history, visit the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, 30 miles north of Sam Parr. The site includes a replica of the log cabin in which Abe Lincoln’s father and stepmother lived when they moved to Illinois in 1837, as well as a working period farm. Costumed site interpreters present pioneer life, and on a given day you may witness shearing sheep, carding wool, harvesting wheat, making brooms, or maybe even the visit of an itinerant 19th-century physician. The site is open daily except for holidays, from 9 a.m.– 5 p.m. Living history programs of various sorts take place between May 1 and October 31. From Sam Parr, head 23.5 miles north on IL 130 to 1200 Northwatch for a “Lincoln Cabin” sign. Turn left, go 4 miles west to 1450 East, then turn right and follow the road 2.6 miles north to the main entrance. Check lincolnlogcabin.org for more information.
From I-70 at Greenup, take Exit 119 and drive 17 miles south on IL 130 to IL 33. Turn left and go 0.75 mile to the park entrance, on the left.
GPS COORDINATES: N39° 00.750' W88° 07.602'
Table of ContentsIllinois Campground Locator Map
- Apple River Canyon State Park
- Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area
- Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park
- Loud Thunder Forest Preserve
- Marengo Ridge Conservation Area
- Pecatonica River Forest Preserve
- Sugar River Forest Preserve
- Woodford State Fish and Wildlife Area
- Argyle Lake State Park
- Beaver Dam State Park
- COMLARA Park
- Eagle Creek State Recreation Area
- Forest Glen Preserve
- Friends Creek Conservation Area
- Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area
- Kickapoo State Recreation Area
- Lincoln Trail State Park
- Lodge Park
- McCully Heritage Project
- Moraine View State Recreation Area
- Ramsey Lake State Recreation Area
- Sam Parr State Fish and Wildlife Area
- Sand Ridge State Forest
- Siloam Springs State Park
- Spring Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area
- Walnut Point State Park
- Weldon Springs State Park
- Beall Woods State Park
- Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area: Red Bud Campground
- Camp Cadiz Campground
- Cave-in-Rock State Park
- Devils Kitchen Campground
- Dixon Springs State Park
- Ferne Clyffe State Park
- Garden of the Gods Recreation Area: Pharaoh Campground
- Giant City State Park
- Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area
- Lake Murphysboro State Park
- Pere Marquette State Park
- Pine Hills Campground
- Pounds Hollow Recreation Area: Pine Ridge Campground
- Pyramid State Recreation Area
- Randolph County State Recreation Area
- Saline County State Fish and Wildlife Area
- Sam Dale Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area
- Stephen A. Forbes State Recreation Area
- Trail of Tears State Forest
- Turkey Bayou Campground
- Washington County State Recreation Area
- Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park
APPENDIX A: Camping Equipment Checklist
APPENDIX B: Sources of Information
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