Best Places to Camp in the Midwest

Planning an outdoor adventure this summer? Check out these recommendations for campgrounds in the Midwest.​

Are you looking for the best places to camp in the Midwest? Here are some of my personal favorites, as well as recommendations from fellow campers.

I grew up in the Midwest, where Sunday drives, fireflies in mason jars, u-pick strawberry farms, picnics with buckets of KFC and hikes in the woods happened regularly.

One thing that didn’t happen regularly was camping. We tried it a few times in a pop-up trailer, but it didn’t stick as a family activity. Then, when I was 14, I stayed with relatives in Colorado for a summer and went on my first remote camping experience. I hiked with a tent on my back and showered under a waterfall. To this day, that trip is one of my favorite childhood memories.

It wasn’t until 2013 that my husband and I camped together for the first time. It wasn’t planned; I’d received a last-minute invitation to cover an event and all of the hotel rooms exceeded $200, so I looked into campgrounds. One night in and we were hooked.

As in, slightly obsessed.

Since then, we’ve camped from here to the Pacific Ocean and back, and while places like Yellowstone National Park and Joshua Tree are glorious, there is also plenty of incredible Midwest camping.

I’ve got a few of my favorite campgrounds, including where my husband proposed, where we spent our honeymoon, and where we celebrated our one-year anniversary (told you we were obsessed!) but I know there are many more we need to visit.

If you’re looking for the best campgrounds in the Midwest, here are my top picks, as well as some recommendations from fellow enthusiasts. With this many to choose from, you’re sure to find your favorites, too.

(Just be warned: you might become obsessed.)

Camping at Governor Dodge State Park - one of the best places to camp in the Midwest
Room to spread out at Governor Dodge State Park

There may be affiliate links in this post, which means we may get a small commission. It’s at no extra cost to you and helps keep TLT free. Everybody wins!

Best Places to Camp in the Midwest

Illinois Camping

Hiking trail at Ferne Clyffe State Park in the Shawnee National Forest
Hiking trail at Ferne Clyffe State Park in the Shawnee National Forest

Ferne Clyffe State Park

Theresa Goodrich

Ferne Clyffe State Park will always have a special place in my heart: my husband proposed at the base of a waterfall.

The park is way down in Southern Illinois in Shawnee National Forest. It’s a lush land of hiking, waterfalls, and camping. Named for the ferns that line the forest floor, the 2,430-acre park has eighteen trails that wind up, down, and around the hilly landscape.

In addition to hiking, Ferne Clyffe is a popular place for picnics, as well as fishing and hunting. Equestrians can take advantage of their own trails, and the Round Bluff Nature Preserve is 53-acres of protected plants and animals.

Nearby, history buffs can find forest sites that were part of the Underground Railroad and can travel along a portion of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

You won’t want to miss the impressive Camel Rock in the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area. And if you’re into wine, there’s a Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.

Ferne Clyffe can accommodate any type of camper. There are primitive sites for backpackers, walk-in campsites for tent campers who want to be a little closer to their vehicles, and Deer Ridge, a Class A facility with electricity, picnic tables, and grills. There are also flush toilets, showers, and a dump station at this campground.

Campsite at Mississippi Palisades State Park near Galena, Illinois
Campsite at Mississippi Palisades State Park near Galena, Illinois

Mississippi Palisades State Park

Theresa Goodrich

Another favorite place to camp in Illinois is Mississippi Palisades State Park. This is primarily because of the park itself.

With its location along the Apple and Mississippi Rivers, it’s a gorgeous park with fifteen miles of trails. The palisades are the line of steep cliffs along the Great River, and you can hike right along the top.

Looking down to the Mississippi River from the bluffs at Mississippi Palisades State Park, one of our favorite places to camp in Illinois
Looking down to the Mississippi River from the bluffs at Mississippi Palisades State Park

The campground itself is good size, with 241 Class A and B sites. There’s not a lot of separation between sites, but when we celebrated our one-year anniversary, we found a HUGE site with an area to the side that gave us some breathing room. (I believe it’s site 63.)

Spreading out at Mississippi Palisades State Park campground
Spreading out at Mississippi Palisades State Park campground

In addition to hiking, you can also fish, hunt, and go rock climbing.

Indiana Camping

Indiana Dunes National Park, photo by Flo Lawnicki
Indiana Dunes National Park, photo by Flo Lawnicki

Indiana Dunes National Park

Flo Lawnicki, Flo’s Favorites: Eat, Play and Stay in the Midwest

Camping at Indiana Dunes National Park is one of my favorite activities! The peaceful and scenic surroundings relax you and encourage you to unplug and connect with friends and family.

The campground is family- and pet-friendly and fellow campers are some of the nicest people you’ll meet. There are lots of activities to get involved in if you’re more of an active camper. I tend to fall someplace in the middle.

One can’t help but explore inside the picturesque Indiana Dunes with all the different species of flowers, birds, and wildlife. The nature center located in the back of the campground affords a great opportunity to learn more on the history of the Indiana Dunes National Park and identify some of the species you’ll encounter.

Scattered throughout the campground are multiple trails leading to tall sand dunes with incredible views. A short walk from your campsite will put you right on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan where you can swim, engage in a little volleyball, or take in the Chicago Skyline.

There’s also fishing, boating, canoeing, and biking trails in the area. The Indiana Dunes National Park is a great getaway and is easily accessible from the Indiana Toll Road or Interstate 94.

Iowa

Campsite at Lewis & Clark State Park in Iowa with bikes locked to tree
Lewis & Clark State Park in Iowa

Lewis & Clark State Park

Theresa Goodrich

With just 250 acres, the Lewis and Clark State Park in Iowa may not be big, but it packs a ton of history. The state park is one of many named for the intrepid explorers. Iowa’s edition sits on Blue Lake, an oxbow remnant of the Missouri River’s previous meanderings. Meriweather and William, et al, camped in the area on August 9 and 10, 1804.

The campground is good for families and groups as there’s no division between sites. All sites have electric hookups, and some have full hook-ups for RVs.

You can camp among the trees, or set up your tent along the shore. We did the latter, and in the morning I woke up to a stunning sunrise.

Sunrise at Lewis & Clark State Park in Iowa
Sunrise at Lewis & Clark State Park in Iowa

During the summer it’s advisable to make reservations. When we arrived, the only spot open along the shore was ours.

One downside to the park is its proximity to a nearby Interstate; if you’re a light sleeper, the constant drone from speeding vehicles might keep you awake. That noise is worth it, though, once you visit the keelboat display.

This, we discovered, was a misnomer: Even though the explorers’ main boat is called the “keelboat” over and over again, and the Iowa state park has a replica of the barge Lewis and Clark used and it’s called the Keelboat Display, and their keelboat is mentioned pretty much anywhere you see anything about the explorers, the word keelboat doesn’t appear in their journals. Meriwether’s pre-expedition shopping list mentioned a “keeled boat,” and they wrote about other boats as being keel boats, but nowhere do they refer to their boat as a keelboat.

In addition to the replica of the barge, the center also has replicas of two pirogues, a dug-out canoe, The Iron Boat, and a bull boat.

Lewis & Clark State Park is featured in Two Lane Gems, Vol. 2: Bison are Giant and Other Observations from an American Road Trip

McIntosh Woods State Park by Val Plagge
McIntosh Woods State Park, photo credit Valerie Plagge

McIntosh Woods State Park

Valerie Plagge, Corn Beans Pigs Kids

Camp right along the northwest shore of Iowa’s beautiful 3,684 acre Clear Lake at McIntosh Woods State Park in Ventura, Iowa.  This quiet and shaded State Park offers a couple ways to camp:

The modern campground includes sites for both RVs and tents.  Most spots include electric hookups.  A nice, clean restroom and shower house is located in the center of the campground, along with a playground for families.

The park also offers two yurts available for rent.  The yurts are 16-foot circular structures that are a fusion of a cabin and a tent. 

Yurt camping on Clear Lake, Iowa, photo credit Valerie Plagge
Yurt camping on Clear Lake, Iowa, photo credit Valerie Plagge

Each yurt includes a full-size futon, twin bunk beds and a table with chairs.  They are secured structures that lock with a personalized key code, including electricity and a ceiling fan.  There is also a restroom and shower house located next to the yurts and a small dock for fishing in Clear Lake. 

The yurts are a great spot to get away at only $35 a night, located in this private, oak shaded area of McIntosh Woods State Park.

While camping a McIntosh, enjoy the one-mile nature trails around the park which include signs along the way describing wildlife, plants and different features of the park.  There is a major boat access point for Clear Lake located in the park and includes another playground, shaded picnic areas and a peninsula of land extending out into the lake with a beach and swimming area. 

Make sure to travel west into the town of Ventura and grab some ice cream at the boaters’ favorite, the Viking Drive-Inn.

Wildcat Den State Park in Muscatine, Iowa; photo by Michelle Marine
Wildcat Den State Park in Muscatine, Iowa; photo by Michelle Marine

Wildcat Den State Park

Michelle Marine; Simplify, Live, Love

The primitive campground at Wildcat Den State Park makes the perfect family weekend getaway for people who want to get away from it all and one of the best places to camp in Iowa.

Located outside Muscatine, Iowa, Wildcat Den features hiking trails, 75 foot cliffs, a working grist mill, restored one-room school house and more.

Geologic features called Steamboat Rock, Devil’s Punch Bowl and Fat Man’s Squeeze provide spectacular views for hikers.

The historic Pine Creek Gristmill was built in 1848 and is open for demonstrations during the summer. While water and vault toilets are available at Wildcat Den campgrounds, do note that electric hookups are not available. Don’t let that stop you from exploring this beautiful Iowa State Park! You will not be disappointed.

Michigan

Photo by Deb Thompson - Camping at Colwell Lake Campground
Colwell Lake Campground, photo by Deb Thompson

Colwell Lake Campground

Deb Thompson, Just Short of Crazy

We discovered Colwell Lake campground a couple of years ago and fell in love. It’s located in the middle of Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Our favorite thing about this campground is its location. Located miles from any city it is truly a back to nature experience that is so enjoyable. When we’ve visited it’s been a quiet campground that lets us relax and unwind (be sure to pack your favorite books).

The night skies are incredible because there is no light pollution from nearby cities, making it one of the best places to camp in Michigan.

We love listening to nature and enjoying the lakefront ambiance. When we leave we always feel refreshed and prepared to take on another day.

The only con is the vault toilets, but they are kept very clean and are well maintained.

Colwell Lake Campground offers large, lakefront sites with plenty of privacy for tents, campers, and RVs. Some of the sites have electricity available. There are vault toilets, drinking water, a dump station, and trash collection.

There is a swimming beach, picnic area, and boat launch. For those that like to toss a line, you’ll find Largemouth bass, northern pike, crappie, pumpkinseed sunfish, perch and bluegill.

Be sure to bring your kayaks and bikes. The 145-acre Colwell Lake is the perfect place to paddle and the campground and surrounding area make for a nice bike ride if you don’t mind dirt roads. There is also a groomed 2-mile hiking trail.

The campground books up fairly quickly and books up to 6-months out.

Minnesota

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota
Photo credit Leigh Wilson

Leigh Wilson, Campfires and Concierges

For backcountry camping in the Midwest, you can’t beat the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota. Also known as the BWCA, the Boundary Waters comprises 1,000,000 acres of pristine northwoods wilderness.

The best way to experience the BWCA is on an overnight canoe trip. The more nights you can spend camping in the Boundary Waters, the better! Just remember, you have to be self-sufficient as you’ll be camping on islands and remote areas.

The BWCA does have designated campsites, and they are first-come, first-served. I don’t recall a single campsite that wasn’t magnificent. Swimming holes, clear skies and howling wolves in the night. 10/10 would recommend!

Finland State Forest in Finland, Minnesota; photo by Martha
Finland State Forest in Finland, Minnesota; photo by Martha

Finland State Forest

Martha, Quirky Globetrotter

When it comes to camping in Northern Minnesota, the best experience is deep in the woods with nothing but the dense foliage framing your campsite and nothing more than critters within earshot.

The Finland State Forest is a cheap option for budget travelers who are embarking on either hiking parts of the Lake Superior Hiking Trail or the nearby Tettegouche State Park. Its serene atmosphere makes it ideal for a romantic, rustic weekend or as a quiet oasis.

This campground is simplistic compared to other campgrounds. There are not any frills in this campground. The bare necessities are provided, so this campground is ideal for well-seasoned campers.

You will have to pump your water and there are only outhouses in terms of restroom facilities. If you don’t mind roughing it for a few days without a hot shower, this campground is ideal.

The campsites cannot be reserved in advance so it might be harder to nab a spot during the weekends in the summer months. Arrive early to ensure that you secure a camping spot for your relaxing weekend. There is a house on the way to the campground on Highway 1 which sells firewood. It’s open all hours of the day and just has a drop box for your purchase.

The Finland State Forest is a great alternative to Tettegouche’s campground which fills quickly and is often quite noisy with the constant traffic in and out of the park.

The Finland State Forest is one of the best places to camp in Minnesota. It serves as an oasis for campers and hikers who are looking to escape the daily grind and truly unwind in nature.

Itasca State Park in Minnesota, photo by Katie Diederichs
Itasca State Park, photo by Katie Diederichs

Itasca State Park

Katie Diederichs, Two Wandering Soles

If you’re looking to get away from the hustle of city life and surround yourself with nature, northern Minnesota is hard to beat. With pine tree forests, mirrored lakes, and northwoods lodges, a camping trip to Itasca State Park is good for the body, mind, and soul.

I grew up camping at Itasca State Park, and even though decades have passed, I still love the tranquility I find at this place. The campground has more than 220 sites for tents, campervans, and RVs, and you’ll find clean bathrooms and showers onsite. Each site has a fire ring and grate as well as a picnic table to make cooking camp meals easy. And if you want to stay in a bit more comfort, there are even cabin rooms you can rent out.

Most campsites are set in a wooded area, giving you plenty of privacy while still being conveniently located near Lake Itasca and historic lodges. The State Park in which this campground is located was established in 1891.

Whether you want to get off the grid and simply relax with a good book, or you want to pack your days full of activities, you’ll find your bliss in Itasca State Park. String up a hammock and listen to the sounds of nature, or head down to the lake to try your luck at fishing. You can also rent a kayak or paddleboat or go for a swim in the lake from the sandy beach on shore.

Get your heart pumping with a bike ride or hike through the woods, and don’t miss the chance to wade across the Mississippi River. It is in Itasca State Park that this iconic river begins, and no trip here is complete without seeing the headwaters in person.

The campground at Itasca State Park can get quite busy during peak season, so be sure to make reservations in advance. Be sure you’re stocked up on groceries and supplies, as it is roughly 20 miles to the nearest town. There is a restaurant and some small shops in the park, but it’s nice to be prepared. Also, mosquitoes can get quite bad during certain times of the year, so pack repellent and clothing that covers your ankles to avoid those pesky (and itchy!) bites.

TLTip: Bug Soother bug spray is AMAZING.

Missouri

Pulltite Campground in Salem, MO; photo by Asher Fergusson
Pulltite Campground in Salem, MO; photo by Asher Fergusson

Pulltite Campground

Asher Fergusson, Asher & Lyric

Pulltite Campground is located on the banks of the Current River in Shannon County, Missouri. It’s my favorite Midwest campground, not because of its amenities, but because of its location.

Being in the Ozarks and right on the river means you’re surrounded by natural beauty and can do endless awesome day trips such as canoeing or tubing down the gorgeous river.

About half of the tent sites are on a first come first serve basis, the other half are available by reservation; group sites are reservation only.

The amenities include showers/modern restrooms (in summer months), fire pits, food locker, water hookup, picnic tables. Check Asher’s camping packing list.

The store at Pulltite campground has cold drinks, ice, wood, propane, charcoal, first aid and swim toys.

The surrounding area has 300+ caves, an open sinkhole, ample hiking, great fishing, opportunities for horseback riding, ranger-guided tours and is just a wonderful place to relax and enjoy nature. The standard rate is $19/night and $100/night in the group area.

Nebraska

Niobrara State Park

LeAnna Brown, Well Traveled Nebraskan

The campgrounds at Niobrara State Park in North Eastern Nebraska are a (tent) camper’s delight!

What is great about these sites is that despite it being a public campground, unlike many other sites where you feel like you are on top of your neighbors, at Niobrara, if tent camping, you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself! All the tent sites are tucked away into great little nooks and crannies of the forest or, if great views of the river are more of your thing, that is an option, too!

There are modern amenities, such as shower houses and toilets and great shade for those in a camper.

Besides the seclusion and views, what makes Niobrara so great are the endless things to do at and near the state park! As cliche as it is, there is truly something for everyone here!

Smith Falls near Valentine Nebraska
Smith Falls State Park

Smith Falls State Park

Theresa Goodrich

If you’ve ever jumped off of I-80 for more than a pit stop, you know that the state is more than corn fields and billboards. But did you know it has a 70′ waterfall?

Smith Falls State Park is named for the tallest waterfall in the state. Located on the Niobrara River, a National Wild and Scenic River, it’s a quiet and peaceful getaway that will surprise you.

There are fossils buried in the river’s banks, undisturbed views, and a unique combination of both western and eastern flora and fauna that find a home in this region’s microclimates.

The surrounding sandhills are semi-arid, but the many canyons that cut through the bluffs are cooler, so much cooler that trees survive here that can’t be found anywhere else in the state.

Campsite 12 at Smith Falls State Park near Valentine Nebraska
Campsite 12 at Smith Falls State Park

The campground is a short walk across the river from the falls. There are pull-up sites as well as walk-ins. The showers are coin-operated, but when we were there, the coin-catcher wasn’t latched so we could recycle previously used tokens.

North Dakota

Graham's Island State Park in Devils Lake, ND; photo courtesy North Dakota Tourism
Graham’s Island State Park in Devils Lake, ND; photo courtesy North Dakota Tourism

Graham’s Island State Park

Jenna Lee, Travels of Jenna

Graham’s Island State Park in Devils Lake, ND is a non-seasonal campground situated along the shores of the largest lake in North Dakota.

Both primitive and modern campsites are available as well as four seasonal cabins.

The campground offers several amenities including picnic shelters, horseshoe and volleyball courts, a playground for the kids as well as a bait shop and boat ramp.

Plenty of activities are available for visitors, but perhaps the most popular are the legendary fishing opportunities. Devils Lake is one of the top fishing lakes in the country making Graham’s Island a perfect campground for fishermen of all skill levels.

The waters are abundant with a variety of fish, particularly perch. After all, that’s how Devils Lake became known as the Perch Capital of the World.

Devils Lake, ND; photo courtesy North Dakota Tourism
Devils Lake, ND; photo courtesy North Dakota Tourism

Besides fishing, campers can enjoy swimming at the designated beach and hiking the trails throughout the park. Miles of shoreline and wooded area present opportunities to explore and connect with nature.

Part of the Prairie Pothole Region, the unique landscape allows a variety of flora and fauna to flourish. Bird species are especially abundant in the area.

For a peaceful morning, spend some time birdwatching from the Sivert Thompson Loop. Take your camera along for the opportunity to capture a few of the many native waterfowl.

You can also take a drive over to Sully’s Hill to observe larger land animals such as bison and elk. One thing is for sure, you’ll never run out of outdoor things to do in Devils Lake and Graham’s Island is the perfect place to base your adventures.

Ohio

Hocking Hills State Park campground, photo by Brandy Gleason
Hocking Hills State Park campground, photo by Brandy Gleason

Hocking Hills State Park

Brandy Gleason, Gleason Family Adventure

Sounds of waterfalls, perfect hiking trails and phenomenal camping make Hocking Hills State Park a Midwest destination you don’t want to miss. Tucked into the Old Man’s Cave area is the Hocking Hills State Park Campground, where there are sites for every kind of camping, from tents to Class A rigs.

Waterfall at Hocking Hills State Park, photo by Brandy Gleason
Waterfall at Hocking Hills State Park, photo by Brandy Gleason

Hocking Hills State Park Campground offers paved level sites and every spot has a fire ring and picnic table. This destination draws out the nature lover in you, so amenities here are the excellent hiking and gorgeous waterfalls. They offer a pool from Memorial Day to Labor Day for some splashing around after a great day exploring the Hocking Hills Region. Ranger talks and programs are offered for you and your family and are held at the ranger station or out on the trail to give you an evening of fun and education.

Gleason Family at Hocking Hills State Park, photo by Brandy Gleason
Gleason Family at Hocking Hills State Park, photo by Brandy Gleason

Location, Location, Location is what makes this campground the perfect place to base camp while you explore the region. You will not find a campground closer to the action and adventure than this! Within minutes you are hiking into the sights and sounds of the gorges and waterfalls of this magical place.

The Hocking Hills Region has so much to offer that you can’t do it all on one trip. You will have to come back again and again.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a nature lover who hikes the trails, an adventure seeker that goes to High Rock Adventures or one who loves to sit and sip coffee by the campfire, Hocking Hills has something for every camper and offers the best camping in Ohio!

Mohican State Park in Ohio, photo by Tonya Prater
Mohican State Park in Ohio, photo by Tonya Prater

Mohican State Park

Tonya Prater, Travel Inspired Living

Mohican State Park Campground holds a special place in my heart. Not only because it’s close to home and perfect for a weekend getaway, but also because it is the first place that my family camped when my kids were very small. At that time, the campground rented tepees with all the gear you needed for your stay.

Sadly, tepees are no longer lodging options, but for those that don’t own a tent or RV, you’ll find camper cabins that are available to rent for a night at a time (two night minimum on weekends) while the larger, regular cabins rent for a minimum of a week during the summer.

A word of caution, the Mohican area has quite a few campgrounds to choose from, but the state park campground fills up quickly so be sure to make advance reservations.

The campground is pet friendly and dogs who are up-to-date on their shots are welcome in special dog friendly cabins.

The amenities in the campground include a swimming pool, clean showers, volleyball, basketball, laundromat, naturalist programs and access to hiking trails throughout the state park.

The Mohican River runs along the campground and provides a great place to go tubing and splash in the water which feels amazing on a hot summer day.

Favorite spots in the park include the easy hike to Big Lyons Falls which is best viewed after a rain storm, the view from the Overlook Gorge and a walk up the fire tower, though it can be a bit much for those with a fear of heights. The Discovery Trail in nearby Mohican-Memorial State Forest offers a look at best growing forest management for those interested in the science behind the trails.

South Dakota

Camping at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park, one of the few Midwest National Parks
Campsite at Cedar Pass Campground, photo by Ketki of Dotted Globe

Cedar Pass Campground

Ketki, Dotted Globe

Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park is one of our favorite places to camp while road tripping South Dakota. Located near the Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands, the campground is located in an open prairie field and all campsites have amazing views of the Badlands geological formations.

Camping in Badlands is the best way to make the most of your time in the national park and enjoy stargazing in the dark night sky.

Our tent campsite had an excellent view of the Badlands Wall and also of the wild flowers in the prairies. The tent campsites also have shaded picnic tables.

The Cedar Pass campground is open from April to October every year – we recommend checking the official website for exact dates every season. Most of the campsites can be reserved in advance and the sites can fill up quickly during the summer holidays.

The campground has excellent amenities with showers and bathrooms located nearby. Campers can buy supplies, groceries, and souvenirs from the nearby store.

The restaurant at Cedar Pass is also a great option when you want to have a proper meal. The campground also has RV sites with electric hookups. Badlands does not allow fires; propane grills can be used.

Horsethief Lake in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Horsethief Lake in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Horsethief Lake Campground

Theresa Goodrich

Horsethief Lake Campground is nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota and the closest place to sleep near Mt. Rushmore. This is my kind of campground: big spaces and lots of trees for shade.

When you’re trying to find this idyllic place, don’t do what we did. There’s another campground called Horse Thief Campground and RV Resort. We plugged “Horse Thief Campground” into our GPS, pulled up to an on-site store, and thought, “This is not the campground we’re looking for.”

I’m sure it’s fine – we just prefer state and national park camping.

Our Horsethief is a small campground of 36 spaces with pit toilets and the eponymous lake. The camp host can set you up with ice, firewood, and other sundries.

Even if it weren’t a beautiful spot, Horsethief Lake would still be a great place to pitch a tent if you plan on visiting Mt. Rushmore. After attending the evening program, we were quite happy our air mattress was a mere twenty minutes away.

Palisades State Park in Garretson, South Dakota; photo by Mary Beth Charles
Palisades State Park in Garretson, South Dakota; photo by Mary Beth Charles

Palisades State Park

Mary Beth Charles, MBSees.com

I loved spending the weekend at Palisades State Park in South Dakota. They have several camping options, from tent to cabin to RV (50 amp), some right at the edge of Split Rock Creek.

The amenities are great, too, including a clean shower house with hot water (let’s be honest, that can be a problem sometimes!), firewood available for campers, picnic areas, and a playground for the little ones. All in a family-friendly, pet-friendly, ADA-accessible location.

Reservations can be made online at the surprisingly-easy-to-navigate SD State Parks website. It’s one of the most user-friendly systems I’ve seen.

Summer is the most popular time to visit, and sites will fill up weeks or months in advance. But, if you’re willing to hit the park in the off-season, you could score a same- or next-day reservation (I did!).

Palisades State Park in Garretson, South Dakota; photo by Mary Beth Charles
Photo by Mary Beth Charles

Split Rock Creek is stunning. Over the years, it cut a gorge through the park that now features huge quartz cliffs popular with rock climbers. If that’s not your thing, you can just have a seat up top and enjoy the great views. There are hiking trails along the water, and a swimming hole to cool off in during the warm summer months.

I went solo to “get away from it all” just before the school year ended, so I was able to get a short-notice reservation. The days had finally warmed up, so the next morning, I perched myself on a cliff overlooking the swimming hole and enjoyed a book for a while. Then, I hit a couple of the creek-side trails. I can’t recommend Palisades enough!

Bison in Sage Creek Campground - Badlands National Park
Bison in Sage Creek Campground – Badlands National Park

Sage Creek Campground

Theresa Goodrich

If you’re in search of a unique camping experience, you can’t go wrong at one of the best national parks in the Midwest.

Sage Creek Campground may not have any amenities beyond a couple of pit toilets and a few picnic tables, but it has something you’ll find few other places:

Bison.

This free campground is surrounded by roaming bison, despite the signs warning campers to stay 100 yards away from the largest mammal in North America. It’s kinda hard to do when the beasts walk right through the sites.

Talk about camping in nature!

Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park is first come, first serve, so plan to arrive early to get a spot.

In the evenings, rangers and volunteers lead educational programs. We learned how to throw an atlatl, although the poor ranger was heckled by a prairie dog the entire time.

Park Ranger demonstrating how to use an atlatl at Badlands National Park
Park Ranger demonstrating how to use an atlatl at Badlands National Park

There is no potable water at Sage Creek, and no campfires or generators are allowed. Horses, however, are, as there’s a designated section for equestrian parking.

Wisconsin

Waterfall at Governor Dodge State Park
Waterfall at Governor Dodge State Park

Governor Dodge State Park

Theresa Goodrich

Governor Dodge State Park is named for the first governor of the Wisconsin Territory, and while it may not look exactly like it did when he arrived, it can give you a glimpse into the state’s rugged past.

With more than 5200 acres, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and biking. There are also two man-made lakes, where you can fish, boat, and swim.

TLTip: get a frosty treat at the Cox Hollow concession stand.

In Wisconsin, a good size park means there’s plenty of camping. There are 267 family campsites, 8 group campsites, 11 family equestrian sites, 2 group equestrian sites, and 6 backpack sites. Eighty sites have electric hookups.

Like all Wisconsin State Parks, a vehicle admission sticker is required in addition to your camping fee.

Camping at Kettle Moraine State Park North Unit - one of the best places to camp in the Midwest
Our first tent!

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit

Theresa Goodrich

Kettle Moraine State Forest was the first place we camped after we discovered our mutual love of the activity, and it reinforced our infatuation.

The forest is split into two sections: North and South. We chose a site on Mauthe Lake in the Northern Unit, and it was a peaceful beginning to our camping adventures.

Hikers can travel up to 31 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and there are several other trail systems in the park.

We stuck to hiking, but you can also rent rowboats and canoes for boating and fishing, or just fish from the pier.

Boy fishing Mauthe Lake at Kettle Moraine State Forest
Boy fishing Mauthe Lake at Kettle Moraine State Forest

Mauthe Lake Campground has 135 sites and 51 of those have electricity. They’ve also got showers and flush toilets, making this Midwest campground a perfect spot for camping newbies.

Little Sand Bay campground in Apostle Islands National Park, photo by Vicki Chido
Little Sand Bay campground in Apostle Islands National Park, photo by Vicki Chido

Little Sand Bay

Vicki Chido, That Was A First

Little Sand Bay Campground is located on the south shore of Lake Superior and borders the Apostle Island National Lakeshore.

This public campground has 48 campsites, with 32 of them providing electric hook-ups. Nightly fees range from $20-$30, not including a $10 reservation fee. Reservations open up on February 1 for the upcoming camping season.

Campsites are on grass and vary in size. Many of the RV sites are pull-through, which is very convenient. Over half of the campsites are shaded, and some offer a view of beautiful Lake Superior.

The campground is part of the Little Sand Bay Recreational Area which includes a large sand beach, marina, boat launch, playground, kayak launches and picnic area.

The campground has clean shower facilities and restrooms, and sells ice and firewood.

Across the street from the campground is an Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Visitor Center that houses educational displays, a gift shop, and provides booklets for the junior ranger program. Park rangers are available to answer questions about the history of the area, keep kayakers and boaters updated about the weather conditions, and to give educational tours to the kids hoping to earn their junior ranger badge.

The campground is 15 miles north of Bayfield, Wisconsin where families can catch the ferry to Madeline Island, shop and dine along the main street, or visit one of the many fruit orchards in the surrounding area.

Another popular place to visit near the campground is the Apostle Island sea caves. They can be reached by hiking or kayaking from nearby Meyers Beach.

This is one of the best family campgrounds in Wisconsin and we love visiting this campground every season so we can spend our mornings watching the boats on Lake Superior, and our afternoons walking on the sandy beach. The highlight of our day is the evening sunset over Lake Superior…it’s the best way to end a relaxing stay at Little Sand Bay.

Campsite at Perrot State Park near Trempealeau Wisconsin
Campsite at Perrot State Park near Trempealeau Wisconsin

Perrot State Park

Theresa Goodrich

Perrot State Park is always going to be one of my favorite campgrounds, and not just because that’s where we spent our honeymoon (although that doesn’t hurt!).

Why?

It’s beautiful, for one. Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Trempealeau Rivers, it’s lush and green. Perrot State Park is in the Driftless Area, a region that the glaciers skipped, so it’s hilly with bluffs and crags, perfect for hiking and incredible views.

View of Mississippi River from Perrot State Park near Trempeleau, Wisconsin
View of Mississippi River from Perrot State Park

It also abuts the Great River State Trail, so be sure to bring your bikes. We did and rode down to the town of Trempealeau. If you have an issue with your bike (like I did), there’s a shop in town. Stop into the local tavern while you’re waiting for your tire to be replaced.

The campsites themselves are HUGE. There are 102 total, and several of them have electric hookups. Facilities include flush toilets, showers, drinking water, and a dump station. There’s also a nature center so you can learn more about the things you’ll see when you’re hiking those 12.5 miles of trails. All of the above makes Perrot State Park one of the best places to camp in Wisconsin.


These are some of the best camping in the Midwest. Have you camped at any of these, or did we miss your favorite? Leave a comment!

4 thoughts on “Best Places to Camp in the Midwest”

    • Hi Sonya – I personally have never camped in Indiana and I wanted only first hand accounts. I’d asked for contributions to this piece in multiple places and, unfortunately, none from Indiana were provided. Thanks for your suggestions! I’m happy to update the piece and add Indiana campgrounds if someone wants to write about their personal experience!

      • Hi Theresa, Thank you so very much for your quick response and consideration. I completely understand now and appreciate your reply. I will try and get you some appropriate info next week. Have a wonderful day and thanks again.

  1. My girlfriend has been bugging me to do a camp trip with her for some time now. I think your list is just what I needed to plan something. Thanks Theresa 🙂

Comments are closed.