If you’re on an R.V. trip through Illinois but want to save money or stay off the grid, you should consider boondocking in Illinois.
While Illinois doesn’t have as many free camping options as other parts of the United States, there are still places to go if you know where to look. Luckily, we’ve already done the research for you. This article will look at the best places to boondock in Illinois. We’ll also give you some helpful advice about where to look if you’re not close to any locations on this list.
Boondocking in Northern Illinois
Let’s start by looking at boondocking spots in Northern Illinois. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t a ton of boondocking options. However, there are a few spots here and there if you know where to look.
Gilman Industrial Park
First on our list of the best spots for boondocking in Illinois is Gilman Industrial Park.
The small town of Gilman is located about an hour and a half south of Chicago and an hour southwest of Valparaiso. While it’s a small town, it does have a few major highways running through it. If you happen to be on highways 24, 57, or 45, there’s a good chance that you’ll be within spitting distance of Gilman Industrial Park. They don’t advertise it, but Gilman Industrial Park offers free overnight parking to R.V.s and truckers. There’s not a whole lot to do or see in the area, but it’s a great place to stop for a good night’s sleep.
Rochelle Train Park
Rochelle, Illinois, is another small town located about an hour straight west of Chicago. Once again, they don’t advertise it, but the Rochelle Train Park allows free overnight camping for R.V.s. Rochelle Train Park is a hotspot for train enthusiasts, but even if you don’t care about trains, you’ll still be allowed to have a free night of R.V. parking.
Boondocking in Central Illinois
We now head down to Central Illinois, where the free camping options are few and far between. However, once again, if you know where to look, there are a few spots here and there.
One of the top spots for boondockers in central Illinois is the St. Louis district of Carlyle Lake. Carlyle Lake is a large area split into several different campgrounds, but the one that offers boondocking is the area owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Most people don’t realize that property owned by the USACE usually offers free camping and boondocking in Illinois opportunities. Carlyle Lake is one of many such areas throughout the country.
Another well-kept secret of a boondocking spot is located in the city of Franklin. Waverly Lake City is located near McMurry College and, despite having the name of Waverly, is located in Franklin, Illinois. This area doesn’t have a whole lot to do or look at, but you can park your R.V. for up to four days for free. You won’t have any running water or electricity, but there are porta-potties if you need to take care of business.
Boondocking in Southern Illinois
Finally, we get to the southern part of the state, which is much more boondocking friendly. There are national forests, state parks, and several campgrounds to choose from that all allow boondocking.
The first area that we’ll look at is known as Dutchman Lake. Dutchman Lake is considered part of the Shawnee National Forest and is a local favorite for fishing. The lake is 118 acres of fishing fun, and it’s also one of the most tranquil spots in Shawnee. Boondocking is allowed in the area, but make sure to park overnight in a designated spot.
Another excellent and peaceful option for boondockers is Jackson Falls. It’s also located within the Shawnee National Forest in the small town of Ozark. Don’t expect electricity or running water at Jackson Falls, but the area is pet-friendly and horse-friendly for equestrians.
Jackson Falls is also a hotspot for rock climbers, as there are roughly 60 climbing areas to try. They all vary in difficulty, and you’re bound to find new challenges with every location. You’ll also encounter some of the most beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails in all of Illinois. If you want to get into the heart of the Shawnee Forest, you’re only a 15-minute hike away, and there’s easy access via a gravel road that connects Shawnee to Jackson.
Tower Rock Campground is also within Shawnee National Forest and is located along the Ohio River on the eastern side of the Forest. You’ll have lots of options for things to do on the water, such as swimming, fishing, kayaking, and boating. Tower Rock has limited boondocking options, but plenty of affordable R.V. spots are available in the campground itself. You’ll also be within a half-hour of the incredible Garden of the Gods.
If you’re in the Shawnee National Forest and want to go to the best bird-watching spot in the area, Turkey Bayou is where you need to go. There’s even a dedicated Waterfowl Refuge Area that’s flush with birding opportunities. Dispersed camping is available in the campground and surrounding areas.
We’ve looked at several individual campgrounds within Shawnee National Forest, but now let’s take a look at Shawnee as a whole.
Shawnee National Forest consists of over 280,000 acres of rivers, lakes, prairies, meadows, hills, and waterfalls. No matter what you’re looking for, Shawnee has something for everyone. There’s tons of hiking, fishing, biking, horse riding, boating, tent-camping, and boondocking available in Shawnee.
A few of the must-see locations within the Forest are the Little Grand Canyon, the Garden of the Gods, and even part of the historic Trail of Tears. Shawnee is a National Forest that has as much history as it does sights and views. There are even vineyards and restaurants to try out within the Forest area. So, bring your R.V. and enjoy some of the best boondocking in Illinois there is!
Boondocking at Businesses in Illinois
We’ve looked at the typical places people like to boondock: campgrounds, parks, and the like. However, many people don’t realize that boondocking isn’t limited to these rural areas. If you’re in a pinch and can’t find a rustic spot to set up for the night, there are plenty of other options available.
Wal-Mart is one of the most popular boondocking spots in urban or rural areas. They allow overnight parking to R.V.s, campers, and truckers alike.
Cracker Barrel is a great restaurant for many reasons, and overnight R.V. parking is one of them. There are close to 20 Cracker Barrels in Illinois, each of them allowing boondocking. What better way to wake up and refresh than with a hearty Cracker Barrel breakfast.
Camping World lives up to their name in that they allow R.V.s to boondock for a night. They take things one step further as some of them even have dumping stations and fresh water on site. There are 8 Camping Worlds in Illinois, including Springfield, Wauconda, Roscoe, Lincolnshire, Cortland, Marion, Braidwood, and Bolingbrook.
Cabelas/Bass Pro Shops
There are three Cabelas/Bass Pro Shops in Illinois. Two of them are north of Chicago in the cities of Hoffman’s Estates and Gurnee, and the third is in East Peoria. As long as you park after hours and leave before the hustle and bustle of the workday starts, Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops allow boondocking.
Believe it or not, there are at least 15 casinos in the great state of Illinois. Who knew!? Casinos usually don’t advertise it, but they allow boondocking in their parking lots as long as you stay to the outer edges and don’t get in the way. After all, there’s a good chance that if you park in their lot, you’ll end up inside trying your luck at gambling.
Other Places to Boondock in Illinois
Let’s check out a few other options that offer boondocking in Illinois options to weary travelers.
Truck Stops and Rest Area
If you’re in a pinch and simply have nowhere else to go, truck stops and rest areas offer free overnight parking for R.V.s. These aren’t places I like to stay because of how insecure they are, but it will do for a night or two.
The Bureau of Land Management isn’t as widespread in Illinois as it is in other states. However, most areas under their jurisdiction allow boondocking for up to 14 days.
Land owned by the United States Forest Service is one of the top spots for boondockers. Shawnee National Forest and the various campgrounds within the Forest are all controlled by the USFS.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
BLM land and USFS land are known spots for boondockers. However, many people are unaware that the USACE also shares in this generosity. Carlyle Lake is one of several areas in Illinois controlled by the USACE, and each of them may offer free boondocking on a limited basis.
Final Thoughts About Boondocking in Illinois
Well, there you have it, all the places to go boondocking in Illinois. It’s a state that doesn’t have as many glamorous options that other states do, and many of the best spots are in southern Illinois in Shawnee National Forest. If you don’t mind paying a few dollars, however, there are tons of state parks all over the state.
However, if your heart is set on boondocking, this article contains a comprehensive list of the options available to you.
Check Out These Other Illinois Posts: