It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, everyone likes the idea of free stuff. While free camping in Illinois is difficult to come by, there are campgrounds, parks, and areas throughout the state that offer it.
In this article, we will look at all the spots that offer free camping in Illinois. From state and city parks to national forests to parking lots, there’s always somewhere to catch a free night’s sleep in your tent or RV.
Free Camping in Northern Illinois
Rochelle Train Park
First on our list of Free Camping in Illinois destinations is Rochelle Train Park.
You’ll quickly find that free camping in Northern Illinois is challenging to come by for RVs and tent campers alike. However, one of the few spots you can park your RV is Rochelle Train Park. It’s located in Rochelle, Illinois, and while they don’t advertise free camping, they do allow it. Be forewarned, however, that it’s an active train park, and you’ll hear plenty of rumbling trains and whistles throughout the night.
Gilman City Park
Another area that doesn’t advertise free overnight camping is Gilman City Park in Gilman, Illinois. It’s located in the northeastern part of the state and consists of a parking lot that allows free RV parking for a night or two. There are no tents allowed in the area, as it’s car and RV parking only.
Free Camping in Central Illinois
Bear Creek Recreation Area
The Bear Creek Recreation Area is in west-central Illinois along the state’s western border. It’s located in Ursa, Illinois, and is part of the Mark Twain Wildlife Refuge. Bear Creek is open year-round and is a first-come-first-serve camping area that contains 30 sites. The sites are large enough to accommodate tents, cars, and RVs up to 35 feet in length.
You can stay for up to 14 days in a row at Bear Creek for free. In general, Bear Creek and the Mark Twain Wildlife Refuge is famous for its hiking, fishing, and boating opportunities.
Faye Pickering Mountain Bike Trailhead
The Faye Pickering Mountain Bike Trailhead, located in Marshal, Illinois, is a hidden gem for those seeking a free night of camping in their RV. The trailhead is located in a county park, and though they don’t advertise free overnight parking, it’s allowed as long as you don’t hang out too long and don’t make a mess. Don’t expect any hookups or amenities, but you can park your RV for the night.
Rainey Park is located in Carrollton, Illinois, and is about as dead-center in the middle of the state as you can get. It’s a public park that doesn’t advertise free overnight RV parking, but they allow it. While overnight RV parking is permitted, tent camping, fires, and all other camping activities are prohibited. It’s just an area to park your RV for a night or two, which is all you need sometimes.
The Point is located in Grayville, Illinois, near the state’s eastern border. It’s located just down the road from Hill Top Campground and is often where people stay for a night or two if the campground is full. Please note that larger RVs may have trouble fitting in at The Point. There aren’t any amenities, but you can probably use the restrooms and showers up the road at Hill Top Campground if you ask nicely enough.
Free Camping in Southern Illinois
Dutchman Lake is located within the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois and is home to some of the best free camping in Illinois. The lake itself is 118 acres of pure fishing bliss, and there are plenty of hiking trails around the lake to choose from.
The area is pet-friendly, and while there are no organized campsites, dispersed camping is allowed around Dutchman Lake. Camping is free, and you can stay for up to 14 days, but don’t expect anything in the way of amenities, electricity, or water.
Indian Point is also located within Shawnee National Forest and consists of five hike-in tent camping sites. The camping area is located along a 2-mile loop Indian Point Trail. There aren’t any amenities, but what more do you need than space to pitch your tent and wide-open spaces to stargaze.
In addition to Indian Point, five other camping areas are located on the adjacent hiking trails that travel through the famous Garden of the Gods. You can explore every part of the trails and the Garden of the Gods and pick a different camping spot each night along the way. You can stay at these campsites for up to 14 free nights in a row.
Tower Rock Campground
Tower Rock Campground is part of Shawnee National Forest and is located along the banks of the Ohio River. Fishing, boating, hiking, and swimming are favorite activities at Tower Rock, and it’s conveniently located within a half-hour of the Garden of the Gods.
Turkey Bayou Campground
As the name implies, Turkey Bayou Campground is located in a designated Waterfowl Refuge Area and is a favorite spot for bird-watching. There’s also a boat launch, picnic area, and pond for fishing and swimming. Keep in mind that the area is closed during the waterfowl hunting season. Dispersed camping is available throughout the Turkey Bayou Campground and Refuge Area. You’d better bring everything you need, however, as there isn’t much in the way of amenities.
Yet another gem for free camping in Shawnee National Forest, Jackson Falls is an absolute must-see. The area is most popularly used by rock climbers aiming to traverse the surrounding cliff faces. However, it’s open to car camping and tent camping if you get there in time to snag a space. There are also tons of hiking trails nearby, including the famous Burden Falls, a favorite destination within Shawnee National Forest.
R2R Trail Garden of the Gods
If you’re looking for one of Illinois’ most beautiful and scenic parts, the Garden of the Gods is an absolute must. In addition to breathtaking views, there are three free hike-in campsites along the River to River Trail. The best of which happens to be in the Garden of the Gods.
Kaolin Pit Pond
Kaolin Pit Pond is a free camping area located inside the infamous Trail of Tears State Forest. The forest is so-named because the Trail of Tears runs straight through it. There is free RV parking in the parking area, but additional tent sites are available just outside the parking lot. Hiking, fishing, boating, and sightseeing are the most common activities at Kaolin Pit Pond.
Another destination for free camping in Illinois is Gullet Ridge. Gullet Ridge is inside Shawnee National Forest and marks the final free camping area worthy of mention. Gullet Ridge doesn’t have any amenities or organized camping areas, but it’s located at the end of a paved road and is perfect for free, primitive camping. Small to medium RVs can attempt the journey but beware that the sites aren’t paved or gravel and are prone to getting muddy. You can stay at Gullet Ridge for up to 14 free nights.
Free Casino Camping in Illinois
If you’re RVing your way across the country and need a place to sleep and gamble, casinos are a great place for free camping in Illinois. You’ll be in a parking lot made of gravel or concrete, so you likely don’t want to pitch a tent. However, casinos have a reputation for allowing free overnight parking for RVs—possibly because they’re hoping you get bored and make your way inside to try your luck at gambling. Either way, however, casino parking lots are an excellent place for a free night of camping.
Free Parking Lot Camping in Illinois
In addition to casinos, there’s another option for free camping in Illinois: private businesses! There are lots of private and corporately owned businesses that allow free overnight camping. Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrels, Cabellas, Bass Pro Shops, Camping World, Pilot, Flying J Truck Stops, and even a few privately owned businesses allow free overnight camping. For a complete list, check out this website. From city parks to parking lots, you should be able to find all manner of free camping for a night or two.
Free Camping on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Land
Most people trying out Illinois free camping don’t realize that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of Illinois owns over 55,000 acres of land. Free camping is available throughout this area in specified places. There are also 16 organized campgrounds, 22 boat ramps, 14-day shelters, and includes the Rock Island District, Mississippi River Project, Recreation, and Natural Resource Management Section. Make sure to check in advance before trying to park your RV or pitch your tent to make sure the section of the land you’re on allows free camping.
Free State and National Forest Camping in Illinois
Last but not least on our list of options for free camping in Illinois is to head for a state or national forest! It’s relatively easy to find free tent and car camping in many of Illinois’ state and national forests. However, free RV sites are few and far between. Shawnee National Forest is especially popular for those seeking a free camping adventure. There are numerous hike-in primitive tent sites, but not much in the way of RV camping. Your best bet for boondocking with your RV is to set up at one of the many trailhead parking lots for a night or two within the forest.
Final Thoughts About Free Camping in Illinois
While Illinois isn’t necessarily the most camper-friendly state in the country, there are plenty of options to choose from. The further south you move in the state, the more opportunities are afforded to you. You might need a little creativity at times, but if you know where to look and who to ask, there’s almost always free camping in Illinois.
Looking for more places in Illinois to explore? Check out more recommendations here:
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Jalin Coblentz was born and raised in the hills of northeast Ohio, where he grew up camping with friends and family. Jalin started tent camping at an early age and has done a number of weekend trips into the woods with nothing but food, water, his sleeping bag, and a tent.
Currently, Jalin is a full-time RVer who travels from campground to campground with his wife and their standard-size Goldendoodle Harper. He is a full-time content writer, copywriter, and blogger, and his work is featured on dozens of websites and platforms.