There are many options to choose from when picking a place to go camping with your family near Champaign-Urbana
For some families, camping is an annual tradition. They are outfitted with all the camping things, maybe even own an RV, and have grown up in camping culture. For others, the idea of camping sounds appealing but they’re just considering giving it a go for the first time and want to make a minimal investment in “stuff” while staying close to home, just in case.
We have a list of places Champaign-Urbana area families love to visit when they’re going to plan a camping trip.
We’re going to sort this list by driving distance from Champaign-Urbana. Remember, you can book campsites in a number of locations by visiting reserveamerica.com.
Editor’s Note: During COVID-19, some of these campgrounds or parks may be closed. Please check the website or social media for the specific park before planning your camping trip, and be aware of any safety protocols or group size limitations currently in effect for that area.
We have not personally visited all of these locations but appreciate the recommendations our readers gave for some of these that are new to us!
Before you go, here are some ideas we love:
- Love the Outdoors has an extensive camping checklist.
- The National Park Service has tips on camping with kids.
- You can pick up the “Exploring Nature” journal for kids for any kind of outdoors expedition, including camping.
Within 45-minute drive from Champaign-Urbana
The only Champaign County Forest Preserve District location that offers camping, Middle Fork is a great place to try camping for the first time. It is the state’s only International Dark Sky Park, so if stargazing is your thing, you’ll love this place. It also has a small beach for splashing around and many, many miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty.
Forest Glen tops our list for creek-stomping, so your kids may love camping here for that reason alone. It’s the River Ridge Backpack Trail, though, that gives Forest Glen its reputation as a camping spot. If you plan on doing the Backpack Trail, this would be a spot to head with older (adventurous) teens, not young kids. But you can certainly camp at the tent campgrounds and wander wherever you’d like.
We love Kickapoo because the outfitter Kickapoo Adventures (and nearby bistro) really make this a getaway type of camping experience. It is easy to get to from I-74 — and that makes an unexpected midnight trek home a piece of cake, if you’re prepping for that scenario. Kayak or canoe, hike or fish while you’re there!
We love to visit Clinton — one of the most picturesque lakes in East Central Illinois — for the waterfront backdrop throughout the park. Campgrounds are in friendly “loops”, making it easy for kids to ride their bikes and scooters after you’ve had a busy day at the lake. Clinton is a great fishing spot and has a beach area for you to visit, too.
Moraine View is big on canoeing and kayaking and has a full service restaurant located on the lake.
Greater than a 45-minute drive from Champaign-Urbana
Lake Shelbyville — Eagle Creek State Park, Robin Hood Woods, Coon Creek and Opossum Creek
We saw a number of recommendations for camping at Lake Shelbyville. Some of these websites say they don’t take advance reservations (which sounds risky!) but do your own research before picking one and packing up. Lake Shelbyville has a marina with half day and full day boat rentals, so if you want to add that to your camping trip, make reservations ahead of time.
We listed this just after the Lake Shelbyville spots because while it is a separate state park, it is also on Lake Shelbyville.
The stream-fed lake here is the main draw and the centerpiece of the park. While there’s no swimming allowed in the lake, we think “stream-fed” sounds like some prime creek-stomping for the kids.
We hear this spot is great for fishing. This is one of Illinois’ largest public access areas, so there’s plenty of room to spread out and participate in the activity of your choosing.
KOA campgrounds are a private network of campgrounds but anyone can stay there! They list on their site, “at KOA, we make sure to cover the basics, and then we dial it up a little.” If tent camping isn’t your thing, KOA makes it easy to rent cabins, too.
Turkey Run (Indiana) makes the list of favorite day trips for Champaign-Urbana families and the fact that you can camp there means it makes this list, too. Nature’s playground, Turkey Run has a wide variety of trails for hiking, concessions for tubing and canoeing, nearby food and lots of beauty around. You can spend the day at nearby Shades State Park and sleep at Turkey Run campgrounds.
Canyons formed by glacial meltwater? Yes, that’s just as amazing as it sounds! Starved Rock is another location that gets rave reviews from Champaign-Urbana families so it would only make sense to camp there too. We hear campsites can fill up in advance so plan ahead. Nearby at Matthiessen State Park there are a small number of equestrian-friendly campsites.
The furthest camping spot on our list, Shawnee National Forest might be your vacation destination this camping season. There are so many different campground options here and you can choose where you feel most comfortable when you plan your trip. The bluffs, the waterfalls, and the huge lakes here will definitely feel like you’ve left Illinois and been transported somewhere else. At more than three hours away, you won’t be able to just hop in a car and drive back home if you decide to abandon the camping trip in the middle of the night. Best to start with one of the locations closer to you and work up to this one!
Family-friendly Hikes near Champaign-Urbana | Walk Your Way Through Champaign-Urbana | Parks Minus Playgrounds We Love Around Champaign-Urbana | Kicking Off the Fishing Season | Creek Stomping Your Way Through Champaign-Urbana | 6 Places to Explore Nature with Children Near Champaign-Urbana | Camping With Your Family Near Champaign-Urbana | Where to Rent Canoes, Kayaks and Boats Near Champaign-Urbana | Moraine View State Park | Clinton Lake | Kickapoo State Park | Turkey Run State Park