The Best Shawnee National Forest Camping

The Best Shawnee National Forest Camping

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The Shawnee National Forest is located in the Ozark and Shawnee Hills of Southern Illinois. It consists of 280,000 acres of land that’s the largest publicly owned body of land in the entire state of Illinois.

With officially seven designated wilderness areas in the forest, it has an array of rock formations, scenic views and diverse vegetation and wildlife. The forest is ideal for people who love hiking, photography and camping as the forest is full of life.

Camping in Eddyville

Where can I camp in Eddyville?

Bay Creek Ranch

The best shawnee national forest camping - Bay Creek Ranch

Curve Rocks
Curve by Whitney is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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The Bay Creek Ranch is a great place to set up camp if you want to explore the Shawnee National Forest. It’s open year-round, so you have full access to the park whenever you like.

If you have a horse, you’ll be able to bring them to the ranch and explore the park via horseback. The trails are renovated and go through the stunning scenery of rock bluffs, caves, creeks and thick wood. In addition, the trails range from tranquil pine forests to more challenging terrain such as rock bluffs.

If you’re interested in hiking, rock climbing, hunting or biking the surrounding area, the Bay Creek Ranch welcomes you. In addition to the park, Bay Creek Ranch is closely situated to Creek Buffalo Rock, River to River trail, Jackson Falls and many more natural attractions.

The campground offers visitors campsites or cabins, depending on what they’d like. Campsites come with water, electric and permanent high lines.

If you have a horse they have covered stalls, turnouts and pens, plus, overnight stabling if needed. It’s also equipped with amenities such as a shower house, laundry facilities and a dump station. So, everything you need is right here at camp.

Visit Bay Creek Ranch

Bear Branch Horse Camp

The best shawnee national forest camping - Bear Branch Horse Camp

Lust Creek Canyon
Downstream by Whitney is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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The Bear Branch Horse Camp is centrally located in the Shawnee National Forest nestled just above the Lusk Creek Canyon. Bear Branch is named after the creek that runs through it and offers camping facilities for those with or without horses.

The campground gives you access to scenic hiding and hiking destinations in the forest. The trails are marked and have maps as well, so you don’t need to worry about getting lost.

The campground comes fully-equipped with amenities such as wifi, water and electricity, laundry, shower houses and restrooms. In addition, if you’re bringing your horse with you, you’ll be able to keep them in box stalls during the evenings.

On the campground, it also offers activities for children and adults such as a fishing pond, volleyball, basketball, a playground and horseshoes to use. So, if you need a time-out from hiking or riding and want to relax on the campground, you’ll be able to do so with ease.

Plus if you’re tired of eating camping food, the campground also offers a Log Cabin restaurant which will give you a break and is always a nice treat when you’ve been camping for a couple days.

Visit Bear Branch Horse Camp

Haynes Canyon Campground

The best shawnee national forest camping - Haynes Canyon Campground

Burden Falls, Shawnee National Forest
burden8 by Curtis Abert is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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The Haynes Canyon Campground was featured on the Best of America by Horseback in 2014 and since then, they’ve upheld their reputation.

The campground offers stunning scenery for those going on horseback or on foot as they have some of the best trails in the forest. They do specialize in catering to campers with horses, however, will always accept campers that are without horses.

They’re located just outside of Eddyville and is easily accessible by car. You can either stay at the campground with an RV or tent, it truly depends on your preference. They offer day, weekend or week stays, however, if you wish to extend your trip, that’s also an option.

The campsites have 2-4 pens for horses or mules with most pens matted. The campsites themselves are either with full hookups for RVs or are primitive sites for tents.

Surrounding the campground, you have an array of attractions to experience such as the Lusk Creek Canyon and Indian Kitchen, Bell Smith Springs, Millstone Bluff and Glendale Lake. Whether you’re on horseback or foot, you’ll have an endless amount of trails to explore and wilderness to see. All you need is a good pair of hiking shoes.

Visit Haynes Canyon Campground

What is there to do in Eddyville?

The best shawnee national forest camping - Eddyville

Shawnee National Forest
SHAWNEE NATIONAL FOREST, Illinois by Conrad Bakker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A part of Pope County, Eddyville is a small town situated near the Shawnee National Forest. Originated in 1866, it was named after Edward Fulghum who owned the land in which the village was built on.The entire village has a total of 156 people inhabiting it with a postal office in operation since 1869.

Though it lacks activities, it’s a great location to set up a base if you’re interested in exploring the surrounding area either on foot or horseback.

Camping in North Shawnee National Forest

Where can I camp in North Shawnee National Forest?

High Knob Campground

The best shawnee national forest camping - High Knob Campground

Sunset over the Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest
GardenoftheGods-Sunset by Michael is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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A larger campground, the High Knob campground comes with 150 camping sites all supplied with water and electric, most also including tie lines. The campground is spread over 50 acres, so there’s plenty of space between neighbours.

A great fact about the campground is that it’s the only campground that has the River to River trail running right through the centre of the camp. The Shawnee Forest surrounds three sides of the campground and has seven separate trails leading into the forest. Needless to say, High Knob is in a great location for hiking and trail riding as you’re nearby giant rock bluffs and the Garden of the Gods.

The campground itself has 90 covered box stalls for your horse, plus camping areas with tie lines. In addition, there’s a laundry room, a shower house and restrooms for all your basic needs. They have a country store on the property which sells firewood, ice, snacks, horse tack, and other camping supplies if you forgot to pack it yourself.

In the surrounding area, there are a couple attractions which are extremely close by. You can go for a dip in the Pounds Hollow Lake, hike the Rim Rock and visit the Cave-in-Rock state park.

Visit High Knob Campground

Double M Campground

The best shawnee national forest camping - Double M Campground

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest
Garden of Gods by Marcus O. Bst is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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The Double M Campground is quite a large campsite with over 200 campsites available for RV and tent use. They border the Shawnee National Forest on three sides of the campground and offer direct access to the forest via trail. They have four trails which leave the camp which you can explore by horseback, bike or foot.

The campsites come with full hookups for RVs and there’s a large primitive camping area for tents with picnic tables and fire rings. In 2018, the Double M campground was voted the most scenic campground in Southern Illinois and it won that title for a reason as it offers exceptional trails throughout the forest.

On the campground, there are plenty of activities to enjoy while taking a break from exploring the surrounding nature. There’s a children’s playground, pavilion, and a restaurant which offers delicious home cooking. If you’re bringing your horse, you’ll have uncovered and covered stalls, and tie line poles to keep them safe.

Around the campground, you’ll be able to explore the River to River trail, Blue Hole, Haystack, Vulture Bluff, Beaver trail and the entire Cadiz trail system. You’ll never have to explore the same area twice – unless you want to.

Visit Double M Campground

Williams Hill Pass

The best shawnee national forest camping - Williams Hill Pass

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest
Garden of Gods by Marcus O. Bst is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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The Williams Hill Pass Campground is a non-profit outdoor recreational park. With the help of private investors and grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Recreational Trails Programs, Williams Hill Pass operates 27 miles of trails on 220 acres of land.

Since 2001, Williams Hill Pass allows the use of recreational vehicles, allowing both children and adults the opportunity to use the mud pit, children’s track and recreational vehicles trails. So, if you have a dirt bike, ATV or any other off-roading vehicles, you’ll be able to safely ride it on the recreational grounds.

The campground offers visitors the opportunity to use either RV or primitive tent campsites. The RV sites are fully equipped with hookups and a water/dump station as well.

The primitive campsites include a picnic table, lantern holder, and fire ring. If you’re interested in exploring the surrounding area, you’ll have an array of options to choose from.

The Shawnee National Forest is situated around the park where you’ll be able to hike through the scenic forest. In addition, outside of the forest, there are lakes close by such as the Gaskin Lake which is a perfect spot to take a dip on a hot summer’s day.

Visit Williams Hill Pass

What is there to do in North Shawnee National Forest?

The best shawnee national forest camping - North Shawnee National Forest

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest
Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest. by Asif A. Ali is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Northern area of the Shawnee National Forest is full of activities to do and experience. Visitors are able to camp, canoe, hike, horseback, photograph, swim, hunt, fish and lounge in the Shawnee National Forest. With over 280,000 acres of barrens, lakes, ponds, bluffs, barrens and glades to witness. If you’re wanting to experience nature in any form, then this is the spot to be.

Rend Lake

Where can I camp in Rend Lake?

Old Bates Campground

The best shawnee national forest camping - Old Bates Campground

Rend Lake Landscape
Rend Lake Landscape_2067 by keith_harms is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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The Old Bates Campground sits on 20 acres of wooded wilderness and is located 4 miles from Rend Lake. In addition, it’s also nearby Black Berry Nature trail, Sesser, and South Sandusky beach. It’s slightly north of the Shawnee National Forest, however, is ideal if you’re interested in exploring various wilderness areas and not just the Shawnee National Forest.

The campground offers visitors the ability to stay in either an RV or tent. The RV sites come fully equipped with hookups and trash services as well. The campsites for tents are primitive and offer picnic tables and fire rings, however, all users have access to the shower house and restrooms.

What’s great about this campsite is that they do have a swimming pool, so you don’t need to leave the campsite if you want to cool off. In addition, they also have a restaurant that’s located in front of the campground called Stringers and Moore.

So, if you’re tired of cooking and want a break, you’ll able to eat in or order out. Rend Lake has great swimming and fishing spots, so you can spend your days at the lake, or wandering around the surrounding nature such as Pyramid State Recreation Area, Trail of Tears State Forest, Crab Orchard Lake or Shawnee National Forest.

Visit Old Bates Campground


Benton KOA

The best shawnee national forest camping - Benton KOA

Rend Lake Sunset

20160727 010a Rend Lake – Wayne Fitzgerald State Recreation Area, Benton IL
by Michael Massa is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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The Benton KOA is a great campsite if you’re travelling with children as there is plenty to do not only on the campground but in the surrounding area. You can stay at the campground either in an RV or tent and the Benton KOA supplies you will full hookups and amenities such as shower house, a pavilion, propane, and wifi.

The campsites have either water and electric or offer no hookups, depending on what you need. The sites are shady areas with a picnic table and grill for each site.

The park is located only 2 miles from Rend Lake and has plenty of activities for people to take part in such as boating, wildlife demos and beaches. The area is well known for its fishing, hunting, birdwatching and boating.

In addition to the outdoor activities, you’re also minutes away from the town square, the historic jail museum, Artisan shops, art galleries and restaurants. For day trips, head to Shawnee National Forest or follow the Southern Illinois Antique Trail.

The campground is running year-round, so whatever your activities are, you’re able to base yourself at Benton KOA any time of the year.

Visit Benton KOA


What is there to do in Rend Lake?

The best shawnee national forest camping - Rend Lake

Rend Lake Landscape
Rend Lake Landscape_2060bykeith_harms is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The 7th Wonder of Illinois, Rend Lake is a 13 mile long southern Illinois reservoir in Franklin and Jefferson Counties. Originally, it was created when the United States Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Big Muddy River. Now, the lakeshore of Rend Lakes covers 162 miles and is a part of the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area. Visitors are able to swim and fish as its known as one of the top-ranked fishing spots in Illinois.


I can’t wait to go back to Shawnee National Forest! Do you want further recommendations on tents that you can easily set up? Check out my guide to the Best Instant Tents.

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