24 Best Midwest Campgrounds
Camp like a star
There’s a certain community that flourishes within the grill smoke of a campground. Kids shout as they toss footballs among the trees. Old friends reconnect under starry skies. Spend even one night at the 24 campgrounds we’ve identified as the Midwest’s best, and you start to see the appeal. Keeping in mind the popularity of RVs, we researched hundreds of RV campgrounds in the region, visited dozens and interviewed avid campers in all 12 states. We picked our favorites in categories for scenery and for amenities—then crowned 5 “supercampgrounds” that have an amazing combination of both, including Hayward KOA in Hayward, Wisconsin (pictured). Click ahead to see our picks!
Simply the best: 5 “supercampgrounds”
These campgrounds scored big for the ultimate combo of creature comforts and unbeatable views. Click to the next slides for details on each.
• Hayward KOA in Hayward, Wisconsin
• Brown County State Park in Indiana
• Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Indiana (pictured)
• Eugene T. Mahoney State Park in Ashland, Nebraska
• Sibley State Park Campground in New London, Minnesota
Nashville, Indiana: Brown County State Park
Popular year-round, this massive outdoor playground has 20 cabins that sleep 8, plus 118 RV sites that start at $26 on peak summer weekends. What we love: The Little Gem Restaurant, known for pork tenderloin sandwiches and fried buttermilk biscuits covered in cinnamon and sugar; 18 miles of hiking trails; and 25 miles of mountain bike trails. Plus: Clean restrooms, a well-stocked camp store and a rec center with an Olympic-size pool. Book cabins through the on-site Abe Martin Lodge. They go fast. (812) 988-6406; camp.in.gov for RVs; indianainns.com for cabins
Grand Marais, Minnesota: Grand Marais Recreation Area
If you’re looking to blend fine dining, great shopping and a quiet Lake Superior shore, you’ll find it here along the famed North Shore. With 300 total sites, this city campground has pull-through spots with water, electric and sewer hookups; quaint tent sites snuggle up to the cobblestone Lake Superior shoreline. What we love: Campers can walk three blocks into downtown for some of the best cuisine on the North Shore then return to campsites that—at $38—cost less than dinner for two. (800) 998-0959; grandmaraisrecreationarea.com
Hayward, Wisconsin: Hayward KOA
Remember when kids ran off in the morning to play and didn’t come back until they heard calls for dinner? That happens among these 28 wooded acres, which include 157 RV sites and 31 cabins. What we love: Themed weekends, including a popular chocolate weekend (with a chocolate slide!); a water park; free s’mores; outdoor movies; and DJ dances. Plus: Families rent kayaks and inner tubes to explore the Namekagon River then carpool-shuttle back—all part of the community that thrives here. From $43.59. (715) 634-2331; haywardcamping.com
Chesterton, Indiana: Indiana Dunes State Park
Towering sand dunes give this federally protected area its name, but they’re only one reason to spend a few days along the Lake Michigan shore. Marshes draw migrating birds, and 16 miles of hiking trails weave through woods and across sand. What we love: Spotless campsites (including 136 RV sites); a nature center with hands-on areas for kids; and clean, newer, spacious bathrooms. From $26, a huge value just 45 miles east of downtown Chicago. (866) 622-6746; in.gov/dnr
Ashland, Nebraska: Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
You’ll barely make it through the entrance before the kids beg to hit the outdoor water park’s water slides, wave pool and zero-depth zone. The scent of honeysuckle floats over the mini golf course, and pedal boats dock near the Lakeside Campground, which has free Wi-Fi. What we love: Trail rides, arts and crafts nights, and theater performances. Plus: The Mahoney Grille serves good sandwiches and has a pretty view of the Platte River. $20 for each of the 149 RV sites. (402) 944-2523; outdoornebraska.ne.gov
19 more picks
Natural wonders: Quiet fishing coves, standout hiking, wildlife viewing and pretty vistas set the scene for relaxation at these campgrounds (click to the next slides for details):
• Sibley State Park Campground in New London, Minnesota (pictured)
• Blue Bell Campground in Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota
• Canning Creek Cove Park in Council Grove, Kansas
• Dolliver Memorial State Park Campground in Lehigh, Iowa
• Hueston Woods State Park Campground in College Corner, Ohio
• Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park Campground
• Lewis and Clark Recreation Area in Yankton, South Dakota
• P.J. Hoffmaster State Park Campground in Norton Shores, Michigan
• Platte River Campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Honor, Michigan
• Wilderness State Park Campground in Carp Lake, Michigan
• Silver Dollar City’s Wilderness in Branson, Missouri
• Starved Rock State Park Campground in Utica, Illinois
Entertainment central You’ll find cool ways to spend your days at these family-friendly spots:
• Elkhart County/Middlebury KOA in Middlebury, Indiana
• Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park Campground in Mandan, North Dakota
• Lighthouse Point and Camper Village at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio
• Merry Mac’s Campground in Merrimac, Wisconsin
• Mount Rushmore KOA/Palmer Gulch Resort in Hill City, South Dakota
• Old Barn Resort in Preston, Minnesota
• Smokey Hollow Campground in Lodi, Wisconsin
Carp Lake, Michigan: Wilderness State Park Campground
The breeze off the straits keeps bugs away from campers admiring Lake Michigan and exploring this 26-mile stretch of mostly rocky shoreline. What we love: Many of the 250 modern sites have the most dramatic water views of any campground in Michigan; visitors spot eagles, osprey and bears along 20 miles of hiking trails. Plus: They offer nine lakeside cabins on lanes open only to people staying there. From $27. (231) 436-5381; michigan.gov/dnr
Middlebrook, Missouri: Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park Campground
A 2005 reservoir breach that wiped out the original campground spurred the construction of an even better one. Nestled at the foot of Goggins Mountain, the more than 70 spacious sites and cozy cabins make a home base for explorers wading and swimming in the “shut-ins,” named for the water from the East Fork of the Black River running through narrow gaps between boulders. What we love: A new boardwalk leads to the shut-ins, and wooded trails snake along the river. Plus: Campers gather in an amphitheater on Saturdays to learn about the wildlife in these St. Francois Mountains. From $23. (573) 546-2450; mostateparks.com
Utica, Illinois: Starved Rock State Park Campground
A disclaimer: This campground isn’t inside the outstanding state park (pictured), a surprise to some campers we met, but it’s still a gem to us. What we love: The 133 secluded, spacious sites (from $25), wooded surroundings, camp stores, peaceful setting. Plus: If you want a break from grill cooking, Utica has restaurants and award-winning wineries, plus ice cream places to end your days on a sweet note. (815) 667-4726; dnr.illinois.gov
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Honor, Michigan: Platte River Campground
Locals try to keep this place a secret, but the word is definitely out about the superclean natural playground that’s popular with paddlers. They savor this clear, sandy-bottomed stretch of the Platte River where it empties into Lake Michigan. What we love: Ranger-led programs share the sad Native American legend about the Sleeping Bear waiting for her cubs to cross Lake Michigan; towering pines shade RV sites (from $21) that feel quite private. (231) 325-5881; nps.gov/slbe
New London, Minnesota: Sibley State Park Campground
It’s a potent lure for campers: the combination of Lake Andrew, hands-on nature programs, an expanded interpretive center and wooded rolling terrain two hours west of the Twin Cities. What we love: Mount Tom, an observation tower providing 50-mile views, seasonal guided walks, free I Can Fish clinics with rods and tackle, and canoe and kayak rentals. The 53 electric sites start at $28. (320) 354-2055; mndnr.gov
- Photo courtesy of Silver Dollar City.
Branson, Missouri: Silver Dollar City’s Wilderness
The Ozark woodlands blanket this immaculately kept location near the theme park known for its rides, hearty restaurants and on-site artisans. What we love: The 39 cabins range from rustic to posh; stylish tile lines walls and floors in public bathrooms. Guests can rent several RVs parked on-site. Plus: Deer, turkeys and armadillos wander out from the woods. From $34. (800) 477-5164; silverdollarcity.com
Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota: Blue Bell Campground
One of eight campgrounds in this sprawling state park, Blue Bell offers family-size showering/dressing rooms near 30 RV sites, plus 23 cabins near the Blue Bell General store. Campers come for incomparable Black Hills scenery: granite spires (pictured), pine forests, meadows and bison. What we love: Hay rides trundle through the park, and evening educational programs share more details about a landscape that feels downright spiritual. From $24. (800) 710-2267; custerstatepark.com
- Photo courtesy of Bob Collins/Council Grove/Morris County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism.
Council Grove, Kansas: Canning Creek Cove Park
Cradled by the Flint Hills, pretty Council Grove Lake (pictured) welcomes campers eager to hike, boat, fish and bird-watch as well as those curious to see the surrounding prairie. What we love: Hills and limestone outcroppings rise from the 40-mile shoreline, and 49 campsites (from $17), many of them wooded, offer plenty of elbowroom. Plus: Explorers can head 35 miles north along State-177 to Manhattan’s new Flint Hills Discovery Center or south along the Flint Hills Scenic Byway to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, which has an 1881 ranch home and guided bus tours of the grasslands. (620) 767-5195; reserveamerica.com
Preston, Minnesota: Old Barn Resort
On the Root River Valley, this scenic spot draws families who want to bike on paved trails to nearby Lanesboro. What we love: You can play golf on the 18-hole course and float down the river in canoes, kayaks and inner tubes rented on-site. Plus: Campers fill up on smoked ribs, burgers and brisket in the Old Barn Restaurant and splash in the indoor pool. From $38 for 121 RV sites. (800) 552-2512; barnresort.com
Mandan, North Dakota: Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park Campground
History buffs know this campground is much more than a place to spend the night; it’s a wonderful relic, with Native American earth lodges, a military fort and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s home. What we love: Guides lead groups through all the sites while sharing stories and heart-tugging details of life on the windswept prairie. Plus: A cluster of cottonwood trees and the Missouri River give this quiet campground with 57 RV sites a pretty view. From $20. (800) 807-4723; parkrec.nd.gov
- Photo by Sarah Routh.
Sandusky, Ohio: Lighthouse Point and Camper Village at Cedar Point
Once you’ve spent the day taking in the 72 rides (including 16 coasters) at one of the world’s best amusement parks, walk back to one of 209 RV sites or 104 cottages and cabins set between the Lake Erie shore and the park. What we love: RV sites offer full electric, water, sewer and cable hookups (a rarity) from $97, and cottages (mobile homes outfitted to look woodsy, starting at $305 a night) overlook the lake. Plus: Guests get discounted tickets and early admission to the park. (419) 627-2350; cedarpoint.com
- Courtesy of Mount Rushmore KOA.
Hill City, South Dakota: Mount Rushmore KOA/Palmer Gulch Resort
A row of shops designed to look like an Old West Main Street sets the tone at this sprawling resort. You’ll find 290 sparsely shaded, chummy RV sites, but the view and the activities make up for it. What we love: Two pools, a water park, stables, gold panning, four-wheeler rentals and views of Harney Peak are just some of the reasons families come here to unwind in happy busyness. From $44. (800) 562-8503; palmergulch.com
- Photo courtesy of Dolliver State Park.
Lehigh, Iowa: Dolliver Memorial State Park Campground
This rural spot in northern Iowa is not big—only 23 RV sites—but they all overlook the pretty Des Moines River and stand within easy reach of a stately Civilian Conservation Corps lodge. What we love: Sandstone cliffs, wooded hiking and quiet fishing combine for a perfect get-away-from-it-all backdrop. From just $16 a night (515) 359-2539; iowadnr.gov
- Photo by Melanie McManus.
Merrimac, Wisconsin: Merry Mac’s Campground
In the shadow of Devil’s Lake State Park, campers choose from a fishing pond, swimming pond with inflatables, a jumping pillow, dunk tank, nickel bingo and Texas Hold ’em tournaments. What we love: Themed weekends like the Under the Sea Beach party, complete with sand castles, a beach-blanket party and limbo contest. From $30 for 252 RV sites. (608) 493-2367; merrymacscampground.com
- Photo courtesy of Elkhart County/Middlebury KOA.
Middlebury, Indiana: Elkhart County/ Middlebury KOA
A recreation room, complete with turquoise booths, a pool table and ice cream socials, sets a fun tone in Amish Country. What we love: Amish bakers hold on-site bake sales on Saturday mornings, and a local artist painted murals on the bathroom doors. Plus: Campers at 93 RV sites and in 13 cabins take advantage of free Wi-Fi, pedal boat rentals, badminton, sand volleyball, mini golf, plus 2.5 miles of nature trails. From $54.59. (800) 562-5892; middleburykoa.com
- Photo courtesy of Michigan DNR.
Norton Shores, Michigan: P.J. Hoffmaster State Park Campground
The ecosystems of the Lake Michigan shoreline shine at this roomy, 297-site campground, which stands among huge beech, hemlock and maple trees along the backside of lakefront sand dunes. What we love: Summertime nature walks help kids spot wildlife; hikers enjoy a 15-minute jaunt along a creek and through a forest that leads to the beach. Plus: Campers who crave a little civilization appreciate the ice cream stand 5 miles down the road and the stores and restaurants in nearby Grand Haven. From $27. (231) 798-3711; michigan.gov/dnr
- Photo Courtesy of Lewis and Clark Recreation Area.
Yankton, South Dakota: Lewis and Clark Recreation Area
If a campground known for its laid-back landscape can feel “put together,” Lewis and Clark pulls if off beautifully. What we love: Manicured landscaping, modern bathrooms with locking doors instead of shower curtains and new playground equipment reveal careful management. Plus: Many people come here to go boating, but campers at the 409 RV sites and 17 cabins also take advantage of the beaches, disc golf and 4.1-mile paved trail along the Missouri River. From $20, plus a state park vehicle pass. (800) 710-2267; campsd.com
- Photo by Melanie McManus.
Lodi, Wisconsin: Smokey Hollow Campground
An enormous motorized shopping cart and Cinderella’s pumpkin-style coach whiz kids around this wooded campground, and that’s just some of the offerings you’ll find. What we love: A water-balloon war, Segway clinics (lessons followed by quick jaunts) and weekly Friday night fish frys complement the more standard activities. Plus: Travelers can choose from 100 RV sites (from $45) snuggled into the woods or nearly two dozen other kinds of lodgings, including yurts, covered wagons, cabins and gazebos (from $85). (608) 635-4806; smokeyhollowcampground.com
- Photo by Damaine Vonada.
College Corner, Ohio: Hueston Woods State Park Campground
North of Cincinnati, neat-as-a pin sites flourish amid old-growth forests and miles of hiking and mountain biking trails weaving past waterfalls. Sailboats glide across Acton Lake while kids splash along the sandy swimming beach. What we love: Campers picnic in the shadow of a covered bridge, tour a restored Pioneer Farm museum and join fossil-hunting expeditions before curling up by fire rings at the 250 sites with electricity (from $26), 3 cabins and 37 cottages. (513) 523-6347; parks.ohiodnr.gov/huestonwoods
- Slattery Vintage Estates tents. Photo by Tina King.
Are you a glamper? 2 favorites
If you like a little more pampered approach to the outdoors but don’t have an RV, consider “glamping” (glamorous camping). These two locations are affordable, fun and ready to treat you right.
North Lawrence, Ohio: Clay’s Park Resort You’ll find Amish-made queen-size beds, a day bed and bunk beds atop wood platforms in the glamping tents overlooking the lake at this pastoral campground 50 miles south of Cleveland. Guests rent golf carts to zip to the restaurant and water park and activities. Big-name country music concerts (Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum in 2013) fill an outdoor amphitheater. From $126. (330) 854-6691; clayspark.com
Nehawka, Nebraska: Slattery Vintage Estates (pictured) Sip wine, dine on wood-fired pizzas and listen to live music under a big sky 35 miles south of Omaha, then retire to room-size tents with comfy beds and amenities you’d see at a country B&B. You’ll wake up to see ducks, deer, turkeys and eagles and enjoy a three-course breakfast in the wine-tasting room. From $75. (402) 267-5267; svevineyards.com
- Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Indiana.
How we rated campgrounds
Here’s a peek at what we rated the campgrounds on:
What’s it like when you get there? 1 means, “Once I found the place, I wanted to turn around”; 10 means, “Gorgeous entrance and layout, like Emerald City.”
How clean are the sites and baths? 1 means, “Gross. Litter was everywhere”; 10 means, “We couldn’t believe how clean these public bathrooms were.”
Could this be a destination on its own? 1 means, “I might as well have camped in a grocery store parking lot”; 10 means, “Breathtaking beauty.”
Is there enough nearby? 1 means, “The most exciting thing in 50 miles is a gas station”; 10 means, “This is one of the top family destinations in the state.”
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