22 Best Midwest Campgrounds
After a full season of visiting Midwest campgrounds, we picked these as the best for scenery and amenities.
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
These "supercampgrounds" scored big for the ultimate combo of creature comforts and unbeatable views. Click or tap 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
* Grand Marais Recreation Area in Grand Marais, Minnesota
Nashville, Indiana: Brown County State Park
Popular year-round, this massive outdoor playground has 20 cabins that sleep 8, plus 118 RV sites.
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. camp.in.gov for RVs; indianainns.com for cabins
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. haywardkoa.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. A huge value just 45 miles east of downtown Chicago. 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. nebraskastateparks.reserveamerica.com
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 cost less than dinner for two. grandmaraisrecreationarea.com
Natural wonders: Quiet fishing coves, standout hiking, wildlife viewing and pretty vistas set the scene for relaxation at these campgrounds:
* 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, Middle Brook, Missouri
* 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 Campground 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
* Mount Rushmore KOA/Palmer Gulch Resort in Hill City, South Dakota
* 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. 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 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. 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, 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. 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 and towering pines. 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. mndnr.gov
Branson, Missouri: Silver Dollar City Campground
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. RV and tent camping sites are available as well. A free shuttle runs to Silver Dollar City.
Plus: Deer, turkeys and armadillos wander out from the woods. 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. gfp.sd.gov
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, many of them wooded, offer plenty of elbowroom.
Plus: Explorers can head 35 miles north along State-177 to Manhattan's 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. recreation.gov
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. Yurts, tipis and cabins available. parkrec.nd.gov
Sandusky, Ohio: Lighthouse Point and Camper Village at Cedar Point
Once you've spent the day taking in the rides at one of the world's best amusement parks, walk back to one of 145 RV sites, 64 cottages and 92 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), and cottages (mobile homes outfitted to look woodsy) overlook the lake.
Plus: Guests get discounted tickets and early admission to the park. cedarpoint.com
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 Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) are just some of the reasons families come here to unwind in happy busyness. palmergulch.com
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. iowastateparks.reserveamerica.com
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:: Campers at 93 RV sites and in 13 cabins take advantage of free Wi-Fi, pedal boat rentals, badminton, basketball, sand volleyball, mini golf, plus 2.5 miles of nature trails. koa.com
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. michigan.gov/dnr
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 solid 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. gfp.sd.gov
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 snuggled into the woods or nearly two dozen other kinds of lodgings, including yurts, covered wagons, cabins and gazebos. smokeyhollowcampground.com
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, 3 cabins and 37 cottages. ohiodnr.gov