Telling people about your favorite campground is like revealing your favorite fishing spot. Sure, you want to share, but then again, they might tell their friends, who might tell their friends. Next thing you know, your go-to site is overcrowded, or worse, always reserved.

On the other hand, these are public spaces made to be enjoyed by everyone, and we at Terrain are all about encouraging folks to get out and explore the outdoors. So, after consulting with area experts and reviewing five years of our Readers’ Choice results, we came up with 10 of the best places to pop a tent and put your feet up around the fire.

Be sure to tell your friends…or don’t?

Arcadia Valley Outdoors
Location: Ironton, Missouri
Established in 2021, this campground on the backside of Shepherd Mountain wants to connect people with adventure opportunities like downhill mountain biking, rock climbing, backcountry hiking, and paddleboarding. The venue offers a dozen tent and RV sites that are built into the environment rather than adjacent to it, plus two glamping sites with a side of forest ambiance. Along with its on-site attractions, Arcadia Valley is a stone’s throw from Elephant Rocks State Park, Johnson’s Shut-Ins, and the small post-mining town of Ironton.

Bass’ River Resort
Location: Steelville, Missouri
In a scenic river valley just outside of Steelville, this sprawling campground takes advantage of its location near the Courtois, Huzzah, and Meramec rivers. Paddlers, fishers, hikers, and equestrians all have plenty to do here, with easy access to the water and nature trails. There are literally hundreds of tent and RV sites available, along with rental cabins for up to 20 people. The grounds feature bathhouses, a country store, volleyball courts, a horse stable, an event center, and more.

Council Bluff Recreation Area
Location: Belgrade, Missouri
Named after the 440-acre lake it surrounds, Council Bluff is ideal for a water-and-woods getaway. The Wild Boar Ridge Campground accommodates tents and RVs at multiple single-family, large-group, and walk-in sites. Boating, fishing, and swimming are popular, the latter available at Chapel Hill Beach or right from the shoreline. A 12-mile hiking and biking trail encircles the lake, with spurs to the campground. The Trace Creek section of the Ozark Trail lies just west of the recreation area.

Babler Memorial State Park.

Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park
Location: Wildwood, Missouri
Missouri State Parks calls it a “green-space oasis” amid the growing suburban landscape of St. Louis County. Hiking and equestrian trails wind their way through Babler’s hills, coves, and forests, with Civilian Conservation Corps architecture — bridges, buildings, overlooks, and a massive stone gateway — dotting the area (22 of them are listed on the National Register of Historic Places). For camping, Babler has basic and electric sites, group sites, and special-use areas.

Echo Bluff State Park
Location: Eminence, Missouri
“A gem.” “Spectacular.” “Perfect family spot.” Those are some of the comments we heard from our sources about this park. You can camp at any of 60+ full-service and walk-in tent and RV sites. But it’s the iconic lodge and homestyle cabins that take the cake, some with views of the stunning dolomite bluff. Paddle or float down the Current River or check out the 4+ miles of hiking and biking trails, kids’ splash pad and playground, and 2-mile paved greenway.

Giant City State Park
Location: Makanda, Illinois
Shawnee National Forest is nothing short of a Midwest geological treasure, and you can experience its grandeur during a stay here. Choose from 100 full-service and walk-in tent and RV sites, or try the separate equestrian campground. Giant City is renowned for its massive sandstone structures, which can be seen from its many hiking trails. The park’s visitor center provides interpretive displays on the geology, ecology, and history of the area.

Hawn State Park
Location: Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
Hawn is gorgeous, peaceful, and has some of the most scenic hiking trails around. A trek here invites views of rare rock formations, lofty old-growth trees, wildflowers, and sandy-bottom creeks. The park offers numerous campsites with access to showers, electric, and water, along with some secluded walk-in sites. Hawn also is popular among twitchers, who flock to the park for its variety of birds, and oenophiles, who pour into the nearby wineries in Ste. Genevieve.

Klondike Park.

Klondike Park
Location: Augusta, Missouri
Once a silica quarry but now home to a lake with striking white sand beach, Klondike offers access to 250 acres of wilderness along the Missouri River. More than 4 miles of hiking and biking trails meander through the park, and a lookout provides bird’s-eye views of the river and the Katy Trail below. There’s a station for self-service kayak and paddleboard rentals on the lake, and also a boat launch on the Missouri River. Forty-three tent sites are dispersed throughout the park, plus cozy cabins for rent.

Sangchris Lake State Park
Location: Rochester, Illinois
With 120 miles of shoreline on Sangchris Lake, this 3,000-acre park serves as an excellent base of operations for fishing, boating, hunting, and family gatherings amid native forests of oak, maple, butternut, and persimmon. The two campgrounds here, Deer Run and Hickory Point, allow stays near the water, with full-service, walk-in, and accessible sites in both locations. Hikers can enjoy wildflowers and songbirds along scenic nature trails. For equestrians, there are 20 miles of trails to explore.

Starved Rock State Park
Location: Oglesby, Illinois
The park’s 18 canyons feature vertical walls of sandstone formed when glacial meltwater sliced dramatically through the region. More than 13 miles of trails allow access to the landscape’s rain-fed waterfalls, overhangs, lush vegetation, and abundant wildlife. Stay in one of 100+ campsites (they fill up fast, so plan ahead) or reserve a room at the stone-and-log lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Special events, guided tours, and park programs are scheduled throughout the year.

Author: Brad Kovach is the founder and publisher of Terrain Magazine.

Top image: Echo Bluff State Park.