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Looking for a great fall getaway? Look no further

By: Katie Ward Beim-Esche


The campgrounds at Dr. Edmund A. Babler State Park in Wildwood

There are thousands of great RV destinations around the country, from Key West to Yosemite to Acadia. When you sit down to plan a road trip, those might be the first places that come to mind.

Spend a few days at one of the destinations below, however, and the others won’t even register. The Midwest is home to some of the most exceptional parks around.

After a day at any of these locations, campers surely will have great stories to tell. Maybe someone made headway on that birdwatching “life list” while someone else was off catching that night’s dinner. Perhaps the day was spent just reconnecting with nature or learning about the incredible history of the region.

On this list, you’ll find everything from 19th century mills to prehistoric rock carvings, within walking distance of 21st century amenities.

These parks also hold scads of public works projects from the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 40s, some of which have earned recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

Each destination on this list represents a spot within a few hours of home that guarantees all the best parts of an RV trip – outdoor activities, leisure, family time and the chance to make memories that last a lifetime. A special list of trout parks also is included below.

Whatever happens on an RV vacation, new traditions will be made. What better place to make them in the extraordinary parks around this special region?

370 Lakeside Park

St. Peters, Missouri
Average drive: <1 hour
The takeaway: Good for new RVers

This secluded RV park is just next door for St. Charles County residents, but it feels worlds away. It features 50 gravel full-service RV sites, sand volleyball and a marina for launch onto the 140-acre lake. Guests of the RV park receive St. Peters resident rates for fishing, boat launch and archery. Rent bikes to traverse the 4.5-mile lake loop, or rent kayaks, canoes, jon boats and paddleboats. Pet parents, make sure to take advantage of the nearby dog park.

Babler State Park

Wildwood, Missouri
Average drive: <1 hour
The takeaway: Good for new RVers

For West St. Louis County residents, it doesn’t get any closer than Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park, named for the renowned St. Louis surgeon. The park’s facilities, Civilian Conservation Corps architecture, and hiking, bicycling and equestrian trails help visitors get away from it all, just minutes from St. Louis. Choose from basic and electric campsites, an organized group camp and special-use camping areas. Campers of all ages will enjoy events and interpretive programs at the visitor center.

The Visitors Center at Babler State Park

Carlyle Lake

Carlyle, Illinois
Average drive: 1-2 hours
The takeaway: Lakeside getaway

The largest manmade lake in Illinois offers two “neighborhoods” for the camper crowd. Eldon Hazlet State Park has 328 Class A campsites with 30- and 50-amp electrical hook-ups, stretched along nearly 1.5 miles of the Carlyle Lake shoreline. Most campsites are within easy reach of the water, but there is a public swimming pool as well. Hickory Shores Resort provides full hook-up sites, plus a bevy of charmingly named cabins. Experience the joy of lakeside camping, without the overcrowding.

Cuivre River State Park

Troy, Missouri
Average drive: <1 hour
The takeaway: Family-friendly and flexible

Cuivre River State Park describes itself as “the Ozarks in northern Missouri.” As one of the state’s largest and most rugged parks, the park offers reservable basic, electric and sewer/electric/water campsites, an equestrian campground, three organized group camps and a special-use camping area. Swim, boat and fish on Lake Lincoln, or head out into the wild to hike, backpack, break out the camera or simply observe wildlife. Fifteen miles of multi-use trails show off the beautiful Cuivre River valley.

Echo Bluff State Park

Echo Bluff State Park

Eminence, Missouri
Average drive: 3 hours
The takeaway: Kid-friendly and brand-new

More than 85 years ago, this Ozarks area opened as Camp Zoe, a summer youth camp. Today, Echo Bluff State Park is a brand-new, year-round destination where visitors of all ages can fill their days with floating, hiking, swimming or fishing. While the park has a spectacular natural setting (those bluffs!), it also impresses with the iconic lodge and other historic buildings. The Timbuktu Campground offers walk-in basic, electric/water premium and sewer/electric/water premium campsites.

Finger Lakes State Park

Columbia, Missouri
Average drive: 1-2 hours
The takeaway: Off-road Eden

Simply put, Finger Lakes State Park is Eden for adventurers. More than 70 miles of off-road motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle trails, criss-crossing steep hills and deep ravines, will delight and challenge off-road enthusiasts. A motocross track designed by professional riders is the location for annual special events. If you prefer a slower pace, don’t worry the numerous finger-shaped lakes will entice you to swim, fish, canoe, kayak and scuba-dive, all within reach of the 35 basic/electric campsites.

Horseshoe Lake State Park

Granite City, Illinois
Average drive: 1 hour
The takeaway: For hunting and fishing

Explore 2,960 acres and four miles of hunting trails in this Madison County spot, which offers 48 tent/trailer campsites and caters to hunters and fishermen. At designated times, hunters can test their skills on doves, pheasants and waterfowl, including in one of the numerous public hunting blinds on Horseshoe Lake. Anglers can fish the appropriately named lake for channel catfish, bass, crappie, bluegill, carp and buffalo. Boat fishing is allowed, except during waterfowl season. Families will enjoy playgrounds and volleyball areas.

Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area

Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area

Chandlerville, Illinois
Average drive: 1 hour
The takeaway: Huntsman’s haven

One of Illinois’ largest public access areas, JEPC offers outstanding hunting and fishing in a 16,550-acre mosaic of mature forests, agricultural land, grassland and rare hill prairie, slightly north of Springfield. JEPC features hunting for deer, wild turkey and dove, upland species, furbearers and squirrels. Sport fishing is available at three lakes and several ponds. The site has miles of trails for mountain biking, hiking/jogging and horseback riding. The campground features 84 campsites and nine cabins, along with a dedicated equestrian campground with 51 electric campsites.

Lake of the Ozarks State Park

Kaiser, Missouri
Average drive: 2-3 hours
The takeaway: For families and water-lovers

Lake of the Ozarks combines the power of the past with the excitement of the present at one of Missouri’s largest lakes. Watch adults’ and children’s eyes widen at the remarkable subterranean geology of the Ozark Caverns and its cave-only critters. Set up camp at one of nearly 200 basic/electric campsites, four organized group camps or family campsites. Swim, fish, boat or simply take in the 89 miles of shoreline. Hike, bike, backpack or ride horses through open woodlands and along the bluffs.

Meramec State Park

Sullivan, Missouri
Average drive: 1-2 hours
The takeaway: Great for families and young adults

More than 200 campsites and a wealth of natural wonders await at Meramec. Hidden within the park’s expansive forest are several springs and more than 40 caves. Hike, backpack, fish or float down the Meramec, which contains the greatest variety of aquatic life in Missouri. Take a tour of Fisher Cave or explore the glades, caves and sinkholes of the Meramec Upland Forest Natural Area. Visitor center exhibits include a 3,500-gallon aquarium, life-size riverbank diorama and collection of the river’s unique, rare and endangered mussels.

Onondaga Cave State Park

Leasburg, Missouri
Average drive: 1-2 hours
The takeaway: Tops for families

It’s right there in the name: caves are a big deal at Onondaga. Descend into this National Natural Landmark to see towering stalagmites, dripping stalactites and active flowstones. Missouri is often called “The Cave State,” and places like this are why. If you prefer the surface, the Vilander Bluff Natural Area provides a panoramic view of the Meramec River. Easy access to the Meramec means peaceful canoeing and fishing. The campground features 68 sites, a playground and an amphitheater for seasonal nature programs.

Pere Marquette State Park

Grafton, Illinois
Average drive: <1 hour
The takeaway: Quiet couples’ getaway

Calling all birdwatchers! From December to March, but especially in January and February, Pere Marquette State Park is a bald eagle hot-spot. Just west of Alton, this park hosts tours of the bluffs and woods so visitors can get an up-close look at wintering bald eagles in the hundreds. Make sure to stop by the stunning lodge with its 50-foot stone fireplace. The Class A campground has 80 sites, from which campers ride bicycles and horses, fish, hunt, rock-climb, boat on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.

St. Joe State Park

Park Hills, Missouri
Average drive: 1-2 hours
The takeaway: Rev those engines

St. Joe State Park is one of just two off-road vehicle [ORV] parks here. ORV trails wind through the woods and sand flats. During the winter months, snowmobiles are permitted. Two campgrounds can accommodate campers with ORV or horse trailers. Due to high demand, consider making reservations in advance. Four clear lakes boast bass, catfish and crappie. For model airplane enthusiasts, a large area with a grass runway is set aside for operating radio-controlled airplanes. Don’t forget the historic mills, mining museum and shooting range.

Table Rock State Park

Branson, Missouri
Average drive: 5 hours
The takeaway: When you want it all

Don’t be put off by the long drive time to Table Rock State Park – this one’s worth it. Hundreds of campsites nestled in the endless undulations of Table Rock Lake make it the ideal locale for RVers who want it all. Parasail, snorkel or take a catamaran tour on the lake from the full-service marina. Hike or bike on your choice of paved or mountainous trails. For those wanting to dabble in the delights of Branson, Table Rock is an unparalleled outdoor recreation base camp.

Wakonda State Park

La Grange, Missouri
Average drive: 2-3 hours
The takeaway: Worth the drive for waterbugs

For campers at either of Wakonda State Park’s two campgrounds, it’s all about the water. An hour north of Hannibal, Wakonda’s six clear lakes attract thousands of migratory waterfowl each year, making this a bird-lover’s paradise. The lakes also offer anglers a chance to catch largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish. Two of the lakes have boat ramps. Hike or mountain-bike the many lake trails. Learn about the rare sand prairie, and relish the Missouri state park system’s largest natural sand swimming beach.

Washington State Park

De Soto, Missouri
Average drive: 1-2 hours
The takeaway: For hikers and history buffs

Washington State Park is perhaps best known as having been the location of prehistoric American Indian ceremonies, and for its exceptional, state-largest group of petroglyphs, or rock carvings, which earned the site a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Buildings constructed by African-American Civilian Conservation Corps stonemasons add to the park’s historic pedigree. Incredible Ozark overlooks from the towering bluffs show off the Big River’s many spots for swimming, boating, fishing and hiking. Make sure to wander through the native forests in the Washington State Park Hardwoods Natural Area.

Trout Parks in Missouri

Bennett Spring State Park

Lebanon, Missouri
Average drive: 2-3 hours

Nestled in a valley near Lebanon, Bennett Spring is one of Missouri’s oldest state parks. More than 100 million gallons of clear, cool water gush from Bennett Spring each day, forming a spring branch stocked daily with rainbow trout. In addition to fishing, the park offers amenities such as a dining lodge, campgrounds, cabins and hiking trails. Five campgrounds in the wooded hills offer a variety of camping options, from basic to sewer/electric/water sites.

Maramec Spring Park

St. James, Missouri
Average drive: 2 hours

Nope, not a typo: Maramec Spring Park lies along the Meramec River and features the fifth-largest spring in the state. The site offers 58 riverside campsites. Trout fishermen revel in the bountiful stream, which is stocked daily. Maramec Spring Park is privately owned and operated by the nonprofit James Foundation, which was established by Lucy Wortham James in the 1930s to preserve what she described as “the most beautiful spot in Missouri.” Learn more at the spot’s two museums.

Montauk State Park

Salem, Missouri
Average drive: 2-3 hours

Montauk State Park is located at the headwaters of the Current River, and its springs combine with tiny Pigeon Creek to supply more than 40 million gallons of water to the river each day. Rainbow trout pack the waters in this fisherman’s mecca. From your home base at one of the hundreds of available campsites, set out each day for hiking/biking on the trails, many of which are quite level. Don’t miss the Montauk Mill, an 1896 grist mill with much of the original machinery still intact.

Roaring River State Park

Cassville, Missouri
Average drive: 5 hours

Located in the southwestern Ozark hills, Roaring River State Park is worth the drive for anglers. More than 20 million gallons of clear 57-degree water flow daily from the spring into the Roaring River, which makes for premier trout fishing. With 186 campsites, the park is on the edge of the Ozark Plateau, where it is bisected by the White River. Take the day’s catch down to the park’s cleaning/fillet station and enjoy fresh fish for your next meal.

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