Boondocking / Dry Camping, Off the Beaten Path Series, Travel Destinations & Stories

Off the Beaten Path in Illinois. Hidden Gems Outside the City!

If this is your first time here – WELCOME! If not, welcome back!! As full-time RV’ers, we travel and see a lot. This is part of our Off The Beaten Path series where we explore the hidden treasures in every state. We love the big popular attractions like everyone else, however, there is just something incredible about discovering something unique and different. Our goals are to find the most unexplored places and take those roads less traveled. We certainly can’t explore them all, so we’d love you to share your own off the beaten path stories with us. Each series will include at least one epic boondocking/free camping area, with GPS coordinates.

When most people think of Illinois, it’s always about Chicago. At least that’s how it was for us. The busy, loud, big city. There is so much more to Illinois. It’s actually a state of quiet beauty for the most part! So there is still a ton of interesting, fun, and wonderful things to do in Chicago. But it’s not going to fit into our “Off the Beaten Path” blog. Explore. Have fun. Check it out! It’s a great place to visit! 

Illinois Beach State Park

When you think of Illinois, you probably don’t think of “beach” right? Another amazing state park you shouldn’t leave off your list! Located in Northeast Illinois, this State Park is located along Lake Michigan in Winthrop Harbor. If you’re in the area, or passing through and want a real relaxing day, where you won’t find a ton of people, check out this amazing state park. There are also some really scenic bike trails here.

Starved Rock State Park

Located in Oglesby. It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, you’ll fall in love here! If you do nothing else in your planning stages, make sure you give yourself more than one day here.

Starved Rock State Park

Maybe it’s just us, but we are slow when exploring. Starved Rock State Park is a wilderness area on the Illinois River. It’s known for its steep sandstone canyons formed by glacial meltwater. Towering canyons are visible all year round with amazing waterfalls that are active in the spring and after heavy rainfall. No matter what the season is, hiking to these spectacular sights is awe-inspiring. I hear Fall is just amazing here too!! There are technically 18 waterfalls here, but only 14 that you can actually walk to and see. They are all beautiful, but our top picks are Ottawa Canyon (long hike! Just over 7.5 miles round trip), Sac Canyon, and St. Louis Canyon falls (3 miles round trip). They are all beautiful! If you’re looking for something close to the visitor’s center, check out the French Canyon. There are some amazing overlooks, and of course little local places to eat. 

Fun Fact: The world’s largest ketchup bottle is in Collinsville! Who knew? (It’s actually a water tower).

Cairo, IL (Abandoned Town)

A once busy Mississippi River port town has transformed into a mostly abandoned ghost town. Cairo has been decaying for decades, and currently the business district is totally boarded up or tumbling down. The deterioration has slowly made its way “uptown” (northwest) into residential neighborhoods as well. We love places like this because it’s a reminder of our history, and how a town can be so dependent on the business near by. And yet, once that business is gone, the town can fall apart. TIP: There is a Mississippi bridge to the northwest, and one coming up from the south, and there is an Ohio bridge coming in from the east. Use Route 51, and it’ll take you right through town. Just for fun sometime, look up homes for sale in this town! Someday it will be brought back to life for investors looking for cheap real estate. You can get a big 4 bedroom well maintained home for just $50k. But most houses are going for around $10,000 to $20,000. I mean really you’re walking back in time!

Cave-In-Rock (State Park)

Ok, so who comes up with these names? Sometimes there is a name of a place I can’t even begin to pronounce, and then someone comes up with something like this. Ha! The 55-foot-wide cave sits on the bank of the Ohio River and takes its name from the explorer who discovered it 1739, dubbing the natural shelter, “caverne dans Le Roc.”  Really? Maybe that just made it sound more fancy! So the story goes river pirates, murderous bandits, and serial killers used this Illinois cave as their hideout. In the end, no matter how it got its name, or what scandalous things might have happened, go see this! It’s fascinating and beautiful!

Onan’s Gold Pyramid House

A few of our blogs have some strange houses we always suggest seeing if you’re in the area. This is another one of those strange and interesting places. The six-story-tall, 17,000-square-foot Gold Pyramid House in Wadsworth, Illinois has to be one of the most bizarre homes ever constructed.

Its builders, Jim and Linda Onan explain in three nouns and two adjectives what their unique home represents: “Power, Gold, Mystery, Exotic, and Impressive.” The Onans are subscribers to the seventies theory of “pyramid power.” Their home is believed to be the largest 24-karat gold-plated object in America. Now, as a full-time RV’er who sold all our material things to actually live a life more intentional … I’m really doubting I’ll be seeing these people living simply on the road. I suppose to each their own. In July of 2018, we heard this home had some fire damage, so I don’t know the outcome of this today. TIP: West of 41, East of 74. Left on Wadsworth Rd. The home is on Dilly Rd/Mill Creek Rd., North of School Stearns Rd.

Albino Squirrels of Olney

If there’s one thing the citizens of Olney are proud of, it’s their unique population of white squirrels. There are several versions of the story on how the large population got there. You’ll have to visit and find out which one sounds more reliable. Either way, they are the strangest things to see. You just don’t think of squirrels as white. 

Boondocking

  • Grand View Acres – GPS: 42.49777, -89.30808 Now this is fun! A private owner has offered up a little bit of their land to help people passing through stay for a bit! A private spot to park for a night or two. To reserve your spot, you can just text us 815.988.8867 for details and reservations. There is nothing here but a driveway to park on, but it’s free and safe. By reservation only. Last-minute may be OK but contact them first or you may find a locked gate. Dennis and Laura are the contact names.
  • Waverly Lake City Park – GPS: 39.600509, -90.012433 – Quiet, and close enough to Springfield if you’re looking for a place near there. 4 day max stay says the sign. Good AT&T coverage
  • Turkey Bayou Campground – Shawnee National Forest – GPS: 37.684837, -89.411484. I do not believe this area is open during winter. So be aware. 

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