Apple River Canyon State Park
Guide

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Introduction

Apple River Canyon State Park is a peaceful and geographically fascinating state park in Northwest Illinois, close to the Wisconsin border. Formed by erosion from the Apple River which runs all the way through the 297-acre park, visitors to this site will be mesmerized by towering limestone bluffs, deep ravines, and refreshing springs.

Only two and a half hours from the big city of Chicago, this is a haven for nature enthusiasts. The park boasts great fishing as well as the chance to spot bountiful flora and fauna such as 14 kinds of ferns, 165 types of flowers, 500 varieties of flowers, 47 birds, and animals including deer,, rabbits, raccoons, eagles, and hawks.

When visitors aren’t enjoying one of the 47 rustic, nicely-spaced out class “C” RV sites, they can hike on one of the five lovely hiking trails, picnic in one of the four picnic areas, or visit a nearby attraction like wineries, riverboat cruises, or a game of golf.

Come to Apple River Canyon for the perfect chance to unplug and unwind while camping surrounded by beauty unparalleled for miles and miles. There is no electricity or hookups and no shower facilities.

RV Rentals in Apple River Canyon State Park

Transportation in Apple River Canyon State Park

Driving

Conveniently located about two hours west of Chicago in the Northwest part of Illinois, you can take I-90 for the majority of the trip and follow well-marked signs the rest of the way.

In the park, you must carefully navigate the narrow, winding path between trees, after which you can take a breath and back into wide, spacious spots with rigs that are a maximum of 105 feet long and 16 feet wide. It’s most likely due to these tight roads and the lack of electricity that can sometimes be unappealing to Class A setups that cause the campsites to be rated only for Class C vehicles.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Apple River Canyon State Park

Campsites in Apple River Canyon State Park

Reservations camping

Lena KOA

Relax and enjoy the lovely setting of grassy areas, farm fields, and deciduous woods. Just a 30-minute drive east of historic Galena, Illinois, the Lena KOA campground is near hiking, fishing, golf courses, antique shops and bike trails. This beautifully landscaped campground features sites with 50-amp hookups, a heated pool with a double tube slide. Family fun is abundant with pancake breakfasts, barbecues, ice cream socials, hayrides, live music and even movie nights. Bike rentals are available. There’s even a dog park for the pooch. Amenities include Wi-Fi, basketball and sand volleyball courts, and there’s firewood and propane on-site for purchase.

First-come first-served

Apple River Canyon State Park

The 47 primitive sites at Apple River Canyon (42.4468° N, 90.0529° W) are nicely spaced with foliage in between each, giving a sense of privacy and solitude. Each site is spacious and contains a picnic table and firepit for late night s’mores and telling stories.

There is no electric or water hookups, and the only facilities are pit toilets.These are primitive spots, however, there are several water sources within the park. You’ll surely be too busy enjoying the area to worry about boring old showers, anyway.

No reservations are accepted (except for the youth group camping area - for this, reservations are required), and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. You must pick up a camping permit, available at the park office.

This is a generally slow-paced park where the majority of the visitors are there to commune with nature and allow others to enjoy it as well by being quiet and respectful.

Alcohol is not permitted in the park.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Apple River Canyon State Park

In-Season

Bird Watching

We know, we know - birdwatching sounds like something you do when you’ve run out “cool” options, but hear us out: birding is basically a real-life scavenger hunt. Bring a pair of binoculars and allow yourself to actually notice the details of the birds you see in the trees and bushes. While before, they might have all seemed like one, brownish mass, you’ll quickly start to notice bright reds and blues, ones as tiny as a mouse and as large as a, well, turkey. Bonus points if you bring or download a guide and can start identifying them and checking them off. Here at the park, you’ll see some doozies like wild turkeys, pileated woodpecker, and eastern kingbird, and since you won’t have electricity to distract you anyway, why not take your nature appreciation to the next level?

Fishing

Fishing at Apple River Canyon State Park offers an amazing way to connect with such impressive scenery. Imagine standing knee-deep in a slow-moving river at the bottom of a cool ravine with towering bluffs on either side while you cast your line without a care in the world. Smallmouth bass, sunfish, crappie, and carp happily thrive in this riparian paradise, just waiting for you and your waders to come find them. As an additional treat, when funds are available, the park will stock the river with brown trout which flourish until mid-summer when the water gets too warm.

Hiking

The campground is home to several quick (under one mile) hikes through the enchanting forests. Check out the River Route Nature Trail - the most popular trail in the Apple River Canyon area. You’ll follow the river out and back, over charming bridges and alongside bluffs with scenery that will stun you. Also, the Primrose Nature Trail, the Sunset Nature Trail, or the Pine Ridge Nature Trail are excellent options for a nice afternoon jaunt through the forest.

Off-Season

Antique Shopping

If you’re using Apple River Canyon State Park as a home base to explore the greater Galena, IL area (named the best Main Street in the Midwest by the Chicago Tribune), then you simply can’t miss out on the great antiques scene. There really is something for everyone here. Browse collectible weathervanes and real sleighs in an old barn or visit a regal Victorian home to check out unique light fixtures and sassy classic wardrobes. Between all the shopping, look at some of the local honeys and handmade soaps.

Study The Area's History

From geology to human settlement, this area is brimming with stories you’ll love hearing and never forget. At the Galena History Museum, learn about how Apple River Canyon managed to avoid glaciers that flattened the rest of the nearby landscape millenia ago or about the Native Americans who dwelled in the area before European settlement. At one of the numerous historic sites, learn about the lead mines that spurred this region into popularity - even causing a financial crisis in far-away France when things didn’t pan out for investors.

Snowshoeing

The beauty of the bluffs and canyons of the river shines in any season and arguably might be highlighted by a coating of snow. For a fun winter adventure, rent a pair of snowshoes in the nearby town of Galena, Illinois and set out on the same trails you would explore any other season. With snowshoes, even several feet of snow can’t stop a good time as you fairly float on top of the surface on your journey for crisp winter fun.

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