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 area will be mesmerized by towering limestone bluffs, deep ravines, and refreshing springs.
Only two and a half hours from the big city of Chicago, Apple River Canyon State Park is a haven for nature enthusiasts. The park boasts excellent fishing as well as the chance to spot bountiful flora and fauna, including 14 kinds of ferns, 165 types of flowers, 500 varieties of flowers, 47 birds, and animals, including deer, rabbits, raccoons, eagles, and hawks. Visitors can also 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 have a game of golf.
Come to Apple River Canyon for the perfect chance for a road trip and to unwind while camping surrounded by beauty unparalleled for miles and miles. RV-friendly camping is on offer in one campground, along with a group camping area that is popular with families and youth groups. On the RV side of things, there are 49 campsites for you to choose from, all of which are primitive with no electrical, water, or sewer hookups available. Peak season at Apple River Canyon State Park runs from the middle of April until the end of October.
Conveniently located about two hours west of Chicago in the Northwest part of Illinois, Apple River Canyon State Park can be accessed via four different roads, all of which will take you to the main day-use area in the park. The park shouldn't be too hard to find as it is well signed on the roads that lead to its entrance.
If you want to pick up some supplies or visit any shops before your trip, there are a few towns relatively closeby, including Apple River (around six miles away), Warren (approximately 7.5 miles away), and Lena (about 14 miles away). Apple River Canyon State Park is nearly equal distance from the city centers of Chicago and Milwaukee, with Milwaukee being around five miles closer.
The roads in the park must be carefully navigated as the road into the campground is quite narrow and winding. During the wintertime, the area experiences a lot of snowfall, so come prepared or call ahead to the park office before you leave to inquire about road closures and general park conditions. If you are just visiting for the day and not camping, there are plenty of spots for you to park your RV.
The Lena KOA, located within 30 minutes of the historic town of Galena, Illinois, is a wooded campground surrounded by grassy fields and farmland. This KOA has spacious sites featuring full-hookup, pull-through upgraded patio sites, to smaller back-in sites with more basic amenities. Whichever space you choose, all campers have access to Wi-Fi as well as firewood and propane sales.
Families love this KOA because of the activities like live music, movie nights, hayrides, ice-cream socials, pancake breakfasts, barbecues, and more. Bike rentals are available, and there’s also a dog park for your pooch. During your stay, you can enjoy outdoor activities nearby such as golfing, fishing, hiking, or bike riding, or you can head closer to town for antique shopping. If you prefer to stay in the campground, spend time swimming in the heated pool featuring a double-tube slide.
For those traveling to Apple River Canyon State Park with a large group, you will be pleased to note that there is a group campground available. Six sites range in size, accommodating 20 people up to 80 people. Families and youth groups mostly use the group campground, but you can reserve a campsite online if you want to stay here with some friends.
There is one campground at Apple River Canyon State Park that is perfect for RV travelers looking for a place to call home during their adventure. The campground is a slow-paced and peaceful, allowing visitors to commune with nature. There are a total of 47 primitive sites, each nicely spaced with foliage, giving a sense of privacy and solitude between sites. While there are no hookups, each site is spacious and contains a picnic table and firepit that is perfect for late-night s’ mores and telling stories. The campground does not have many other amenities, but there are multiple water collection points and pit toilets. Please note that there are no showers, so be prepared before you arrive, so you aren't surprised. Pets are allowed at all campsites, and you should be able to get cell phone reception on all of the major networks. Except for the youth-group camping area, this campground accepts guests on a first-come, first-served basis. You must pick up a camping permit, which is available at the park office.
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 antique scene. There is something for everyone here and many things to do. 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 honey and handmade soaps.
From geology to human settlement, this area is brimming with stories you’ll love hearing about, and you won't ever forget. At the Galena History Museum, learn about how Apple River Canyon managed to avoid glaciers that flattened the rest of the nearby landscape millennia ago, or about the Native Americans who dwelled in the area before European settlement. At one of the numerous historical 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.
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 float on top of the surface on your journey for crisp winter fun.
If you are interested in doing some hunting on your RV vacation, you will have to venture outside of Apple River Canyon State Park as no hunting is allowed on its grounds. There are plenty of other options close by, including at the Salem Unit, which is located on both sides of Salem Road only a few miles from the park. Depending on the time of year and what species you are targeting, there may be regulations in place, so remember to check the Apple River Canyon hunter fact sheet before you begin. Make Apple River Canyon State Park your home-base while you hunt, and you know you will have a comfortable place to kick up your feet after a long day of walking.
We know, we know—birdwatching sounds like something you do when you’ve run out cool options, but hear us out: birding is a real-life scavenger hunt. Bring a pair of binoculars and allow yourself to 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, birds as tiny as a mouse or as large as a turkey. You can get bonus points if you bring or download a guide and can start identifying the birds and checking them off your list. 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 at Apple River Canyon State Park offers a fantastic way to connect with the 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 and 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.
Remember to pack your hiking boots when visiting Apple River Canyon State Park as 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 lovely afternoon stroll through the forest.
Apple River Canyon State Park is a perfect place to pack a picnic thanks to the four picnic areas that are available for you to enjoy. The picnic areas are located along the edge of the river bank and come equipped with some great amenities, such as grills, water collection points, and toilets. If you have a larger group, there are also two shelters that you can reserve online that can accommodate 48 and 64 people, respectively.