Big River State Forest
Guide

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Introduction

Even though the state of Illinois is not often associated with beautiful weather and endless opportunities for fun in the sun, what it is famous for is pristine nature and gorgeous state parks that you can park your RV in. One of those beautiful destinations is the Big River State Forest that spans over 2,900 acres. The conservation area is located in Henderson County in Illinois, close to the city of Keithsburg. This beautiful forest has quite a rich history, as the state acquired it back in 1925 when it was known as the Milroy Plantation, which is actually the oldest pine plantation in the area. Campers will be able to enjoy a variety of activities here – everything from simply relaxing surrounded by tall trees and breathing high-quality air, to boating, fishing, hiking, and hunting! Setting up your rig here will give you the opportunity to escape the city heat and relax in a slow-paced environment where you can reconnect with nature.

RV Rentals in Big River State Forest

Transportation in Big River State Forest

Driving

If you are familiar with the state of Illinois, getting to Big River State Forest will be quite easy. However, this does not mean that the forest is not accessible even for folks who do not live in this state and are just looking for an adventure. Big River State Forest is located on the border between Illinois and Iowa, and it is quite close to the town of Keithsburg. The forest is about four miles south from this town, and just over nine miles away from the closest town south of the forest, Oquawka.

The road from Keithsburg is quite straight and narrow, even though it does have two lanes, so you will not have to worry about passing an oncoming vehicle. However, the road is very straight, which can be an issue if you are tired or traveling at night since it is also unlit. The entrance to the park is not too prominent, so keep your eyes peeled. The road from Oquawka is similar, although longer, which means that you will have more time to enjoy the surroundings. Parking is available in the park, close to Putney’s Landing and the Big Pines Trail.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Big River State Forest

Campsites in Big River State Forest

Reservations camping

Shady Pines Campground

Shady Pines Campground is located deeper into the forest, but still close to the Mississippi River. Parking your rig here will provide the cooling shade of the trees, as well as the proximity to the water where you can relax on the river bank, go fishing, launch your boat, and enjoy the refreshing breeze coming from the big river. The campground allows pets on a leash and the equestrian spots for campers who want to bring their horses along to an adventure. Hunter’s parking lots are just a few minutes away, as well as the water hydrant, restrooms, and two shelters. The playground is very close, so campers with children will have a place to relax and have some fun. Make sure to call and check in advance to make sure that your rig can be accommodated. The maximum RV length is 40 feet, with no hookups, however, the RV dump station is close enough to reach when needed.

First-come first-served

Riverview Campground

Riverview Campground is located in the most beautiful area of the forest, just by the Mississippi River. The sites in this campground are tent-only, so you can park your RV in the designated parking lot and enjoy the old-fashioned way of vacationing, just with a tent and fresh air coming from the water. The boat ramp is very close to the campground, as well as water pumps and restrooms. Of course, the biggest advantage of this location is the closeness of the water, so you can wake up in the morning, have your cold-brew coffee, walk a few minutes, and just look at the magnificent river in front of you. Fishers will enjoy the opportunity to catch crappies, and visitors who simply want to relax will have plenty of available spots where they can put their blanket and forget about the world for a while.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Big River State Forest

In-Season

Hiking

What is a vacation in nature without hiking? Big River State Forest is a perfect place for a relaxing hike where you can stop and smell the flowers, admire the tall trees that surround you, and burn some of the calories from yesterday’s roasted marshmallows! You can take the Big Pines Trail and cover all 3.5 miles of it. If you are feeling adventurous, you can walk the 60-mile web of firebreaks that many hikers, bird watchers, backpackers, and nature study groups take. If you like plants and want to make an herbarium, you can find cottonweed, Indian grass, prairie coneflower, blazing star, as well as aromatic sumac, kitten tail, western sunflower, false dragonhead, and prickly pear cactus. The forest is home to two endangered plants as well – Patterson’s bindweed, first documented in 1873 right in the forest, and penstemon, also known as the bearded tongue.

Fishing

Anglers rejoice! Since the forest is located on the bank of the large Mississippi River, opportunities for boating and fishing are plentiful here! Waking up at the crack of dawn, packing your fishing equipment, and heading out to the river will give you a chance to have the most peace and quiet and simply enjoy the gorgeous surroundings of the forest. You can catch amazing fish such as carp, bass, channel catfish, buffalo, bullhead, bluegill, and crappie, so you can expect a feast for dinner! Of course, boat launching ramps are available along the Mississippi River, but boat rentals are not provided, so you will have to bring your own. It is worth noting that you do need to have some experience with boating and fishing since the Mississippi River is pretty big and challenging for beginners.

Horseback Riding

Lovers of equestrian activities will have a lot of fun in the Big River State Forest, as it is one of the most popular destinations in the area for horseback riding. However, since horse rentals are not provided in the park, the forest is more of a must-visit for campers who have a horse and want to take them to an adventure. Horseback riders can enjoy equestrian trails, but also an equestrian campground where their pets can feel safe and protected. When riding your horse, you must stick to the designated trails and not go on the roads, since they are quite narrow and unsafe for animals. As a horse lover, you know what your beloved animal enjoys the most, so bring some carrots and make friends with other horse-owners who can share stories and tips and tricks you can use in the future.

Off-Season

Having Fun in Winter

Even though most people usually like to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa, a blanket, and a cheesy movie when it’s snowing outside and temperatures are low, others find winter inspiring and a perfect opportunity for an adventure! Big River State Forest is a perfect ground for a variety of winter activities such as ice fishing, snowmobiling, hiking, and scenic drives. If you are an angler, you can enjoy ice fishing, a popular sport along the Spring Slough, just north of Putney’s Landing. Snowmobile lovers will enjoy the whopping 30 miles of snowmobile trails, as well as the warming station where they can relax and dry their clothes. Of course, campers can hike through the snow, or take a scenic drive in your RV through the winding forest roads, all 15 miles of them!

Picnicking

If you want to enjoy a relaxing picnic don't forget to pack a picnic basket in your rig. Waking up in the morning for a relaxing walk, strolling down the river ,and enjoying the glistening water of the great Mississippi River is one of the perks of staying in the Big River State Forest. When you get tired of all the adventuring and physical activity, you can pack your lovely picnic bag and head out to one of the picnic stations in the forest to have a nice alfresco meal. The designated picnic area is situated just by the river, so you can enjoy your meal with a fantastic view, and it is just a few meters away from the actual campground and Ranger’s office. The boat launch ramp is close by, so your boating friends can join you for a feast after they catch some delicious fish, and if you want to walk off your lunch, you can head to Putney’s Landing, which is also just a few minutes away.

Hunting

Since the Mississippi River provides a perfect environment for many animals who must gather around the source of water, and since the forest is a perfect home for many species, hunting is one of the activities that make Big River State Forest special. Hunters can find many small game animals such as rabbits, squirrels, and quail, as well as big game such as white-tailed deer. During the waterfowl hunting season, you can find blue and green-winged teal, wood ducks, Canada geese, and mallards. Of course, food plots are planted all over the forest to supplement food for the animals and improve their habitat, therefore, you should avoid feeding the animals if you see them (if you’re not into hunting). Get familiar with the state laws regarding hunting, and see which kind of license you need to obtain.

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