Residents of the show-me state often don’t realize how good they have it and access to good camping is one of the best kept secrets, even from its own residents. With over 2.6 Million acres of public land, 69,000 square miles of water, and the famous Lake of the Ozarks that has more shoreline than the entire coast of California, Missouri has it covered when it comes to outdoor recreation.
Missouri also has 100’s of public conservation areas, 49 state parks, Mark Twain Forest, The 350 mile Ozark Trail, The Katy Trail, a former railroad turned 225 mile biking trail, and hundreds of springs, streams, and rivers for fishing and floating.
With all that it’s easy to see why they say “if you can do it outdoors, you can do it in Missouri” but when it comes to camping Missouri tops the list. About.com ranked Missouri as one of the top 5 camping states in the United States with it winning the number one spot on their readers’ choice poll making it a hands-down favorite for camping.
Part of what makes Missouri such a great camping state is the vast number of state parks offering premiere camping facilities. I’ve taken the long list of available state parks and pulled my favorites in this list of The Best State Park Campgrounds in Missouri!
Lake Wappapello State Park
Although some of Missouri’s larger lakes may draw most of the attention, 2.5 million people visit the 8400 Acre reservoir on the St. Francis River. The lake is loaded with Crappie, catfish, and bass for fisherman and there are several boat rental facilities near the park as well as a small shop right inside the park that rents a few powered and non-powered boats. The park has a ridge campground and a lake front campground; both are fantastic. It features Ozark Trail access via a connector trail and is nestled inside 40,000 acres of Corp of Engineer owned public land available for hunting and other outdoor recreation.
Roaring River State Park
Another of Missouri’s trout parks Roaring River is a scenic park with plenty to do. Two of the three campground loops are right next to the river and the inside track is that campsite 134 E is the states 8th most reserved site. The river is stocked daily but if don’t manage to catch your dinner you can always eat at the onsite Roaring River Restaurant. If fishing isn’t your thing the park also has a swimming pool.
Onondaga Cave State Park
BATS! eat mosquitoes. Which is one of the great things about all the caves in Missouri. Did you know Missouri is often called the cave state? And Onondaga cave is certainly one of the best. This campsite truly has it all. At just over an hour from St. Louis Onondaga Cave State Park provides a beautiful campsite on the banks of the Meramec River, ample fishing, float trips galore (canoe rentals available), and of course, cave tours. This is a great way to escape the heat and humidity of Missouri summers. It’s also the current northern starting point on the Ozark Trail. Pitch your tent at campsite 8, currently the states 7th most popular site.
Prairie State Park
Tall-grass prairies were once one of the primary features of the Missouri landscape. Today, less than one percent of Missouri is classified as a prairie. One of the remaining vestiges is Prairie State Park. Featuring a bison herd on the park and the occasional elk Prairie State Park provides campers a chance to reconnect with the way Missouri used to feel. Camping is available through a small number of basic sites and a backpacking camp making this a hidden gem in your state.
Taum Sauk Mountain State Park
Yes, we have mountains! They might not be 14ers like in Colorado but they are mountains. At 1772 feet Taum Sauk is the highest In Missouri. The campground is more on the primitive side but with access to the Ozark Trail, majestic overlooks, and Mina Sauk Falls you’ll find plenty to do see. It’s also in reasonably close proximity to Johnson Shut-ins, Elephant Rocks, and several other things to see in and around the Arcadia Valley.
Hawn State Park
The campground at Hawn State Park is tucked away in a valley alongside Pickle Creek. There are basic sites and electric as well as a handful of walking sites and a special group area. Pickle Creek is the perfect size for wading and provides hours of fun for kids while the beautiful campground gives ample opportunity for relaxation amongst the adults. The park also offers a decent trail system large enough for multi-night backpacking trips yet with enough cutoffs and connectors to provide plenty of day hikes too. Despite it being a smaller campground, Hawn State Park is the 8th most camped state park in MO with Campsite 11 E being the 4th most popular individual site in the entire state.
Weston Bend State Park
Weston Bend State Park is located about 40 minutes north of Kansas City. Featuring scenic outlooks of the Missouri River, basic and electric camping, and several easy trails it’s an easy pick for this list. Weston Bend State Park is also testing a mobile tour system where you can use your smart phone to learn more about natural and cultural aspects of the park through images, written text, and audio commentary. The future of camping is here in Missouri. It’s also the 7th most camped State Park in Missouri and Campsite 28 is the 10th most popular individual campsite in the Missouri State Park system.
Big Lake State Park
Big Lake State Park is the perfect getaway in northwest Missouri. Big Lake is the largest oxbow lake in Missouri; formed from an old channel of the Missouri River that was cut off. The campground is situated directly on Big Lake providing for all the fun you could need and a boat ramp is close by. Campers enjoy both basic and electric sites as well as two showers and a playground.
Meramec State Park
This is one of Missouri’s larger state camping facilities. With three separate campground sections there are over 200 individual sites! Featuring basic, electric, and full hookup sites all along the banks of the Meramec river providing for ample fishing and swimming opportunities. The state park also offers a cave tour, hiking trails, an interpretive center, and frequent weekend special activities for campers. This is a great park to take a raft or tube for a leisurely float.
Bennett Spring State Park
Fishing is the main attraction at Bennett Spring State Park. Trout fishing to be exact. More than 100 million gallons of cold, crystal clear water flows from Bennett Spring each day and the spring fed branch is stocked daily with rainbow trout. With a total of five campgrounds featuring everything from basic to full hookups you should be able to find a site that you like. If you need some help choosing, site 104 S is the second most reserved campsite in the entire state.
Sam A. Baker State Park
Sam A. Baker State Park has long been a family favorite in my household and it’s easy to see why. Sitting at the confluence of the Big Creek and the St. Francis River and tucked away in the blending point of the St. Francis and Ozark mountains the park provides the perfect mix of ample activity, recreation, and relaxation. There is creek access a ways up the big creek near the 143 bridge which provides a great point for tube floating as described in my post 13 cheap and free things to do outdoors when your family is on a budget and the park rents canoes for longer floats on the St. Francis River. Both the river and the creek offer fantastic fishing and both of the two campsites are absolutely beautiful.
Johnson Shut-Ins State Park
One of Missouri’s true gems and the 4th most camped park in the state. If you’re not familiar with a shut-in it’s an area where a river has eroded channels through a large rock system to create a series of waterfalls, pools, and even the occasional slide. It’s basically natures version of a water park but I urge caution and safety. The hard granite of East-Central Missouri is a lot less forgiving than the plastic a the local water slide. The campsite and park facilities were mostly destroyed during the Ameren Reservoir Failure in 2005, but the billion year old geological features such as the shut-ins survived and the campground has been rebuilt better than ever. If you’ve never been make this your next camping destination. You won’t regret it! I suggest Campsite 208 S, which is the 5th most reserved State Park individual Campsite in all of Missouri.
St Joe State Park
You won’t get a peaceful and quiet weekend here. The roar of engines and the smell of gasoline replaces the sound of crickets and campfire smoke at this state park. St. Joe State Park is one of two parks that offers off-road vehicle trails. The park also features a radio controlled flying field, shooting range, multiple lakes and swimming beaches, and two campgrounds. Hungry for a quick snack at camp you can head over to the finish line, the parks own concessionaire .
Stockton State Park
Just northwest of Springfield MO Stockton Lake provides 25,000 acres of fresh clean clear water for your enjoyment and the state park is set right in the middle. Two boat launches, a swimming beach, and a marina with boat rentals provide ample access to the water and you’ll find this lake much less crowded than Lake of the Ozarks to the northeast. Stockton lake also features a large sailing community and is ranked as one of the top 10 sailing lakes in America.
Montauk state Park
The headwaters of the current river are the premier trout fishing destination in the midwest. Four campground loops featuring basic and electric sites are nestled in the wilderness of central southern Missouri. All four loops feature riverfront sites. Missouri lists Campsites 245 E and 250 E at Montauk as a tie for the 6th most reserved sites in the state.
What’s your favorite state park campground? Did I miss any on the list? Let me know in the comments.