Best Campsites in Missouri

by Amy Myers

Right now, it’s prime camping season in Missouri and among its 38 state parks and 3,500 campsites, there are a few can’t-miss hidden gems.

Of course, everyone knows about the beauty and mystery that lies within Missouri’s Ozark mountains, but just as memorable are the shut-ins, natural areas and trails that make up the remainder of the “Show-Me” state’s wooded parts. From the scenic ridges of Whispering Pines to the thriving trout in Bennett Spring, these spots are special not only because of their picturesque views but also because of their ability to bring you closer to your wilder side.

In each one of these parks, you’re bound to find trickling streams, towering pines and foliage so vibrant that even an emerald won’t look green anymore. It’s enough to make you a repeat camper for weekends and seasons to come.

Gotta have water? Many of Missouri’s state parks have water services during the “busy season,” typically from April 1 to October 31. During the off-season, from November to March, though, you’ll likely only have access to the frost-free spigot water and vault toilets.

St. Joe State Park

For the ATV addicts.

  • Location: 2800 Pimville Road, Park Hills, MO 63601
  • Campground Contact: 573-431-1069
  • Park Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. April through September, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. October through March
  • Campground Website

Within Missouri, there are only two state parks that are designated off-road vehicle (ORV) park. And the best one is St. Joe State Park. With 54 miles of ORV trails connected straight to the vehicle-friendly campground, there’s no better place to spend a weekend of cruising and camping. Marked by blue blazes, the ORV trails vary in difficulty and are friendly to off-road enthusiasts of all experience levels.

Like the trails, the campground, too, has different options available depending on if you plan on full-on roughing it with a tent and tooth brush or plugging in a camper for some A/C and a quick shower after getting down in the dirt.

Campground Breakdown:

  • 11 non-electric campsites: $12-13 per night
  • 15 30-amp electric sites: $19-23 per night
  • 49 50-amp electric sites: $21-25 per night
  • 5 hike/bike-to sites: no charge, first-come, first-serve
  • 2 family (2-camping pads) sites: $42-48 per night
  • 3 ADA-friendly sites: $19-25 per night

St. Joe amenities: seasonal showers, frost-free water, restrooms with flush toilets, spigot water, playground, trash and recycling services, vault toilets, laundry facilities, firewood and sanitation dump station

Reserve a St. Joe campsite here.

Sam A. Baker State Park

For the equestrians.

  • Location: 5580 State Highway 143, Patterson, MO 63956-9729
  • Campground Contact: 573-856-4411
  • Park Hours: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m., daily, year-round
  • Campground Website

Located in the Saint Francois Mountains region of the Missouri Ozarks, Sam A. Baker State Park is a go-to destination for those that prefer to explore the landscape from the safety of a saddle. The park’s designated equestrian campground leads directly to a nearly 17-mile horseback riding loop, Mudlick Trail, that offers incredible views of Green Mountain, especially during the fall and winter when the leaves have fallen and there’s a clear sight of the magnificent peaks.

While the trail can certainly be a day-trip, you also have the option to make it an overnight journey if you decide to spend a night at the backpacking campsites along the way. Or, conversely, you can opt for a shorter journey by beginning at the trailhead instead of the equestrian campground, which shaves off about 7 miles. No matter which adventure you choose, though, you’re guaranteed a peaceful ride beside the St. Francois River all the way into Logan Creek Valley.

Campground Breakdown:

  • 7 30-amp electric campsites: $19-23 per night
  • 3 50-amp electric sites: $21-25 per night
  • 11 non-electric sites: $12-13 per night
  • 2 ADA sites: $12-25 per night

If you decide on taking advantage of the park’s horse-centered adventures, keep in mind that the designated equestrian campground is closed from December 1 to February 29. However, there is another campground within Sam A. Baker State Park that is open year-round with non-electric, electric and family campsites available.

Sam A. Baker amenities: frost-free water, trash containers, vault toilets

Reserve a Baker campsite here.

Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park

For the flora fanatics.

  • Location: 148 Taum Sauk Trail, Middle Brook, MO 63656-9601
  • Campground Contact: 573-546-2450
  • Park Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., park office is closed on weekends
  • Campground Website

Some campers are more in tune with their natural surroundings, from the trees to the weeds to the fungi. If this is you, then you won’t want to miss out on a weekend at Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park, a true paradise of plants. Home to 17 different natural terrestrial communities, the park boasts 850 plant species which amounts to roughly 40 percent of the state’s flora.

As a shut-in, the park, itself, is a unique geological formation that was created by softer, sedimentary rocks eroding around pockets of igneous rock. In place of the worn rocks, pools, slides and waterfalls formed, creating a waterfront oasis full of strange and wonderful lifeforms.

Campground Breakdown:

  • 40 50-amp electric campsites: $12-30 per night
  • 28 non-electric sites: $12-13 per night
  • 10 equestrian sites: $21-30 per night
  • 14 walk-to sites: $12-13 per night
  • 5 ADA-friendly sites: $21-30 per night
  • 6 camper cabins: $75-80 per night

Johnson’s Shut-ins amenities: frost-free water, restrooms with flush toilets, showers, vault toilets, sanitation dump station, picnic shelters, playground, camp store, firewood and laundry services

Reserve a Shut-ins campsite here.

Hawn State Park

For the backpackers.

  • Location: 12096 Park Drive, Ste. Genevieve, MO 63670-8121
  • Campground Contact: 573-883-3603
  • Park Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
  • Campground Website

Comprised of pine-filled hills and sandy-bottom creeks, Hawn State Park’s main attractions are its backpacking opportunities, which are considered the best in Missouri. In particular, backpackers gather their gear to launch their journey along the Whispering Pines Trail, a 10-mile-long route that passes lots of mosses, ferns and other deep green gems as it winds through the tall conifers. Along the way, there are also plenty of opportunities to take a dip in Pickle Creek, renowned for its clear waters and soft sand at the bottom.

In all, the route really only takes about 10 hours to complete, but with how much beauty the Whispering Pines Trail has in store, you won’t want to rush a single second of the adventure.

Campground Breakdown:

  • 15 30-amp electric campsites: $19-23 per night
  • 10 50-amp electric sites: $21-25
  • 25 non-electric sites: $12-13 per night
  • 5 walk-to sites: $12-13 per night
  • 4 ADA-friendly sites: $12-25 per night
  • 10 backpacking sites: $10 per night

The Whispering Pines Trail is broken into two portions, the North and South Loops. Along these two loops, 10 backpacking campsites are marked and scattered throughout the 10-mile trail. Water from Pickle Creek or River Aux Vases can be used for drinking but must be treated before consumption. Like all other campsites in Hawn State Park, backpacking sites must be reserved in advance.

Hawn amenities: frost-free water, restrooms with flush toilets, showers, laundry services, vault toilets, campground, picnic shelters, firewood and sanitation dump station

Reserve a Hawn campsite here.

Weston Bend State Park

For those camping with canines.

  • Location: 16600 Highway 45 N., Weston, MO 64098-0115
  • Campground Contact: 816-640-5443
  • Park Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 15 to Oct. 31, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 1 to April 14
  • Campground Website

These days, our furry friends accompany most of our backcountry activities, so it’s no surprise that more than ever folks are in search of pet-friendly campsites. And while many campgrounds allow leashed pets, few actually cater to off-leash adventures. That’s why Weston Bend should be the first pick for campers traveling with canines.

Not only does Weston Bend welcome dogs to its eight different hiking trails and various campsites, but the park also has a 1.75-acre off-leash dog park with separate pens for small, medium and large pets, each equipped with benches, water fountains and a waste station. So, even after you’ve explored the Weston Bluffs and Paved Trails’ collective 6 miles, you can let your hiking buddy enjoy a tether-free romp with some new friends.

Campground Breakdown:

  • 21 30-amp electric campsites: $19-23 per night
  • 10 50-amp electric sites: $21-25 per night
  • 4 non-electric sites: $12-13 per night
  • 2 family sites: $24-48 per night
  • 4 ADA-friendly sites: $19-25 per night

Weston Bend amenities: frost-free water, restrooms with flush toilets, showers, vault toilets, sanitation dump station, firewood and water fountains

Reserve Weston Bend campsite.

Bennett Spring State Park

For the anglers.

  • Location: 26250 Highway 64A, Lebanon, MO 65536-6797
  • Campground Contact: 417-532-4338
  • Park Hours: Sunrise to one hour past sunset, daily
  • Campground Website

Within the fishing community in Missouri, the most popular park to cast a line and pitch a tent is Bennett Spring. As one of the state’s oldest parks, Bennett Spring has hosted generations of anglers looking to spend a weekend by the water. Comprised of over 100 million gallons of water, the Spring is stocked daily with rainbow trout during the park’s fishing season, from March 1 through October 31. For those new to the sport, the state park even offers free general classes as well as fly-fishing and private lessons by appointment.

Depending on your choice of lure, you’ll be fishing in one of the spring’s three zones. There are also three accessible fishing piers throughout the park. Daily trout tags, available at the concession store, are required to fish at Bennett Spring.

Campground Breakdown:

  • 175 electric campsites: $19-30 per night
  • 14 non-electric sites: $12-13 per night
  • 4 camper cabins: $38-44 per night
  • 10 ADA-friendly sites: $12-30 per night

Bennett Spring amenities: frost-free water, restrooms with flush toilets, showers, vault toilets, sanitation dump station, laundry services and firewood

Reserve a Bennett Spring campsite here.