The Shawnee National Forest lies in the rough, unglaciated areas know as the Illinois Ozark and Shawnee Hills. Primitive camping is allowed on National Forest land 1/4 of a mile away from developed campgrounds and developed picnic areas. Camping is NOT allowed within Designated Natural Areas, Research Natural Areas nor within 150 feet of trails or municipal water sources. A permit is not required nor is there a fee, however, a 14-day limitation is in effect. Pets are welcome, but must be leashed and are not allowed in designated swimming areas.
It's tough sometimes finding something in very populated areas of the mid-west and Atlantic northeast. The area from the rockies westward are a lot more sympathetic to the dispersed or free range camper. Good lock! Hope this helps? Keep us informed.
Free camping – yes, you can camp for free in certain places. National Forests in the United States are public lands and have had a long tradition of allowing up to fourteen days camping without charge. This is primitive camping – it is likely that you won’t have any of the amenities of an established campground but if you’re ok with hauling your water in and digging a hole for your restroom, you can camp for free in National Forests. It’s called dispersed camping and it works like this:
Dispersed camping in detail
In National Forests, you drive through the forest service roads until you see a spot that you’d like to camp at. In almost every National Forest in the U.S., if you are patient and willing to go further, you will find a spot that somebody before you has camped. There will be a fire ring already in place and you just pull in and camp without having to pay anything to camp there. According to US law, you may legally camp in national forests for up to 14 days and you can continue camping free forever if you travel at least 30 miles to another camp site. This is one of the great secrets as established and managed campsites range in price from $10 – $30 a night for camping!
I have pitched into National Forests and stayed two weeks at a time. Forest service roads are in fairly good condition and you can have a cheap camping trip without having a next door neighbor. It takes some effort to get off the beaten path but it is worth it to save in not having to pay for a camping spot. Consider National Forests as a public treasure since you know that you have to pay at least $25 just to drive into a National Park, not to mention the $20 a night to camp there, if you can even find a spot.
With a little planning and some “roughing it” you can have a family vacation, close to home and not break the budget. This is why camping is truly the ultimate staycation