When you think about stunning landscapes in the USA, Missouri might not be the first state that jumps into your mind. You may have pictured the glacial regions of Alaska or the camping in the deserts of California. But Missouri is a geographically and historically rich state that’s home to the Ozark Mountains, fertile prairies, and lowland floodplains. Camping in Missouri is the best way to explore this unique state.
If you’re already planning your next camping trip, this guide to the top 20 places to go camping in Missouri and the regions of Missouri, should help you plan your adventure.
What’s the best time of year to go camping in Missouri?
Missouri has a varied topography and cool, but usually not freezing, winters that make it possible to camp at any time of year. However, temperatures are significantly lower in the Ozark Mountains than in other parts of the state. Therefore, late spring to early fall is the best time of year for camping in this region. Comparatively, the plain areas are warmer, and it’s comfortable to camp throughout the wintertime. However, for wildlife watching and seeing wildflowers, we recommend planning your trip for spring or fall.
Another thing to consider is that campgrounds are busiest in summer so you may need to make a reservation. In addition, some campgrounds close or offer only limited facilities during the off-season (November to March).
Camping in the Dissected Till Plains Region
Covering almost the entire land area north of Missouri River, the Dissected Till Plains (also known as the Northern Plains or the Glaciated Till Plains) were formed by Nebraska glaciers. Nowadays, the soil here is rich and fertile, with tallgrass prairies, rolling hills, gentle rivers, and streams.
For fantastic scenery and the chance to spot white-tailed deer, Mark Twain State Park is one the best places for camping in Missouri. Located in Missouri’s north-central region, this lakeside state park is a popular weekend getaway, particularly for families. It offers a range of child-friendly activities such as swimming, boating, and easy hiking.
There are three campgrounds in the park’s southern section; Coyote Campground, Badger campground, and Puma Campground. All three are open year-round and offer basic or electric campsites with potable water and showers (April to October). Puma Campground is best for families, while Coyote Campground is the most basic.
Not many places have access to a beautiful woodland lake, savannah views, and petroglyphs dating back more than 1,500 years. That’s why Thousand Hills State Park deserves a place in our top 20.
The park has two campgrounds; the larger one is open from April to October while the smaller campground is open in all seasons. Aside from boating on Forest Lake, anyone camping at Thousand Hills State Park also has the chance to spot white-tailed deer and explore restored tallgrass areas on foot or bike.
#3 – Wallace State Park
Located north of Kansas City and accessible via Interstate 35, Wallace State Park is another popular getaway spot for city dwellers. Two campgrounds provide a good range of facilities all year round. Plus, from April to October, an additional two campgrounds are open with more basic amenities.
Because the park is less than an hour drive from Kansas City, it’s perfect for overnight camping trips. Most overnight guests visit for fishing on the park’s 6-acre lake, but the hiking and cycling trails are short enough to walk or ride in an hour or two. The park also runs interpretative programs most weekends.
#4 – Big Lake State Park
Another stunning spot for camping in Missouri is Big Lake State Park, the largest remaining oxbow lake in Missouri. Here, visitors can choose between sleeping in rustic cabins, basic or electric campsites in the year-round campground.
Because Big Lake is relatively shallow with surrounding wetlands, it’s a prime spot for sighting wetland bird species and waterfowl in the migration season. At other times of the year, visitors can rent a canoe or kayak to explore the lake or take a dip in the park’s swimming pool.
Just a short drive from Kansas City, Weston Bend State Park is a pleasant spot for an overnight camping trip and a scenic cycle ride. The park has two key features: the 3-mile paved cycle, which meanders through a forest of sycamores, cottonwoods, and maple trees, and an overlook that offers a first-class view of the Missouri River and the surrounding woodlands. At Weston Bend, the campground is open all year round, and reservations are available from April through to October.
Lewis and Clark State Park is an excellent place for families to go camping in Missouri. The park is located a short drive north of Kansas City on Lewis and Clark Lake’s eastern banks. The small lake and the surrounding open area make it very child-friendly. Meanwhile, the park’s campground is open all year round with basic and electric sites.
Besides families, we recommend camping at Lewis and Clark State Park for bird watching. Snowy egrets, great blue herons, woodpeckers, and flocks of geese are just some of the species that a keen-eyed camper can spot.
Camping in the Osage Plains Region
The Osage Plains (also known as the Western Plains) are rich and fertile but flatter than the Dissected Till Plains. The region connects the prairie and woodland landscapes between Kansas City and the Ozark Mountains in central-west Missouri.
Offering boating, paddle sports, and windsurfing on Truman Lake, along with plenty of activities on dry land, this is one of the best places for active people to go camping in Missouri. Furthermore, with five campgrounds open from March or April through to the end of October, and one campground open all year, you’ll have no problem finding a place to pitch your tent.
#2 – Prairie State Park
In the southern corner of the Osage Plains, Prairie State Park is one of the few remaining tallgrass prairies in Missouri. Unlike many other camping spots, Prairie State Park Campground is never overcrowded. The campground provides basic campsites for a maximum of just 20 people.
What makes this state park so unique is that the scenery transforms with the changing seasons. You’ll see the tallgrass speckled with different colors of wildflowers and occupied by a range of wildlife species depending on the time of year.
Ideal for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, and angling, Knob Noster State Park offers basic or electric campsites all year round. Facilities include potable water, showers, flush toilets, and a playground, everything you need for a short or long stay. Camping here, you can explore the mix of oak woodland and tallgrass prairie, or take a kayak out on the tree-lined Clearfork Creek.
Camping in the Ozark Plateau Region
The Ozark Plateau, often called the Ozark Highlands, occupies most of southern Missouri and hosts its highest mountain, Taum Sauk Mountain. The area is densely forested and known for its freshwater lakes, springs, and rivers. It’s in this region that you’ll find Missouri’s tabletop mountains and underground caves.
If you want to wake up to the sound of birds chirping each morning and sleep in the shadow of the St. Francisco Mountains, then pitch your tent under the trees in Missouri’s only national forest. Mark Twain National Forest encompasses 1.5 million acres and offers over 750 miles of recreational trails, including sections of the Ozarks Trail.
Aside from hiking and mountain biking, this forested region attracts plenty of people for river tubing, canoeing and kayaking. Meanwhile, scenic byways provide access to most of the forest’s campgrounds.
Here, you can choose from several designated campgrounds; most are suitable for tents and RVs. Additionally, campers who prefer to find their own camping spot are allowed to do so. However, anyone camping outside of designated campgrounds should camp at least 100 feet from administrative buildings and water sources.
Located on the Ozarks Plateau’s western edge and just outside of Lebanon is Bennett Spring State Park. Its freshwater lakes make it a popular spot for anglers, but Bennett Spring is also a great starting point for hiking, paddle sports, and nature observation. The park’s oak-hickory forest is home to several native Ozark animals and a variety of wildflowers.
The woodlands also host five designated campgrounds, one of which is open all year round while the other four close from November to February or November to April. You can choose from basic tent campgrounds or sites with electric hookups.
Just a short drive from Bennett Spring is Lake of the Ozarks State Park, a natural haven that is still mostly untouched. The park is on the shoreline of Missouri’s largest lake and offers a vast range of recreational activities and camping options. Here, the usual recreational activities are all available, including woodland hiking, cycling, swimming and other water activities. The unique feature near this Missouri camping spot is the Ozark Caverns; a series of caves home to many dark-loving critters, such as bats and salamanders.
There’s also a good choice of overnight accommodation. Campers with tents or RVs can choose from basic or electric campsites in four main campground sections. Alternatively, those who prefer a little more comfort can reserve a self-contained cabin in the woods or a luxury yurt. Cabins, yurts, and campgrounds are open all year round.
For anyone visiting Branson, Table Rock State Park is a scenic place to spend the night. The park is located on Table Rock Lake’s eastern shores, within the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri, offering fantastic views in all four seasons. Most people head to Table Rock State Park for boating on the lake, but there’s also a handful of hiking and mountain biking trails.
The park’s two lakeside campgrounds are open all year round, and reservations are available from March to November. Campground 2 offers direct access to the park’s marina and kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, aqua cycles, and motorboats are available to rent at the park.
Roaring River State Park is also located in southern Missouri, just south of Cassville. Like Table Rock State Park, it’s one of the most popular places for camping in Missouri. With its forested riverbanks and steep valley slopes, the park offers some of the state’s most impressive scenery. It’s even more stunning in the wintertime when the riverbanks and trees are dusted with snow.
Inside the park, campers can choose from three campgrounds or rustic cabins. Two campgrounds close from November to the last week of February, but one stays open and provides potable water and showers throughout the winter.
#6 – Meramec State Park
If you’re interested in taking an underground tour of Fishers Cave, Meramec State Park is the best place to go camping in Missouri. Meramec River, which borders the park, flows through charming woodlands and under dramatic limestone bluffs. Visitors can explore the landscape above ground by rafting on the river or using the park’s 13-mile trail network.
Three campgrounds with basic or electric campsites provide riverside camping for tents and RV’s. There’s also a separate campground for group booking. Don’t forget to head to the riverside for one of the best sunsets you’ll see.
At less than an hour drive from St. Louis, Dr Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park receives plenty of day-trippers from the city, but there’s also an onside campground that’s open all year round. Although the scenery here isn’t as breath-taking as other camping spots in our top 20, this is an excellent park for chilled out weekends in the fresh air. After entering the park through its famous stone gateway, you can spend your time outside cooking on a BBQ, cycling, or walking a few of the park’s easy hiking trails.
Anyone looking for an awesome underground experience should definitely consider camping by Onondaga Cave. Guided cave tours can take you deep into Onondaga Cave which is designated as a National Natural Landmark. After visiting the stalagmites and stalactites, there’s still plenty to do on the Meramec River. Plus, Vilander Bluff Natural Area offers fantastic sunset views. The campground is open all year and suitable for tents or RV’s.
Pomme De Terre hosts approximately 240 campsites, located on either side of Pomme De Terre Lake, making it one of Missouri’s largest camping spots. If you forgot to make a reservation in peak season, you’re likely to find room for your tent here. Pittsburgh Area Campground and the park’s full-service marina stay open all year so you can get out on the lake, swim, or hike in all seasons.
An adventure in Missouri wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the state’s highest mountain. Whether you choose to walk to the top of Mount Taum Sauk or spend a few days hiking to waterfalls in the St. Francisco Mountains, this state park is the ideal spot to enjoy an unspoiled patch of Missouri’s landscape. Many people park up for the day and hike to the summit, so nights in the park are quiet. The basic campground provides just 12 campsites which are first come first serve.
Camping in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain
The Mississippi Alluvial Plain, also called the Mississippi Lowlands or the Coastal Plains, occupies the land’s ‘boot-heel’ in southeast Missouri. Formerly a swamp, this fourth region of Missouri is now fertile farmland. The extensive flood plains are a natural habitat for many bird species.
Opened in remembrance of the Cherokee people who were forced to abandon their homelands and march to Oklahoma in 1938 and 1939, Trail of Tears State Park is a special place for camping in Missouri. The park doesn’t just offer brilliant scenery and recreational activities, but also an insight into the region’s Native American heritage. Plus, for anyone interested in long-distance hiking, Trail of Tears State Park is a convenient starting or refueling point on the Trail of Tears National Heritage Trail.
There are two campgrounds inside the park. Basic campsites are available from May to October at the Lake Boutin Campground. Alternatively, year-round camping with electric hookups is available at the Mississippi Riverside Campground.
Ready for an adventure?
With its diverse landscape and top-notch state parks, Missouri is a state that you can’t explore in one weekend. Instead, it’s a place you’ll want to return to over and over and over. For more inspiration, see our top 10 best campgrounds in the USA.