The high peaks of the Colorado Rockies, the colorful desert landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico, even the damp forests of the Pacific Northwest—these are at the top of every boondocker’s bucket list. The Midwest? The rolling hills of Ozarks or the banks of the Mississippi River? Not so much.
What most of those boondockers don’t realize is that the Midwest, and Missouri in particular, have loads of hidden gems waiting to be explored. Outside of the major cities, the Show-Me State has some spectacular wildernesses to enjoy. Lake of the Ozarks is the most well-known, but it can get busy. There are plenty of other parks, forests, and lakes where you can go for a weekend (or week) of boondocking. Many of Missouri’s best campsites are known only to the locals, and boondocking costs a fraction
of what a hotel would.
Can I Go Boondocking in Missouri?
You can go boondocking just about anywhere, so it’s more a matter of how you’ll be boondocking. Some boondockers are only looking for a free place to stay the night
, in which case parking lots are a perfectly acceptable option. Big box stores and a few restaurants allow it, and it’s even possible in some of Missouri’s more urban regions—the state doesn’t have too many regulations for boondockers. Most travelers are looking for something a little less developed, though, and fortunately, there are plenty of options for boondocking in Missouri.
Typically, boondockers use federal lands
, like national forests and areas administered by the Bureau of Land Management or the Army Corps of Engineers. Federal land is very plentiful in the Show-Me State, though, so your best bet for boondocking in nature will be one of Missouri’s state parks. Thankfully, there are 80 of them, and a good number have extensive campgrounds. Most require a two-night minimum on the weekends, and you’re allowed to stay for up to fifteen days within a month-long period.
With that in mind, keep reading to learn about some of the best spots for boondocking in Missouri.
Top Locations For Boondocking in Missouri
Missouri is a truly underrated camping destination. When thinking about the state, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Gateway Arch immediately come to mind, but top-notch wilderness areas typically do not. That’s unfortunate for everyone missing out on the state’s natural beauty, but great for you in that the campgrounds won’t be as crowded. These next few state parks are sure to please boondocking families
Meramec State Park
A little over an hour from St. Louis, on the Meramec River, this is one of the best places for boondocking in Missouri if you want to explore some caves. A few dozen of them dot the nearly 7,000-acre park; Fisher Cave is the most developed and has ranger-led tours. The park’s visitors center has some excellent exhibits detailing the formation of the caves along with the area’s culture and history.
Basic sites with no hookups are available, along with ones offering electricity, water, and sewer. Campgrounds are open year-round, but water and showers are only available between April and October. There are over a dozen miles of hiking trails just outside the campground, and the Meramec River is popular with paddlers, swimmers, and anglers.
More information: Meramec State Park
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park
The Shut-Ins refer to small natural swimming holes that were carved into the banks of the East Fork of the Black River. Some great hiking trails start at the park and have relatively little elevation gain. The park is a little less than two hours southwest of St. Louis, so it attracts a lot of daytrippers. Campsites vary in their level of hookups, from just electricity to water, sewage, and electrical. They also offer hot showers, flush toilets, and a dump station. Essentials can be purchased at the camp store, including firewood, and there’s a small playground for the kids to play in.
More information: Johnson’s Shut-ins
Roaring River State Park
If your RV travels take you to the southern part of the state, Roaring River State Park is an ideal boondocking spot. It’s only an hour west of Branson and has some of the best trout fishing in the region. The state stocks the waterway with Rainbow Trout, one of the more exciting species for both novice and expert anglers. In addition to excellent fishing, Roaring River has several great swimming holes, a nature center with ranger-led activities, and over ten miles of hiking trails. Campsites are either hookup-free or just electricity, and each of the three campgrounds has access to a dump station, laundry facilities, showers, and drinking water. Only campground #1 is open year-round, the other two close between November and February.
More information: Roaring River State Park
Table Rock State Park
Another good option for Branson visitors, Table Rock State Park, is just outside the city limits and the best place for boondocking while exploring Branson. The park is perfect for adventure-loving RV travelers, with tons of water sports to enjoy on Table Rock Lake. State Park Marina rents out paddle boats, kayaks, jet skis, fishing boats, and bikes to use on the trails around the lake, so no need to bring any gear. Campsites are just steps from the lake and can either have no hookups, electric, or full hookups. Campers also get a 10% discount on rentals at the marina. There are also showers, laundry facilities, flush toilets, drinking water, and a playground for the little ones.
More information: Table Rock State Park
Sam A. Baker State Park Campground
Located about two hours south of St. Louis and near Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, Sam A. Baker is one of the largest state parks for boondocking in Missouri. It provides easy access to both the St. Francois Mountains and the St. Francis River. The former includes the 14-mile-long Mudlick Trail and the Wappapello section of the 350-mile-long Ozark Trail. The river is popular with swimmers and paddlers, particularly the four-mile section between Campground #1 and 34 Bridge. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at the park store. The park has three campgrounds, but only Campground #2 is open year-round. Campground #1 is open from April through October, while the Equestrian Campground (open to non-equestrian campers) is open from March through October. All three campgrounds have no hookup sites and ones with electricity, while the main campgrounds have a dump station, showers, drinking water, and flush toilets. There’s a boat ramp at Campground #1 and laundry facilities at Campground #2.
More information: Sam A. Baker Campground
Explore the Wilderness of Missouri With Cruise America
Are you getting excited for a Midwest yet? Missouri has so much to offer, and the best way to see all of it is with a Cruise America RV rental
. With one, you can easily hop between big cities like St. Louis and Kansas City while having the freedom to visit smaller towns and spend the night and tranquil state parks. Cruise America has great long-term rates, too, so expand your vacation itinerary if you’ve got the time. Missouri
is waiting for you, so start planning your RV rental vacation now!