As we wrapped up our summer adventure to Michigan and Wisconsin this past summer, we needed a stopover spot to break up the long drive home while avoiding a route through Chicago. With our kids’ hearts set on visiting at least one more national park site, we decided to drop down into Illinois to explore Lincoln country for two nights while staying at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site Campground.
When we did our campground research we did not find a lot of options for camping near Springfield, Ill. We opted for the nearby Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site Campground, which does not accept reservations and operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. So on the day of our drive to Illinois, we called ahead to make sure they still had availability. Then upon arrival we were able to pay (with cash–although I believe they accepted check as well) and go select our site.
The campground as a whole could use some significant updates. We noticed lots of limbs down and the electric boxes on some sites appeared rather ancient. Sites were at a 90 degree angle to the campground roads, and because of trees, some of the sites could be challenging for larger rigs to get in and out of. Since you are allowed to pick your site, though, you will at least be able to select–from those available sites–the spot where you can most easily get in and out. We stayed on a Sunday and Monday night, and there were only about two dozen other rigs in the campground, which had 100 electric sites in all.
After the amazing bathrooms at our previous stop, these bathrooms just didn’t measure up. The soap containers were empty when we arrived and never refilled. Additionally, campground staff cleaned the bathrooms from 7-8 in the morning, which seems like an ill-planned time for people who are getting ready for the day.
Amenities? Yeah, not so much. 🙂 The playground in the campground consisted of an old slide and swing set. Over in the day-use area there appeared to be a newer playground, though we did not have time to check it out. There was also a picnic pavilion located behind our site.
The appeal and advantage to camping at New Salem State Historic Site rests in its proximity to the New Salem historic village. The campground is located within the park complex, so it’s just a short drive over to the village.
It’s important to time your visit to the area, however, as the place comes alive with interpretative, living history programs depending on the day of the week. Mondays are an “off” day, so we largely had the place to ourselves, but there were only a few docents on hand to answer questions. We also learned that many of the Lincoln-related sites in Springfield, which are just a 30-minute drive away, are not open on Mondays.
You can stroll through the New Salem State Historic Site’s museum (which offers free admission or a suggested donation of $2.00 for children, $4.00 for adults, or $10.00 for a family), watch an introductory video, and then set off to explore the village. When interpretative staff are on hand, they will share the history behind the recreated village buildings, which include a store like the one Lincoln ran during his time in New Salem.
We also visited the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield. Since many Lincoln sites are closed on Mondays, we had no problem getting timed tickets to tour the Lincoln home. During peak times, the national park staff said wait-times will be longer, and first-come, first-serve tickets may run out, so it’s often best to visit early in the day.
The house tour began with an introduction outside before we headed inside and explored the first and second floor of the residence, which still houses several of the Lincoln family’s personal effects. After completing the house tour, visitors can take their time strolling through the Lincoln neighborhood where the National Park Service has restored the surrounding homes to their 1860 appearance.
The Springfield region is replete with other Lincoln-related sites (such as Lincoln’s tomb, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, the Lincoln family church, Lincoln’s law office, and the old state Capitol). You would need a couple of days to fully explore the region, which is why we plan to make a repeat visit to the area.
Dates of Stay: 7/9-10/17
Cost: $20 per night, CASH or CHECK paid at the camp host site.