Enjoy camping, fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, and sky observation at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. It is Illinois’ premiere International Dark Sky Park.
One of our favorite Central Illinois campgrounds is located at Middle Fork Forest Preserve in Northeast Champaign County. It is located 15 miles east of I-57 and 20 minutes north of I-74, but well worth the drive.
2012 was when we first started camping at Middle Fork. We will never forget the first time we went there because we set our GPS for the wrong place. We confused the park with the Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area, which is northwest of Danville. As the road narrowed, we realized that we had to be in the wrong place. Turning around or backing up were our only options to getting out of there. We were grateful that we had a four-wheel-drive vehicle because we had to unhitch our pop-up trailer, drive around it off the road, spin the camper around by hand, and hooked it back up. We drove the 25 miles to the right park.
The moral of that story is to make sure to check directions before you leave home and then make sure they sync up with your GPS.
Middle Fork Campground Sites
The Harry L. Swartz Campground at Middle Fork is home to 62 individual campsites with electrical hook-ups and 3 group areas, one of which has electricity. There are four pairs of buddy sites. The campground is open the first weekend in April through the last weekend in October.
Campsites have the following features: a level gravel parking pad, a campfire grill, a lantern hook, and a wooden picnic table. Freshwater fill and a dump station are located near the entrance of the campground. Six freshwater spigots are located throughout the campground.
We like that the camping sites are a good size and that they are not on top of each other. Trees and vegetation separate the sites at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve.
The rest of the park is a combination of forested and prairie areas.
Dark Sky Park
We have always thought this was a nice recreation area, but it has really improved since the forest preserve applied for and was granted international dark sky park status. All the park lighting has been updated to provide lighting along the road and paths, but not up towards the sky. If you are into astronomy, this park is a must-visit.
The park is home to the Middle Fork River, which is Illinois’ first federally-designated Wild And Scenic protected river.
CCFP holds various activities for kids and families throughout the year. Popular activities are fishing in the ponds and hiking down along the river and see the eagle’s nest and the river otters.
We love camping here in May because there are many migrating birds. I recently saw what I believe is a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
Other Campground Amenities
This park has a nice shower house, a large playground, a volleyball court, a ball field, several covered pavilions, 3 small fishing lakes, and many walking paths. Three volt toilets are in the campground.
The staff and hosts take a lot of pride in keeping the park and campground clean. The hosts sell ice and firewood.
If you are looking for a nice place to get away in Central Illinois, you should check out Middle Fork Forest Preserve. Bring a telescope to enjoy viewing the night sky.