Another beautiful place brought to you by The Shawnee National Forest and Friends of the Bayou. Hidden beneath the bluffs that overlook the Mississippi River in Southern Illinois this free campground, yes free, is totally maintained by donations and the graciousness of it's savior.
Turkey Bayou was slated for closure by the US Forestry Service, a group of passionate people and some help from a politician who actually cared, Turkey Bayou was saved. Friends of the Bayou is now contracted by the US Forestry Service for the upkeep and maintenance of the site. Donations are critical to the upkeep of this free campground, for years it was paid for privately but that well is running dry.
Turkey Bayou Campground
Turkey Bayou Campground
Located off Route 3 just North of Grand Tower, IL and behind Oakwood Bottoms Greentree Reservoir, Turkey Bayou sits under the bluffs and in a bend of the Big Muddy River. Check in at the entrance, obey all laws and regulations posted. We do not need to jepordize the contract afforded to Friends of the Bayou.
Fog rises off the Bayou
The campground is primitive, no potable water and no facilities. Back country camping with flare would describe it best. The site is well maintained, free of trash and downed limbs. Gravel sites surrounded by grass, fire rings provided, picnic tables, and keep to the shaded spots in warmer months. There are several open spots closer to the bayou edge and these are nice spots for Fall or early Spring but the Sun will be to much any other time of year. Mosiquito spray is strongly advised in warmer months and any other bug repellent. Yes, you will find snakes, it is a bayou, be aware and alert. We camped in the Fall and did not have problems with bugs or snakes, all though it was a cold night for a tent once or twice. There are also some trails from the back sites to the Big Muddy, they are narrow but a kayak or canoe portage is doable. A boat ramp is located just a short walk or drive down the only gravel road in/out.
I was very pleased with the campground not being one who requires a privy and if can manage to wash up, I'm good to go...for a couple days at least anyway. We had an adventure regarding air mattresses and sleeping arrangements. My mother bought a new mattress that was to large for their use, so we traded. The trade was good till Mom's, my old one, sprung a leak and my parents spent the rest of the trip sleeping in the cab of the truck. Yes, I offered them our tent but a handicap would have made it near impossible for Mom to get up and out of the tent. There are a lot of nights she sleeps in a recliner. It worked, they had heat and stayed fairly comfortable. There's always some hiccup once you're out in the middle of no where but you just have to roll with it and make the best of things. I will say again how cold it was a few nights, upper 30's, but plenty of blankets and layers, it wasn't an issue. The dew was very heavy every morning we were there and the Fall Sun fed winds that thankfully died with the daylight.
While you're at Turkey Bayou you absolutely must take a drive down Pine Hills Rd, again off Route 3, and you can pick up the start of the road at Wolf Lake, IL or pick it up just South of Grand Tower, IL. This scenic drive will take your breath away.
View from Pine Hills Rd.
The bluff from Big Muddy Levy Rd.
The area is also known for it's ties to Lewis & Clark who passed through with the Corps of Discovery on their way West to the Pacific Ocean. Trail of Tears State Forest is nearby in Jonesboro, IL, it offers plenty of hiking trails over very rugged terrian and all the amenities of a State Park and let's not forget the tragic history of its name. You will also find the Little Grand Canyon to the North and the Pomona Natural Bridge just East of that. Further North lies Johnson Creek Recreation Area with more camping, lake and boat ramp. Turkey Bayou is a central location for your exploration in the Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District and a treasure we shouldn't loose for lack of funding.
Hope you get to go enjoy Turkey Bayou and all The Shawnee National Forest has to offer!