Nauvoo State Park and Historic Site, Nauvoo, Illinois

Nauvoo is a place of historical significance and the state park is almost within walking distance of the historic village and visitor’s center. The LDS Church (Mormons) purchased and built up this town in the 1840s, after being kicked out of Missouri and before they were run out 15 years later, eventually settling in Salt Lake City. There are no borders or fences between the state park, the historical village or the residents who live here so as you wander around, it feels like one big historical site. You will see signs on some of the houses that give a year and name of original Mormon builder but say “private residence — no tours.”

A painting from the visitor’s center.

I had a lot of trouble finding my camping spot because there are many single lane and gravel roads throughout and it’s not marked well. I ended up turning in the wrong place, ended up having to unhitch my tow car because the road was impassible and leave the motor home to go scouting in the car. After finding where I should have been, I drove back and called the campground office. They informed the campground host, who met me after I got the motorhome parked and took me back to get my car. Not the fault of the park but I arrived two days after a huge storm so the roads were really washed out and everything was covered in pine needles. It’s also hard to spot the campground site numbers and many of the pull-thru sites are indistinguishable from the road. 

The electric sites.

When you arrive, if you have booked an electric site, continue on up the road past several primitive campgrounds until you get to the end of the road and then turn right. There will be a sign there that says “electric sites” and it will be a few hundred yards passed the dump station and shower building. I had made the mistake of turning too early the first time. Although people have come and gone while I’ve been here, there were never more than three other campers in the electric sites so it was very peaceful. They also have many picnic areas throughout the park. 

Site #8.

While this campground and state park are pleasant, the infractructure is very old. None of the campground roads have been re-paved and there are just remnants here and there of the original paving. Most of the roads throughout the park have huge potholes so be careful. There is a small bathroom building within the electric campground but the shower building was farther than I wanted to walk so I drove over. The dumpster is also a long walk and there are no trash receptacles in the campground. From the reviews I’ve seen, people do love it here though. There are several hiking/walking trails that leave from the campground and there is a small lake adjacent.  Prices vary based on holidays, etc. but I think the average is about $20 a night.

My Verizon service was practically non-existant in the campground so on Tuesday, I took my laundry, dogs, and laptop to town to do laundry and do some work. The little town of Nauvoo (not the historical village) is just a few miles up the road. But be aware! The Verizon service in town was actually worse than in the campground. I couldn’t even use my GPS to find the carwash once I was parked at the laundromat. Needless to say, I just took a walk with the dogs instead of doing any internet work. The town is interesting and definitely historical but although the website advertises museums, sourvenirs, and fun places to visit, I didn’t actually see any of that. A number of the businesses have For Sale signs and many others were closed. This does seem to be a major tourist stop though as there are several tour bus parking lots behind the buildings and there is a public restroom on the main street. There may be a whole different vibe during the summer.

The town of Nauvoo.

The historical town of Nauvoo or “Old Nauvoo” is free to visitors and tour busses. On certain days of the week there are horse and carriage or oxen and carriage rides, also free, as well as tours that start from the larger visitor’s center. There are actually two visitor’s centers, a smaller one on the south side, called Joseph Smith Visitor Center, and a much larger one on the north side called Historic Nauvoo Visitor Center. If you don’t want to take a tour, there are plenty of parking spots along the streets and over 30 homes and shops are open inside for free tours. Be sure to pick up a map at the visitor’s center that shows which buildings are open and where the parking is located. There are also several parking lots suitable for RVs or busses. There is one store that sells souvenirs, books, and merchandise called the Red Brick Store. I went inside the tinsmith, the boot shop, and Brigham Young’s house. There are plenty of LDS youth doing their service work to assist you with questions, averaging about three volunteers  per historic building.

The Red Brick Store.
A street view of the historic village.
The tinsmith house.

The state campground, historic Nauvoo, and the town of Nauvoo are all on a road called The Great River Road, part of a national scenic by-way.

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