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TOMMY LISBIN | UNSPLASH

THE BEST CAMPING SPOTS NEAR CHICAGO

10 PLACES

UPDATED SEP 2, 2020

Start a campfire. See stars. Wake up with the morning light… all the things you can never do in the city are the best part about camping. Pack a bag. These amazing campsites near Chicago are just a short road trip away.

author

AARON WOLF

FITT CHICAGO CONTRIBUTOR

Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin is 22,000 acres of forests and bluffs with over 100 miles of trails to be explored. There are options to camp at maintained campgrounds, like the wonderful Ottawa Lake Campground. Or you can backpack to a primitive site at the minimalistic Whitewater Lake Campground. An FYI: If you're trekking in, make sure you’re parking in the right area — the forest is divided in two units (North and South), and this has confused some campers in the past.

Can you even call yourself a Chicagoan if you’ve never visited Indiana Dunes State Park? Sprinting up the dunes will give you an incredible view of Lake Michigan (and an intense workout). And crashing at Dunewood Campground means you don't need to go home sandy. It's mostly car camping and RVs, but there are 13 walk-in sites up for grabs. No car? Take the South Shore Line from Millennium Station to Dune Park Station.

Endless summer camp for adults? Yes, please! That's the vibe of this Wisconsin getaway just an hour and 45 minutes from the city. Here, you can stay in a rustic, fully furnished cottage, settle into the three-story Bunkhouse, or post up in an old-school Boy Scout tent. You'll wake up to a full slate of recreational activities — think hiking, hatchet throwing, and shuffleboard. While there's no mess hall, there are charcoal grills for use and many nearby restaurants to visit.

Three hours from Chicago in the middle of Illinois, you'll find expansive, forested sand dunes and rare, native habitats. The Sand Ridge State Forest is an area of 7,200 acres just southwest of Peoria, IL. It's known for its challenging hikes through unique landscapes, like sand-oak savanna, sand prairie, and towering plantations of pine. When you're all worn out, camp at front-country campsites called Pine and Oak. Or backpack your way to central Illinois’ best-kept secret: the 12 primitive sites along 55 miles of trail.

Take the scenic route (about a three-hour drive) to Turkey Run through the heart of the famous covered bridges of Indiana. There's Strenous hikes through deep ravines and straddling cliffs and bluffs. And you'll likely be tempted to canoe, float, or swim in Sugar Creek to cool off on those hot summer days, too. Where to pitch a tent? Easy. Reserve one of over 200 electric campsites or two primitive youth group campgrounds. Not feeling the tent? They've got cabins, too.

Apple River Canyon is a perfect little adventure in the northwest corner of Illinois. Within the park, rocky, rugged terrain carved by the Apple River provides scenic views and great hiking along five trails. The main campground, Canyon Ridge, is cozy enough — cleared, grassy sites with a picnic table and fire ring. Just don't expect to shower all weekend.

Just west of Madison, WI, Governor Dodge State Park is known for its ancient sandstone bluffs and rich valleys. Good luck finding the time to squeeze in all the available recreation, though. There are off-road trails for mountain biking, equestrian trails, bouldering, and more. The major campgrounds, Cox Hollow and Twin Valley, are both incredible similar, with 269 sites between the two. But if you're willing and able, the six backpacking sites near Hickory ridge are the real prize.

Chain O’Lakes State Park is a great representation of native Illinois, where you'll find prairie, savanna, marsh, and forest all in one place. If you’ve ever been curious about local wildlife and habitat, this is a great place to learn, explore, and stargaze. Picking where to lay your bedroll is about how much comfort you prefer. There are 151 Class-A sites (showers, bathrooms, electricity, fire pits...) and 87 Class-B sites (which means the only bath you're getting is in the nearby Fox River).

Don't want to leave Cook County? Camp Bullfrog Lake is the answer to the quick escape from cubicle country. Around the lake, you can rent a small craft from the park district or take to the well-known trail system of the Palos Hills. Campsites dot the shoreline, and a smattering head back into the woods if you want to avoid mosquitos. No gear? All Cook County campgrounds have basic camp equipment for rent and purchase.

The Rock, running through Grand Detour, IL, has carved islands with springy grass covering the space. Privately owned, some islands are outfitted for camping. The campgrounds are spacious and offer a primitive experience right on the river. If you're a nature buff, peek out the tent flap to see flocks of white pelicans diving for fish, bald eagles soaring, and all kinds of wildlife doing their thing.

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