Top 10 Best Places To Go Camping Near Chicago

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When you're not packing your schedule with the coolest activities Chicago has to offer this summer, why not take a break from it all and hit the road for a ... read more...

  1. Shawnee National Forest Garden Of The Gods Recreation Area is one of the best places to go camping near Chicago. Spend some time wandering the forest within one of seven wilderness areas in this 280,000-acre expanse stretching across the tip of southern Illinois. Characterized by unique natural sandstone rock formations and cliffs that register at around 320 million years old, this amazing geological playground is well worth the road trip. Stretch your legs by traversing 70-foot bluffs then spend the night under the stars surrounded by serene forests, rivers, and canyons. First come, first served camping at the Garden of the Gods is available for a fee while dispersed primitive camping within the park is free all year long.

    After working up a sweat on the trails, embark on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, a 35-mile scenic drive featuring 11 award-winning countryside vineyards. Most wineries are currently open for outdoor seating only and are slowly reopening indoors at limited capacity, so call ahead for details. The Observation Trail features unique sandstone rock formations and panoramic views of the surrounding Garden of the God Wilderness. Interpretive signs explain the geological history. The 1/4-mile trail is made of natural sandstone and takes about an hour to walk. It contains short, steep grades and steps; benches are located along the trail and as a whole, the trail is not tiring. Caution should be used due to the high cliffs in the area.

    Location: Picnic Rd, Herod, IL 62947, United States

    Google Rating: 4.9/5

  2. Rock Island State Park is not often that you find truly primitive campgrounds within driving distance, but if you make the trek from Chicago to Wisconsin's Door County islands, you'll be rewarded with the gloriously uninhabited territory. Stationed off the peninsula’s far tip, vehicle-free Rock Island is home to Wisconsin's oldest lighthouse, hiking trails, and a full 2,000 feet of sandy shores. The seasonal passenger-only ferry from Washington Island connects visitors to walk-in tent sites available for online booking. Picnic area flush toilets cover most of your bodily needs, but you'll have to do your bathing in Lake Michigan.

    Take the ferry Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day to this primitive Lake Michigan island where no vehicles are allowed. This unique park features the Pottawatomie Lighthouse as well as stone buildings built by a wealthy inventor who owned the island between 1910 and 1964. Rock Island offers rustic, walk-in campsites, hiking trails, a swimming beach, and miles of shoreline to explore. Affectionately dubbed the Cape Cod of the Midwest, Door County is chock full of seasonal activities, from picking your own cherries at pastoral orchards to touring charming towns the old-fashioned way. Book a kayaking tour and catch a glimpse of a kayak that's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for logging 30,000 miles at Bread and Water Kayaks and Paddling Museum on Washington Island.

    Location: 82 Beach Rd, Rock Island, TN 38581, United States

    Google Rating: 4.8/5

  3. One of the best places to go camping near Chicago is Kankakee River State Park. With 11 miles of river shoreline, this park is especially popular for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. Prefer to stay on land? You can also hike, bike, or ride horses on the 4,000 wooded acres. All 200-plus campsites provide access to showers and electricity. Stretching along 11 miles of the Kankakee River, this namesake state park just an hour south of Chicago boasts a wealth of socially distancing-friendly nature adventures both on the water and within its 4,000 wooded acres.

    After a day of canoeing, kayaking, and fishing or hiking, biking, and horseback riding, the park's 200-plus campsites offer a quiet and relaxing retreat with shower and electricity hook-ups alongside more primitive experiences. The Chippewa campground is currently closed due to renovations and repairs, but the Potawatomi campground is open for reservations from May through October. One of the best ways to see the state park is by horseback. Make a reservation at the Kankakee River State Park riding stables for guided trail rides through the gorgeous scenery atop a trusty steed. Kankakee County is also rife with small farms, making it one of the best regions in the state for picking your own produce. Follow the whole thing up with a few locally-brewed beers at Brickstone Brewery.

    Location: 5314 IL-102, Bourbonnais, IL 60914, United States

    Google Rating: 4.7/5

  4. White Pines Forest State Park ranks 4th on the list of best places to go camping near Chicago. Unwind in the wilderness at one of the oldest state parks in Illinois. This 385-acre getaway features one of the region’s southernmost white pine forests complete with concrete fords that span two creeks, allowing visitors to cruise straight through the flowing streams or stop to observe nearby wildlife. Picnic, hike, fish, and camp year-round surrounded by wildflowers, shady groves, and moss-covered cliffs. Reserve a campsite—each equipped with a fire ring and picnic table—for a serene stay under the stars.

    Just driving around this park offers a taste of adventure: a series of concrete fords allow you to drive directly through two creeks, Oregon Trail-style. You’ll definitely want to get out of the car, though, for the shady groves of white pines and beds of wildflowers. Have a picturesque picnic or take a rejuvenating nature walk before settling in for a night in one of 100 campsites, or a cabin at the White Pine Inn. You're a stone's throw away from Castle Rock State Park. Located along the west bank of the Rock River, it's one-stop shopping for hiking the trails and taking in sweeping views of the area’s rolling woodlands, sunset-colored sandstone bluffs, and winding river. Alternatively, you could head out to watch bison roaming the Nachusa Grasslands, one of the largest and most biologically diverse of its kind in Illinois.

    Location: W Pines Rd, Mt Morris, IL 61054, United States

    Google Rating: 4.7/5

  5. To most Chicagoans, "a weekend at the Dunes" means a trip to this popular Indiana State Park, about a half-hour drive from the Illinois border. Visitors usually spend time relaxing on the beach or traversing a 1.5-mile trail that allows you to climb atop the three tallest dunes in the park. Campers have a couple of options: the small 66-site Dunewood Campground just south of the park or the larger Indiana Dunes State Park Campground, which is within a mile of the beach. There’s no shortage of things to do at this expansive national park. By day, you can scale 250-foot tall dunes, then dive into Lake Michigan. The park’s varied terrain makes it a popular spot for a diverse assortment of birds, so bring binoculars. Come nighttime, watch for stars, and toast marshmallows at your electricity-accessible and dog-friendly site.

    This national park’s 15,000 acres of federally protected Hoosier landscape offers the best of both worlds: beautiful forests and picturesque, monumental sand dunes. Campers can find solitude in 50 miles of hiking trails crisscrossing over sand dunes and through wetlands, prairies, rivers, and forests. Crash at one of the lakeshore campgrounds, either in the national park or nearby state park. Both the national park’s Dunewood Campground, which offers reservable wooded campsites, and the Indiana Dunes State Park Campground near the Lake Michigan shoreline give campers the perfect place to soak up all the outdoor vibes from trail hiking to beach lounging. When you're done testing your strength and endurance by tackling the park's 3 Dune Challenge, cool down with a dip in the lake, or continue on your fitness journey via the area's many hiking and biking trails. Later, escape to a 69-acre farm-turned artists’ residence or park yourself at the seasonal vintage drive-in movie theater for some much-needed R&R.

    Location: 600 N 25 E, Chesterton, IN 46304, United States

    Google Rating: 4.7/5

  6. You might be shocked to see Starved Rock’s towering cliffs, a rarity in Illinois. That’s just one reason to visit the park—the massive waterfalls, miles of shady oak trees, and regular bald eagle sightings are a few more. Campers can reserve their spot online and make use of a convenient campground store. Although most people head to Starved Rock to walk among the park's winding sandstone canyons and snap photos in front of its seasonal waterfalls, it's also possible to spend the night. Each of the 129 campsites at Starved Rock features room for two vehicles, a picnic table, a fire pit, and access to electricity. There are also two shower houses and a playground for the kids.

    While the campground isn't actually located within the bounds of this spectacular Illinois park best known for its fascinating rock formations and canyon waterfalls, the secluded and spacious year-round campsites are definitely still worth reserving. After a day of hiking, picnicking, fishing, canoeing, and horseback riding amid tree-covered canyons and sandstone bluffs overlooking the Illinois River, your tent's wooded surroundings will be a welcome respite come nighttime. Starved Rock's big draw is the 13 miles of easy-to-navigate trails exploring moss-covered, glacier-carved canyons with waterfalls, but the nearby Matthiessen State Park, Buffalo Rock State Park, the historic town of Ottawa, and a string of local wineries are on hand to round out the experience. If you’re looking to upgrade your overnight accommodations, snag a room at the National Register of Historic Places-listed Starved Rock Lodge.

    Location: Starved Rock Camp Ground, Utica Township, IL 61372, United States

    Google Rating: 4.7/5

  7. This park boasts access to three natural lakes, plus seven smaller ones connected by the Fox River into a beautiful chain. Needless to say, it’s a paradise for boaters, water skiers, and fishers. There are also six miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails to discover before you bed down at one of the 151 campsites. Tucked among the largest concentration of natural lakes in Illinois, Chain O' Lakes State Park offers scenic hiking and popular fishing spots as well as boat and canoe rentals. After a day on the water, you can pitch a tent in the Class A Honey Suckle Hollow and Fox Den camp areas or one of three Class B campgrounds, which are about half the price per night.

    Unplug is among the largest concentration of natural lakes in Chain O’ Lakes State Park. Water enthusiasts will love this park's prime access to three large natural lakes—plus seven smaller ones along the chain—all stemming from the mighty Fox River. With nearly 6,500 acres of water and 488 miles of shoreline, it's a paradise for swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, boating, and waterskiing. Set up camp for a weekend of water-oriented activities and hiking or horseback riding amid the scenic trails. The park's 230 campsites can all be reserved online. The area boasts plenty of conservation areas and nature preserves worth exploring, including the McHenry County Conservation District's 400-acre Glacial Park, surrounded by 3,000 untouched acres. Roam the cattail marshes, bogs, and kames left behind by ice age glaciers.

    Location: 8916 Wilmot Rd, Spring Grove, IL 60081, United States

    Google Rating: 4.6/5

  8. Mississippi Palisades State Park ranks 8th on the list of best places to go camping near Chicago. This 2,500-acre state park sits near the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple rivers in northwestern Illinois and contains a long and storied connection to Native American history. Campers can navigate the same dramatic bluffs, limestone caves, and wooded ravines the pathfinders of yore once coursed along the rock palisades. 15 miles of varied trails give hiking aficionados ample terrain, and rock climbers with their own equipment can tackle Twin Sister and Indian Head, two of the most popular formations open for scaling. Palisades is the word used to describe a line of lofty, steep cliffs usually seen along a river, and Mississippi Palisades, 3 miles north of Savanna in Carroll County, handsomely lives up to its name. Caves are evident as are dangerous sink holes-limestone caves that go straight down.

    Erosion has carved intriguing rock formations, including Indian Head, with its aquiline characteristics, and Twin Sisters, a pair of humanoid figures on the bluff tops. The U.S. Interior Department recognized the remarkable nature of this area when in 1973 it designated acreage here as a national landmark. The park campground has 241 reservable campsites, with access to hiking and cycling trails as well as to the Mississippi River. Venture 30 miles north to one of the best small towns in America, Galena, and stroll cobblestone streets amid historic mansions and scenic rolling hills. From there, you can also book excursions like rafting trips or take on a number of cool bluff hikes along the Mississippi River.

    Location: 16327A IL-84, Savanna, IL 61074, United States

    Google Rating: 4.6/5

  9. Van Buren State Park is another park on the shores of Lake Michigan and a favorite within two hours of Chicago. Van Buren State Park has 220 campsites that aren’t too far from the lake. Each site has electric hookups, a picnic table, and a fire ring for your camp cooking. Updated restroom buildings are dispersed throughout the grounds as well. Popular activities at this park include swimming, boating, hiking, biking, and searching for treasure with metal detectors on the beach. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are allowed if you venture here in the winter.

    Further north along Lake Michigan’s majestic shoreline, you’ll stumble upon reputable high dune formations slicing through the pristine sky just a few miles from South Haven's charming shops and restaurants. Pick up snacks in town before strolling the mile-long sandy lakefront stretch or winding along the woodland paths in search of a prime picnic spot. While none of the 220 reservable modern campsites have views of the lake, it's a mere 400-yard jaunt to the beach and each site is equipped with a picnic table and fire pit. Free weekly concerts at Riverfront Park entertain guests throughout the summer while the Michigan Maritime Museum and Kal-Haven Trail State Park linking South Haven and Kalamazoo offer historical points of interest year-round. To the north, the nearby beach town of Saugatuck, known as the “art coast of Michigan,” is rife with art galleries, tasty bars and restaurants, and unique shops worth exploring.

    Location: 23960 Ruggles Rd, South Haven, MI 49090, United States

    Google Rating: 4.6/5

  10. Illinois Beach State Park ranks 10th on the list of best places to go camping near Chicago. If sandy shores along Lake Michigan are more your thing, you definitely want to try out one of these 241 camping sites on your next weekend trip. Illinois Beach is 4,160 acres of ridge shoreline. The only one left in the state still has natural dunes and swales, not to mention additional land with oak forests and a large swath of vegetation and animal life. Don’t feel like you’re limited to hiking and camping, because this park has scuba diving, swimming, geocaching, the Zion Bike Trail, and more! When planning a short weekend getaway, you might want to keep this gem front in mind.

    Set on 6.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, you can enjoy picturesque stretches of sand, dunes, marshes, forests, and hiking trails before heading to the campground in the southern portion of Illinois Beach State Park to get some rest. With 241 sites, there's lots of room for tents, RVs, cars, and trailers—and they all have access to electricity, restrooms, and showers.

    Pitch your tent a stone's throw away from the longest public swimming area of any state park. During the campground's peak season, May through September, you'll need a reservation and permit to access more than 240 sites with showers, firewood, and electricity. In addition to relaxing on the beach, campers can explore the unique landscape of sand dunes, marshes, forests, and cacti-speckled prairies or take advantage of rugged bike trails.

    Location: 39150 Illinois Beach State Park Rd, Zion, IL 60099, United States

    Google Rating: 4.5/5

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