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The Best Places To Camp Near Chicago

By Emma G. Gallegos in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 1, 2017 6:28PM

The best way to take advantage of the beautiful long days of summer is to spend as much time as possible outdoors, and the best way to do this is to go camping. Chicagoans willing to drive a bit in search of campgrounds are in luck. There are so many wonderful places to camp on the beach, in the woods and alongside rivers within just a few hours of town. The trick is to do a little planning: the best places fill up quickly in summer. We have a lot of good options here whether you like to hike, bike, hunt or fish.

As always, be prepared when you venture in the outdoors. Bring plenty of food, water, sunscreen, bug spray and layers. Leave no trace behind.

Devil's Lake, Wisconsin (Photo by Marc Buehler via the Creative Commons on Flickr)


This Wisconsin State Park is one of the most beautiful places you'll find that's within 200 miles of Chicago. The namesake lake is surrounded by dramatic bluffs with gorgeous views and steep topography (at least for the relatively flat Midwest). That makes it one of the best places to go rock climbing and hiking near Chicago. The East and West Bluff trails will have you ascending 500 feet. There's also trails where biking is allowed and depending on the season, you can snowshoe and cross-country ski, too. Devil's Lake takes you along the Ice Age Trail.

In warm weather months, the clear waters of Devil's Lake are a great spot to unwind. There are no gas engines allowed, which keeps the lake peaceful, but you can rent a kayak, canoe, paddleboard or rowboat. There are a couple sandy beaches where you can grill, swim and relax.

The year-round park has a great overview of which campsite is the best for your needs, whether you want some place woodsy and shaded (the Upper or Lower Ice Age campgrounds) or sunny and near the beach (the Quartzite campground). Make reservations here. Bonus: Madison is on the way from Chicago.

Amenities: depending on the site, there are showers, restrooms, drinking fountains, RV hook-ups, fire pits

View from Eagle Cliff (Photo by Josh Koonce via the Creative Commons on Flickr)


Just 90 miles away, Starved Rock is a favorite outdoor getaway for Chicagoans and a very popular campground that's open year-round. Some of the camp sites are out in open fields and others are in a shaded wooded area. The big draw to the park are the dramatic canyons etched in sandstone and waterfalls—which are all the more dramatic when they're frozen over during winter. There's bountiful hiking along well-paved trails. And if ever you tire of the hikes inside Starved Rock, Buffalo Rock and Matthiessen State Park are a very short drive away. There's also horseback riding and fishing.

Be warned: there are wineries nearby, but alcohol isn't allowed on the campgrounds (though it is allowed in picnic area during warm-weather months). If you really want to drink, there's an Irish tavern named Papa Murph's that will allow you to booze and camp. Make reservations for Starved Rock here and make them well in advance because these spots go fast.

Amenities: fire pits, showers, flush toilets, hook-ups for electricity, potable water at picnic sites

Lupine at Governor Dodge State Park (Photo by Al via the Creative Commons on Flickr)


This is another gem of a park in Wisconsin that's within 200 miles of Illinois. There is a lot of hiking—one of the most popular hikes leads to Stephen Falls. There are lakes, rivers and meadows full of gorgeous wildflowers. Hike up hills that lead to dramatic views of the valleys below. You can even spelunk at Thomas' Cave. If you love horseback riding, there are extensive paths for horses and even campsites where you can camp with your horses. There are also campsites for car-campers and backpackers who don't mind hiking in a half-mile to their site.

At the Cox Hollow beach area, which has camping nearby, there is a concession stand open from Memorial Day until Labor Day. It offers boat and canoe rentals, as well as pizza, ice cream and other things to snack on.

Make camping reservations year-round here. If you tire of nature, you can see all of civilization's madness at the House on the Rock, just a 10-minute drive away.

Amenities: flush toilets, drinking water, fire rings, showers, electricity

Porter Beach Access (Photo by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore via the Creative Commons on Flickr)


Not only are these Indiana Dunes a National Park, but they're also some of the only campgrounds accessible for Chicagoans who don't want to drive, for whatever reason. There are four different stations in the park if you take the South Shore Line. The Beverly Shores Station is just a half-mile from the Dunewood Campgrounds. But don't worry drivers: there's plenty of room to park if you do drive, though there are some restrictions on vehicle length. The campgrounds are closed from November through March, and there are no reservations: they're first-come, first-served.

The National Park consists of 15 miles of shoreline, so it's a great place to swim or just chill lakeside. There's 50 miles of hiking. You can take in the namesake shoreline or dunes (perhaps you can hike Mount Baldy), but there are also meandering streams (great for fishing), swamps and marshes, forests and wetlands. This park is an ace spot for bird-watching, especially spring and fall when birds are on the move. There are trails for both horse-riders and bikers. And just a note for carless bikers: double-check on schedules, but you can bring your bike along on certain trains on the South Shore Lines.

Amenities: restrooms, showers (no water or electricity)

The Northern Unit (Photo by Amy Bayer via the Creative Commons on Flickr)


Between Madison and Milwaukee runs the massive Kettle Moraine created by an ice sheet eons ago. The sheet created glacial hills and left behind lakes and kettles. You can take in the unique geology at a state park that covers over 50,000 acres and has over 160 miles of hiking. The state park is large enough that it's divided into a Northern and Southern unit. Like Devil's Lake, the park is a part of the Ice Age Trail—you can hike along 30 miles of the trail that crisscrosses the state here. The park is covered in forests, lakes and even prairies.

Bikers love this park: the John Muir trail system and the more challenging Emma Carlin trail system in the Southern Unit are popular single-track trails. These trail systems are also great for snowshoers. There are trails just for snowmobilers, and cross-country skiers, too. There is a camping section just for horse-riders in the Northern Unit, and there's 87 miles of trails available to horses. You can hunt here—so it can't hurt to wear some blaze orange during hunting season. There are boat launches in the Northern Unit, and there are rowboats, canoes and paddle boats available for rental. There's lots of fishing.

Make reservations for the Southern Unit here. There are campgrounds that are quiet and pet-free 24 hours a day, ones that you need to backpack into and rustic ones without showers or water. You can make reservations for the Northern Unit at North Mauthe Lake

Amenities: it varies by site, but there may be running water, showers, flush or pit toilets, pay phones, fire pits, drinking water, dump station, RV hook-up sites, electricity

Lush foliage along the creek (Photo by wplynn via the Creative Commons on Flickr)


Just three hours south of Chicago is Indiana's Turkey Run State Park. Like Starved Rock Canyon, this park is famed for its dramatic canyons and gorges etched into sandstone. There's lots of hiking, including one section that leads you past an old coal mine. Sugar Creek runs right through the middle of the park, and it's great for fishing and canoeing (but not swimming). You might notice a lot of covered bridges. The folks in Parke County take their covered bridges very seriously and even have festivals dedicated to them.

The campgrounds here are pretty well-decked out. You can make reservations here. There are also lots of private outfitters that offer camping and package deals that include fishing, tubing and canoeing.

Amenities: pit toilets, drinking water, fire pits, ATMs, depending on the site, there are showers, electricity and RV hook-ups

Morning on the Mississippi River (Photo by John W. Iwanski via the Creative Commons on Flickr)


Just 150 miles away on the border of the Iowa, the rock palisades among the Mississippi River provide dramatic views and lots of fun activities for campers. Rock climbers are allowed to tackle the cliffs in designated areas. There are 15 miles of trails for hikers, many of them wooded paths and stairs. Some that run along the bluffs can be incredibly strenuous—and incredibly precarious when the weather is bad. In the winter, you can cross-country ski or sled. The river itself is a great place to boat, fish and even ice fish when the ice gets thick enough. You can spot lots of interesting fowl, including wild turkeys (which are targeted along with deer during hunting season). The foliage is lush, featuring lots of birch and ferns. You're not totally in the wilderness: a freight train runs along the Mississippi's banks and will sound its horns as it passes.

There are both shady and open areas for camping. Make your reservations here.

Amenities: seasonal showers and flush toilets, water, sanitary dump stations and some electricity hook-ups

Holland State Park at sunset (Photo by Fellowship of the Rich via the Creative Commons on Flickr)


If you head to Holland, Michigan for camping, you're not signing up for a rugged trip far from civilization. But the beaches are wide, the sunsets are beautiful and the waters are clear. Holland State Park is just under a 3-hour drive away, and you can camp right on the beach. The campgrounds are on a peninsula bordered by Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa, and you can watch sail boats pass by. The park isn't huge but there is quite a bit to do in the area. You can make your way up a dune walk stairway and hiking trail that goes up Mt. Pisgah. Bike trails pass through the park, and there are lots of places to rent bikes nearby. There are beach volleyball courts set up, and of course you can swim. You can rent boats and fish. Just across the way is the Big Red Lighthouse. If you want to head outside the park, there is a lot of great beer, windmills and every year Holland hosts a tulip festival. Make your camping reservations here.

Amenities: flush toilets, showers, electricity hook-ups

Illinois Beach State Park (Photo by via the Creative Commons on Flickr)


There isn't a lot of camping within an hour of the city, but Illinois State Beach State Park is an exception. The park is pretty large at 4,160 acres, and it runs 6.5 miles along the shore just south of the Wisconsin state line. This is an excellent place to bike along the shore: there's an extensive network of paths throughout the park. There are also some short lake-side hikes. Afterward you can take a dip in the lake, though be warned that the beach is rocky. Just north of the park is the North Point Marina, in case you want to set sail. There's hunting, too.

Some camp sites are available first-come, first-serve (though these spots go fast on Fridays during peak season). Otherwise, you can make reservations here.

Amenities: fire rings, drinking water and depending on the site, electricity and showers

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