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5 Spots to Camp near Chicago This Spring

Image: Starved Rock State Park, rei.com
Image: Starved Rock State Park, rei.com

Looking to enjoy the great outdoors this spring? Camping offers a weekend mostly free of COVID complications, not to mention a breathtaking escape from reality even in normal times. 2020 saw a surge in camping interest from Chicagoans and you can expect much of the same in 2021, so be sure to plan ahead before your preferred site books up. Here, we’ve compiled some of the fan favorites within just a couple hours of Chicago to get your search started. 


Indiana Dunes State Park

Driving distance from Chicago: <1 hour

Chicagoans are no strangers to the Indiana Dunes, which has been welcoming hordes of visitors long before it gained national recognition in recent years. What’s not to like about easy access less than an hour from Chicago, sandy dunes, and a picturesque lakefront? You can even take the train there on the South Shore Line, which runs from Millenium Park. In terms of camping, the official park campground is less than a mile from the beach and quite popular, so make sure to plan well ahead. Otherwise a smaller campground called Dunewood is also available just south of the park.


Van Buren State Park

Driving distance from Chicago: 2 hours

Camping or not, the charming town of South Haven, Michigan is worth a visit. But why not pitch a tent at the well-equipped Van Buren just a few miles out? The campgrounds are also just a few blocks’ distance from the beach. You’ll find dunes here too. All campsites have fire pits and are near restroom facilities. For the hikers among us, a 2.5 mile spur trail connects the park to a main 14 mile trail that connects the towns of Hartford and South Haven via a former rail line, sneaking through fields, sand, trees, and all kinds of wildlife.


Starved Rock State Park

Driving distance from Chicago: 2 hours

Another crowd favorite for those from the Chicago area, Starved Rock is commonly shown in photos by its beautiful waterfalls. But with over 13 miles of hiking trails plus 18 canyons formed by melted glaciers, the topography of the place is enticing in a way few others in Illinois are. 133 campsites are available year-round, but this park attracts crowds from near and far so make sure to book ahead here too. Campsites include electricity and grills, and restrooms with shower facilities are available on site.


Kettle Moraine State Forest

Driving distance from Chicago: 2 hours

Wisconsin campsites are also quite popular with Chicagoans. Some offer more amenities or more interesting terrain, but many also allow alcohol, while most Illinois parks do not. For Kettle Moraine, make sure you know if you’re booked at the Southern Unit or Northern Unit, as they’re actually not in the same place at all. A handful of campsites are available for booking of various types. More experienced campers can opt for the backpack shelters, such as the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. This 31 mile trail offers numerous shelters along the way, and none of them can be accessed by vehicle. There is even a horse riders’ campground along the 33 mile Bridle Trail.


Illinois Beach State Park

Driving distance from Chicago: 1 hour

If you’re looking for that “getaway without getting away” campsite, Illinois Beach might be the place, especially for northern suburbanites. Its location in Zion makes it an extremely quick drive. The 244 campsites can fill up on summer weekends, so be aware that this may not be the most exclusive location. The main draw, of course, is the six and a half miles of Lake Michigan shoreline that are easily accessible from the campground. Fishing is also allowed. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources reports that this is the last remaining beach ridge shoreline remaining in the state, and over 650 species of plants can be found in the dunes area alone.