As the weather warms up, who isn’t excited to go outside and/or camp?! Living in Chicagoland is not exactly ideal for an outdoor/camping-loving family, but there are plenty of places to get out there and really enjoy the beauty around us for some great camping! These are a few of our favorite camping areas within a 3 hour drive, easily doable for a weekend or even longer.
1) Indiana Dunes State Park (Chesterton, IN) – There are several campgrounds at the Dunes (including the National Lakeshore campground and even Warren Dunes just over the Michigan border), but our favorite is Indiana Dunes State Park, which is less than an hour from home. I grew up having summer family campouts at the Dunes every year, and these are some of my best childhood memories.
Camping with my cousins has even continued into adulthood with a few of them.
Indiana Dunes State Park is a great place for hiking, with miles and miles of trails, hanging out on the beach, or digging and running down the dunes. The campground is really nice, with level pads,
electric, nice bathrooms, a great playground, lots of shade, and right along the dunes, with a short trail to the beach. The nature center is a short walk from the campground, and there is a park store if you forgot some essentials, or just want an ice cream treat for the kids.
If you need a little more civilization, the town of Chesterton is a 5 minute drive, with all the amenities. Another highlight is the Michigan City Outlet Mall, which is about 10 miles away. Also in Michigan City, Mt Baldy is a huge dune that we loved taking a day trip to, and if you have pets, they are even allowed on the beach there.
2) Starved Rock State Park (Oglesby, IL) – It’s hard to believe once you get there, but Starved Rock is also less than an hour from home. The windy road through tall trees takes you into a little haven in the woods. Miles of trails take you past sandstone cliffs and waterfalls,
and when you are ready for a break, you can head over to the river to look for eagles or the beautiful lodge for a delicious dinner.
If camping isn’t your thing, they even have cabins or lodge rooms for you to stay, or you could head out a little further to the Grand Bear Resort for some water park fun. The only down side to Starved Rock is the campground is not well kept. Fortunately, there are private campgrounds nearby for a cleaner stay 😉
Right around the corner from Starved Rock is it’s best kept secret, Matthiessen State Park. There are no campgrounds here, but if we have a chance for a day trip out to Oglesby, this is our destination of choice. There are less visitors, and the state park allows you full access to the canyon, for a hands on hiking experience.
The kids love crossing back and forth over the creek, and they forget they are hiking, leaving us with few complaints as we play along the way through the canyon to the falls. (we recommend Keens or water shoes and swim suits or a change of clothes for the full experience).
A little tangent- it’s been years since we have done it, but there is a great 70 mile bike trail along the I&M Canal from Rockdale to LaSalle, near Starved Rock. One of our favorite stops after hiking or biking is the Country Cupboard, a cute little ice cream shop in Utica. We can’t wait to ride the trail someday soon, as the boys get old enough!
3) Yogi Bear Jellystone Park (Millbrook, IL) – Little did we know this destination was also less than an hour away, but last fall was the first time we have been there. With many of our favorite camping friends,
it was far from a secluded weekend getaway in the woods, but it was a super fun, social camping party!
They have plenty to do in the summer too, but they have three weekends solely devoted to fall festivities,
a haunted forest, a costume contest (which our friends the McDermotts seem to dominate!),
movies, and more. We even got to see our favorite magician and balloon artist, Magic Matt.
The kids also enjoyed the miniature golf course (which is free if you bring your own ball)
and bingo (free with candy bar donation).
We enjoyed closing out the camping season with this fun celebration, and have already booked this fall’s reservation, and will soon book 2017, as the campground fills quickly for big rigs like our new one!
4) Turkey Run State Park (Marshall, IN) – Since it’s a three hour drive, it has been awhile since we have been here, which only makes us want to go more. Turkey Run is a much bigger version of Starved Rock. The canyons are deeper, with longer trails, and more access than Starved Rock allows these days.
I remember swinging on vines in the campground as a kid,
and loved going up and down all the ladders on the trails. There is a beautiful river to go canoeing in also.
While my aunt and uncle lived near here for several years, Turkey Run is kind of in the middle of nowhere. The visitor center and lodge are very nice, and the pool there is nice and affordable for a change of pace if you visit in the summer.
5) Devil’s Lake State Park (Baraboo, WI) – This gem is also a little over 3 hours from home, but well worth it.
Devil’s Lake is a beautiful small lake surrounded by mountains of boulders to play in.
There are trails all the way around the lake, and beaches on both sides, with swimming, boat rentals, and concessions.
There is also some great fishing.
The state campground can be difficult to get a spot in unless you are ready to plan your trip when the system opens the first of the year. However, there are also great private campgrounds here, with nicer bathrooms, and some with pools. The one we frequent is Nordic Pines, which is very affordable and right across from the state park, so we always have easy access. The kids really loved our last campsites there because both had awesome trees in them.
While cell reception is limited, the town of Baraboo is nearby, with a local farm and fleet, Walmart, and the infamous circus museum. The last time we were there, our trip got rained out, and luckily, Wisconsin Dells is a short drive north, and Madison is just south, allowing us to visit the awesome children’s museum on the way out. We love getting a museum membership and using reciprocity to visit others on our travels!
The beautiful warm weather makes me want to camp sooo badly! We have so many memories from these great spots, and more. Let us know where your favorite local spots are, and what your favorite memories are! When is your next camping trip? It’s definitely time!