Ultimate Guide to Camping Around Chicago

Whether you’re a first-time camper or an adventure enthusiast, there is nothing better than getting some fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take advantage of the quiet canyons and shorelines of the Great Lakes just a short drive away from Chicago. There is an abundance of activities and scenery at each of these parks at all times of the year. Whether you’re with a group or going on a solo adventure, you are almost guaranteed a fun and relaxing time at these sites.

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Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park Rock FormationStarved Rock State Park ViewStarved Rock State Park Forest

Address: 2668 E 875th Rd, Oglesby, IL 61348

Distance from Chicago: 102 miles, ~1-hour 45-minute drive

Reservations needed: Yes, Must be made at least 3 days in advance. Walk-ins are accepted.

Pets allowed: Yes, pets are allowed in the park, on the trails, and in the campground. They must be kept on a leash and you must pick up after them.

Number/ type of campsite: 128 sites in total, Standard A premium (122), Group Camp (6)

Pricing: Nightly/ Daily rate- Standard A premium, $10.00-$35.00. Group Camp, $20.00.

Amenities: Bathhouse, showers, restrooms, water access, fire rings, grills, dining, waterfall, boat ramp, parking, recycling station

Description: Starved Rock State Park sets itself apart from other state parks with its 18 towering canyons and 14 amazing waterfalls. The park is best known for its fascinating rock formations, primarily St. Peter sandstone which was laid down in a shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface. The best time to see the waterfalls are in the spring after the winter ice melts but the icefalls in the winter are just as spectacular. The freezing and melting that happens during the winter create amazing ice sculptures in the canyons.

Activities: The park is located on the shore of the Illinois River which provides the ideal setting for fishing, boating, and hiking inside the canyons. Much like other parks mentioned, starved rock offers activities such as hunting, kayaking, cross-country skiing, ice climbing, and of course, camping. People enjoy the way the park is laid out with open grassy areas that are conducive to pitching a tent and it serves scenic views and family fun all times of the year.

Indiana Dunes State Park

Indiana Dunes State Park ForestIndiana Dunes State Park BeachIndiana Dunes State Park Forest Lake

Address: 1600 N. 25 East, Chesterton, IN 46304-1142

Distance from Chicago: 52 miles, ~1.5-hour drive

Reservations needed: Yes, maximum of 6 months prior to the date of arrival

Pets allowed: Yes, dogs must be on a leash no longer than 6ft. East beaches are open to pets.

Number/ type of campsite: 147 sites total, Electric (134), Shelter (6), Tent Only (4), Youth Tent (3)

Pricing: Nightly/ Daily rate- Electric, $19.00-$33.00. Shelter, $35.00-$65.00. Tent only, $23.00-$33.00. Youth tent, $20.00.

Amenities: Toilets pit/vault, bathhouse, grocery store, handicap access, grills, picnicking, nature center, volleyball nets, biking.  

Description: Indiana Dunes offers 15,000 acres of outdoor adventure and hugs 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. This campground is known for being very social and active which is something to be considered if you are looking for a private, quiet getaway. The park welcomes nearly four million guests each year for family camping trips, ecological study, and relaxing days at the beach. Parents magazine picked Indiana Dunes shoreline among the top five family beaches in the nation and TripAdvisor.com ranked it in the top six.

Activities: Each season offers new and different ways to enjoy the national lakeshore. Spring brings tons of colorful wildflowers, summers sunsets fill the skies with color for a perfect picnic setting, fall Maple trees shade the forest with orange and red for hikers, and winter snow is laid perfectly for cross-country skiers. Hikers can travel along more than 70 miles of trails, birders can watch more than 350 migratory species, and anglers can catch fish at the beach. Looking for a good workout in any season? Take a crack at the three dunes challenge by climbing the three tallest dunes in the park. The 1.5- miles challenge trail is the toughest in the park with 552 vertical feet to climb. Climbers can walk it, go solo, join a group, bring a pet, and stop for photos.

Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park

Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park beach

Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park Campsite

Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park Lake

Address: 1 Lake Front Drive, Zion, IL 60099

Distance from Chicago: 46 miles, ~1-hour drive

Reservation needed: Yes, May through September.

Pets allowed: Dogs are not allowed on the beach or in the nature preserve. They are allowed in the campground, in the picnic area, and the remainder of the trails as long as they are on a leash 6ft or less. Pets are not to be left unattended.

Number/type of campsites: 226 sites total, Standard A premium (225), Youth Group Camps (1).

Pricing: Nightly/ Daily rate- Standard A premium $10.00-$35.00. Youth Group Camps, $20.00.

Amenities: showers, flush toilets, electricity, handicap sites,  firewood, beach access, scuba diving, picnic area, swimming.

Description: Illinois Beach State Park is known for its unique flora and geographical structure. Along the sandy shore of Lake Michigan, the park stretches for six and a half miles and is the only remaining beach ridge shoreline in the state. The northern unit is dedicated to Illinois Nature Preserve and the southern unit is used for camping, nature trails and an overlook of the Dead River (perfect for birding). The nature trails are complete with expansive dunes, swales, marshes, black oak forests, 650 plant species, and aquatic life.

Activities: This 4160- acre park is ideal for recreational opportunities like swimming, boating, hiking, picnicking, biking, and camping. Being walking distance from the beach makes this site a relaxing and fun place for family picnics. Handicap accessible picnic tables are available at both the northern and southern units of the park. Illinois Beach State Park also offers nature programs that are recommended upon arrival. Located in the nature area, the center has educational displays, a "hands-on" exhibit area, and seasonal park staff to answer any questions people might have.

Yellowstone Lake State Park

Yellowstone Lake State Park MooseYellowstone Lake State Park Moose CampsiteYellowstone Lake State Park Moose View

Address: 8495 Lake Road, Blanchardville, WI 53516

Distance from Chicago: 155 miles, ~ 3-hour drive

Reservation needed: Yes, sites can be booked up to 11 months in advance.

Pets allowed: Yes, pets are allowed on campsites but they are not allowed in cabins, picnic, beach or playground areas. Dogs must be on a leash of 8ft or less in designated pet areas in the west end of the beach.  

Number/type of campsites: 112 sites total, Group tents with electric (3), Group tents without electric (2), Standard electric (24), Standard non-electric (50), Tent non- electric (22), Walk non-electric (11).

Pricing: Nightly/ Daily rate- Group tents electric, $60.00-$65.00. Non-electric sites, $15.00-$23.00. Standard electric, $28.00-$33.00.  

Amenities: Electric, drinking water, showers, pit toilet, playground, handicap access, comfort station.

Description: Yellowstone Lake State Park contains a 4,000-acre scenic wildlife area, as well as, a 455-acre lake. A really great perk of this park is the low mosquito population due to the bat farms in the area!

Activities: The lake is shared by kayaks, sailboats, canoes, and boats. Boat rentals are offered at the east end of the lake. The park also offers 13 miles of hiking trails that vary in difficulty with steep climbs and stairways. If you’re looking for a good fishing spot, Yellowstone Lake has an abundant population of crappies, walleye, and other game fish. Anglers of any age have access to free, basic fishing equipment that is donated by the Tackle Loaner Program. The park has nine designated picnic areas at the west end of the lake available for rental. The park also offers plenty to do throughout the winter months like miles of snowmobile trails and cross-country skiing.

Shabbona Lake State Park

Shabbona Lake State Park ViewShabbona Lake State Park CampsiteShabbona Lake State Park Bridge

Address: 4100 Bluebird Lane, Shabbona, IL 60550

Distance from Chicago: 72 miles, ~ 1.5-hour drive

Reservations needed: Yes, at least 3 days in advance.

Pets allowed: Yes, in designated areas. Check park restrictions.

Number/ type of campsites: 150 sites total, Cabin (2), Group Camp (2), Shelter (2), Standard A Premium (84) First come First serve (60).

Pricing: Nightly/ Daily rate- Cabin, $50.00-$60.00. Group camp, $20.00. Shelter, $25.00. Standard A Premium, $10.00-$35.00.

Amenities: Electricity, showers, vehicular access, boat launch, playground, kids’ fishing area, a camp store, fire rings.

Description: Shabbona Lake has 1,550 acres of land including a 318-acre man-made fishing lake constructed in 1974 for recreational fishing. The land us a mix of grassy meadows, upland mesic woods, bottomland woods, and an undisturbed fen that is great for relaxation and outdoor activity.

Activities: Shabbona Lake State Park provides a convenient, natural haven away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life with facilities for camping, hunting, picnicking, winter sports, and fishing. Boat and shore fishing are both popular and productive at the lake. Shabbona Lake was declared the "Muskie Capital of Illinois", one of "Illinois' best Fishing Lakes" by the Illinois General Assembly in 2011, and has produced 6 State record fish including 4 Muskies and 2 Hybrid Crappies. Hunting is also available on 744 acres at Shabbona and satellites of the lake like the Steward Habitat Area and Kishwaukee River State Wildlife Area. The park has considerable concessions like a 60 seat restaurant indoors, 40 patio seating overlooking the lake, and a campground store offering groceries and supplies. Although a short distance away from Chicago, it is a relaxing and fun way to step away from your everyday life.

Big Rock Campground & Forest Preserve

Big Rock Campground and Forest Preserve LakeBig Rock Campground & Forest Preserve RVBig Rock Campground & Forest Preserve Campgrounds

Address: 46W499 Granart Rd. Big Rock, IL

Distance from Chicago: 50 Miles, ~1-hour drive

Reservations needed: No, sites are occupied on a first come first serve basis.  

Pets allowed: Yes.

Number/ type of campsites: 109 sites total, Improved sites (96), Primitive Tent Only (9), Equestrian (4).

Pricing: Nightly/ Daily rate- Improved site (Kane county resident)-$20.00, non-resident- $35.00. Primitive site (resident)- $12.00, non- resident $18.00. Equestrian camp (resident)- $15.00, non- resident- $15.00.

Amenities: electrical access, parking pads, fire rings, picnic shelters, fishing/ stocked fish ponds.

Description: Highlights of the Big Rock Forest Preserve include its mature woodlands, high-quality marshes, tallgrass prairies, running creeks, and a 65 ft. deep lake. The preserve originated in 1992 with 294 acres and been purchased to grow to a total of  840 acres today. Siegler lake is one of the most popular parts of the preserve. It was created by high flood water entering the banks of Big Rock and Welch Creeks in 1996 carrying an abundance of fish and spreading for 32 acres.

Activities: There are activities available throughout every season like fishing in the summertime, hiking in the fall, cross-country skiing in the winter and bird watching in the spring. This lake is a great destination for anglers fishing on a catch and release basis. This preserve is also popular for its horseback riding and equestrian trails like the Limestone Lake Loop Trail because they are on natural, mowed grass paths. This campground is good for a quiet and relaxing getaway from the city.

Kettle Moraine State Forest

Kettle Moraine State Forest BikingKettle Moraine State Forest RunningKettle Moraine State Forest

Address: W39091 WI-59, Eagle, WI 53119

Distance from Chicago: 144 miles, ~2.5-hour drive

Reservations needed: Recommended, available May- October

Pets allowed: Pets are allowed on hiking trails but not nature trails. All dogs must be on a leash 8ft or shorter. Pets are not allowed on cross- country ski trails in the winter and other select areas.  

Number/ type of campsite: 254 sites total, Group tents non electric (11), Horse electric (19), Horse group camping (1), Horse non-electric (16), Standard electric (54), Standard non-electric (131), Tent non-electric (11), Walk non-electric (11).

Pricing:  Nightly/ Daily rate- Group tents non-electric (N/A), Horse electric, $28.00-$35.00, Horse group camping (N/A), Horse non electric, $18.00-$23.00, Standard electric, $28.00-$35.00, Standard non electric, $18.00-$23.00, Tent non electric, $15.0-$23.00, Walk non electric, $15.00-$23.00.

Amenities: 1 shower building with flush toilets and vault toilets. Beach areas include playground equipment and vending machines with snacks and beverages.  

Description: The 22,000 acre Kettle Moraine State Forest has over 100 miles of trails and beautiful landscape. There are more than a dozen lakes and ponds, as well as, two impoundments of the Milwaukee River. Lakes sizes range from 477 acres to less than 7 acres, totaling in 786 acres of water.

Activities: Campers have the option to fish, boat, canoe, kayak, and swim in the lakes while also having the ability to horseback ride, hike, bike, and hunt throughout the rest of the forest. Kettle Moraine is perfect for all seasons as it has an extensive amount of activities to offer throughout the winter months. The Greenbush recreation area has more than 13 miles of machine- groomed cross-country ski trails for all skiers 16 and over. The lakes freeze over for about 3 months each winter which is ideal for ice fishing. The snowy winter forest provides about 60 miles of snowmobile trails and there are ungroomed trails of the forest that can be used for hiking and snowshoeing. Although dogs are not allowed in select areas of the park, pets are allowed in all campgrounds, most trails, roads, and outlying areas. There are two dog training areas that teach dogs to retrieve game for hunting dog trial competitions.  

Turkey Run State Park

Turkey Run State Park Fall LeavesTurkey Run State Park ViewTurkey Run State Park Forest

Address: 8121 E. Park Road Marshall, IN 47859

Distance from Chicago: 155 miles, ~2-hours 50-minute drive

Reservations needed: Yes by phone or online, campsites not reserved are available on a first come first serve basis.

Pets allowed: Yes, dogs must be kept on a leash of 6ft or less.

Number/ type of campsite: 216 sites total, Electric (209), Shelter (5), Youth tent (2)

Pricing: Nightly/ Daily rate- Electric $16.00-$33.00. Shelter, $40-$55.00. Youth tent, $20.00.

Amenities: Modern showers and bathrooms, swimming pool, parking, concessions, boat rental, dining, fire rings/wood, grills, waterfall.

Description: Historic Turkey Run State Park can take you on a trip through time allowing campers to walk into one of the ravines to see sandstone gorges representing 600 to 300 million years of nature's creations. The park has a total of 2,382 acres and originates in 1916 during Indiana’s centennial.  

Activities: There is something for everyone to enjoy like hiking trails, bridle trails, historic sightings, nature center, and horseback riding. Sugar Creek is a great resource in the park for activities like fishing and canoeing but save some swimming for the parks Olympic sized swimming pool. Scheduled program in the nature center allow campers to learn more about the parks flora, fauna, lush plant communities, old growth trees, and more, all supporting an abundance of wildlife. Turkey Run State Park can be fun and relaxing as well as educational and active, serving all members of your family or group.

Sand Ridge State Forest

Sand Ridge State Forest ForestSand Ridge State Forest CampingSand Ridge State Forest Hiking

Address: Forest City, IL 61532

Distance from Chicago: 191 miles, ~3-hours 15-minute drive

Reservations needed: Yes, at least 3 days in advance and up to 12 months out.

Pets allowed: Yes.

Number/ type of campsite: 57 sites total, Group Camp (2), Shelter (2), Standard -C (44), Standard -D (9).

Pricing: Nightly/ Daily rate- Group Camp, $20.00-$40.00. Shelter, $25.00. Standard -C, $0.00-$8.00. Standard -D, $6.00.

Amenities: Restrooms, pit-vault toilets, drinking water, grills, fire rings, picnicking, parking, handicap sites, hunting, boating, canoeing, horseback riding.

Description: Sand Ridge State Forest comes as a pleasant surprise for most people who think central Illinois is mainly farmland. This 7,500-acre forest is described as an island in a sea of agriculture. It is the largest of the Illinois state forests filled with native oak-hickory timber, extensive plantations of pine, open fields, grasslands, and unique sand prairies. Sand Ridge State Forest is perfect if you are looking for an opportunity to experience an unexpected environment full of unspoiled nature. The land is so unique because it has a prehistoric history of desert-like conditions and it supports a variety of plants and animals that are not typically found in the southwest.

Activities: Hunting of deer, turkey, pheasant, quail, dove, and squirrel are permitted in the forest and there is a hand trap shooting facility and an archery range. Bird watching is a popular activity as well due to the fact that the forest is an important nesting area for a great variety of neotropical migratory birds. Family activities include fishing, hiking, beach swimming, bike trails, boating (accessible launch ramps), as well as various winter activities. Sand Ridge State Forest is a great option for a rustic and authentic camping experience.

Chain O’ Lakes State Park

Chain O’Lakes State Park Walking PathChain O’Lakes State Park CampingChain O’Lakes State Park Canoe

Address: 2355 E 75 S, Albion, IN 46701

Distance from Chicago: 158 miles, ~2-hours 50-minutes

Reservations needed: Yes.

Pets allowed: Yes, dogs must be kept on a leash no longer than 6ft when outside of your vehicle.

Number/ type of campsite: 439 sites in total, Cabin (18), Canoe Camp (4), Electric (323), Non-Electric (49), Primitive (33), Rally Camp (4), Shelter (3), Youth Tent (5)

Pricing:  Nightly/ Daily rate- Cabin, $70.00-$90.00  Canoe Camp, $10.00-$14.00, Electric, $16.00-$33.00. Non-Electric, $10.00-$22.00. Primitive, $10.00-$12.00. Rally Camp, $50.00, Shelter, $35.0-$40.00. Youth Tent, $20.00.

Amenities: Boat launch ramp, boating, nature center, shelters, rental canoes, paddle boats, cross country skiing, fishing/ fishing, hiking trails, swimming, beach

Description: Chain O’ Lakes is an Indiana state park on 2,718 acres in Noble County, Indiana. The park is 19 miles northwest of Fort Wayne. The lakes are kettle lakes formed by receding ice sheets of the Pleistocene Epoch, which also made the steeply rolling hills and bogs of the park. The shallowest lake is Dock Lake at 20ft and the deepest lake is Bowen Lake at 65ft. The Muck/peat filled bogs are accessible by the several miles of hiking trails.

Activities: With nine connecting lakes at the center of the adventure, Chain O’ Lakes is a great spot for small boaters to fish the electric-motors-only lakes. There are also 10 miles of forested trails to enjoy with an overnight stay in a forested hillside cabin as well as the parks nature center in a one-room schoolhouse. Family fun can continue at the parks beach and picnic shelters. This park is also good for all seasons as the winter offers cross country skiing and ice fishing.

Rock Cut State Park

Rock Cut State Park StairsRock Cut State Park ForestRock Cut State Park Lake

Address: 7223 West Lane Road, Loves Park IL

Distance from Chicago: 83 miles, ~1-hour 25-minute drive

Reservations needed: Yes, reservations must be made at least 3 days in advance.

Pets allowed: Pets on a leash up to 10 feet long are allowed in Illinois state parks and campgrounds, but are not permitted on beaches, in cabins, or in concession and picnic areas.

Number/ type of campsite: 271 total sites, Cabin (1), Group Camp (8), Shelter (5), Standard- A premium (199), Standard- B/S Premium (58)

Pricing: Nightly/ daily pricing- Cabin, $50.00-$60.00. Group Camp, $20.00. Shelter, $25.00.  Standard- A premium, $10.00-$35.00. Standard- B/S Premium, $0.00-$12.00.

Amenities: Showers, retail bait & tackle, concessions, picnic shelter, boat launch, playground.

Description: Rock Cut State Park, also known as Loves Park, has 2 lakes set off the park’s beautiful 3,092 acres. Pierce Lake is responsible for 162 of those acres and Olson Lake accounts for 50 acres. The water serves as a welcome mat to birds and animals which is ideal for wildlife watchers. There are over 100 types of wildflowers throughout the park that offers a display each spring and summer as well as colorful hardwood trees to see in the fall.

Activities: Campers can find plenty of activities to do at Rock Cut State Park, especially in the lakes. Pierce lake is great for those looking for fishing, boating, paddle boat and canoe rental, ice fishing, or ice skating. Olson Lake is especially for swimmers and also has amenities like lifeguards, sand volleyball courts, paddle boat rentals, concessions, and changing rooms. Out of the water, campers can enjoy restored prairie, bird watching, hiking, extensive campgrounds, cross-country ski trails, horse and bike trails.

Kankakee River State Park

Kankakee River State Park Path

Kankakee River State Park StreamKankakee River State Park Swimming

Address: 5314 W State Route 102, Bourbonnais, IL 60914

Distance from Chicago: 60 miles, ~1-hour 7-minutes

Reservations needed: Yes

Pets allowed: Dogs are allowed throughout the park, on the trails, and in the campground for no additional fee. Dogs must be leashed and cleaned up after.

Number/ type of campsite: 226 in total, Cabin (2), Group Camp (12), Shelter (7), Standard- A Premium (103), Standard - B/E Premium (49), Standard - C (53)

Pricing: Cabin, $20.00-$30.00. Group Camp, $20.00- $30.00. Shelter $20.00-$25.00. Standard- A Premium, $10.00-$35.00. Standard - B/E Premium, $10.00-$20.00. Standard - C, $0.00-$20.00.

Amenities: Bathhouse, boat ramp, grills, canoes, nature center, showers, water access, handicap sites.

Description: 4,000 acre Kankakee River State Park extends along both sides of the Kankakee River for about 11 miles. This park offers scenic bluffs and woods surrounded by an abundance of other unspoiled settings.

Activities: Only bow hunting is allowed for deer in the park and firearm hunting is permitted for duck, pheasant, turkey, dove, rabbit, squirrel, fox, coyote, and raccoon. Kankakee River is a clean river great for landing smallmouth bass, catfish, pike, and walleye. There are 2 boat ramps Warner Bridge Day Use area and Area 9 parking lot. Canoeists can bring their own canoes or rent from the park. Rock Creek has a 3-mile route for hikers and Davis Creek Area has a 10.5-mile loop along the river for bikers. There is also a 12-mile equestrian trail in the wildlife management area open April- October. The park also offers an archery range, geocaching, metal detecting, and dog training.

Greene Sullivan State Forest

Greene Sullivan State Forest CampgroundsGreene Sullivan State Forest BoatGreene Sullivan State Forest Lake

Address: 2551 IN-159, Dugger, IN 47848

Distance from Chicago: 222 miles, ~4-hour drive.

Reservations needed: Yes

Pets allowed: Pets are not permitted in our cabins, restrooms, shower houses or other indoor facilities unless otherwise specified. Pets are permitted at campsites however, they must be on a leash of 6 feet or less and tended to at all times. Owners are required to clean up after their pets at their campsite and in all other areas of the property.

Number/ type of campsite: 24 sites total, Electric (5), Rent-a-camp (18), Shelter (1).

Pricing: Electric, $16.00- $33.00. Rent-a-camp, $35.00- $40.00. Shelter, $30.00-$35.00.

Amenities: Dump station, grills, fire rings, playground, canoeing, parking, water drinking.

Description: Greene- Sullivan State Forest was founded in 1936 when 3,000 acres of land was donated to the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry by various coal companies. The park has now grown to be about 9,000 acres and is filled with woodland and over 120 lakes. The park is a very serene and beautiful place to visit, as well as, one of the most unique areas in Indiana.

Activities: Fishing in the park one of the biggest attractions in the park because there are about 120 lakes scattered throughout. The lakes are stocked with fish like redear sunfish, bluegill, and largemouth bass. If you have a valid hunting license campers are allowed to hunt whitetail deer, turkey, squirrel, fox, and raccoon. There is a free archery range that offers 4 practice targets and 15 scattered targets throughout a woodchipped trail. Picnic shelter houses can be used in the daytime and they come with tables, grills, and wheelchair access.

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