11 Great Spots to Go Camping Near Chicago
Summer calls for an adventure—and no, trying a new toenail polish color doesn’t count. When it comes to great camping near Chicago, we’re spoiled for choice: Visit one of these 11 state and national parks for fresh air, beautiful scenery and a night under the stars.
(Note: While most Illinois campgrounds and camping sites have opened to the public, campers should keep public health and safety in mind by adhering to the IDNR Camping Guidelines. That means staying on trails, wearing a mask within six feet of other hikers and following park rules.)
1. Starved Rock State Park (2 hours from Chicago)
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.
2. Castle Rock State Park (2 hours from Chicago)
Quick—name a river in Illinois other than the Mississippi or Chicago. The Rock River is one worth knowing. It cuts along a sandstone bluff, feeds off ravines and drains the rolling hills of this state park. In short, camp here and you’ll get to see a side of the state you’ve never seen before.
3. Kankakee River State Park (1 hour 30 minutes from Chicago)
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 in the 4,000 wooded acres. All 200-plus campsites provide access to showers and electricity.
4. White Pines Forest State Park (2 hours from Chicago)
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.
5. Illinois Beach State Park (1 hour from Chicago)
Cacti in Illinois? Yep, it’s a thing at this 4,160-acre park stretching along the shores of Lake Michigan. The diverse flora include prickly pear cactus, colorful wildflowers, oak trees, prairie grasses and sedges. If you still manage to get bored, there’s more than six miles of dunes and beach to explore.
6. Chain O’Lakes State Park (1 hour 20 minutes from Chicago)
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’s also six miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails to discover before you bed down at one of the 151 campsites.
7. Fox Ridge State Park (3 hours from Chicago)
When it comes to rugged hikes, Fox Ridge State Park does not disappoint. Steep, densely wood ridges will challenge your lungs and legs before opening onto valley views that dazzle your eyes. No trip is complete without the 144-step climb to the Eagle’s Nest, with expansive views of the river. Campers can choose from 40 sites or two cabins.
8. Rock Cut State Park (1 hour 30 minutes from Chicago)
Just outside Rockford, you can spot deer, foxes, muskrat and woodchucks on this park’s 40-mile hiking and 23-mile biking trails. Or swim and boat in the shimmering waters of Pierce and Olson lakes. By night, you’ll be ready to relax by the fire and tell stories of the pioneers that passed through this historic area at one of 210 premium campsites.
9. Warren Dunes State Park (1 hour 30 minutes from Chicago)
Rising 260-feet above Lake Michigan, the dunes of this park in southwest Michigan are a prime place to hang glide. If you’re not up for that level of adventure, scrambling up on foot also offers a rigorous workout and awe-inspiring views. Before you turn into your tent, enjoy a rare view of sunset over the lake.
10. Goose Lake Prairie State National Park (1 hour 30 minutes from Chicago)
Illinois is the prairie state, but when was the last time you actually found yourself in one? Visiting this park is like traveling back in time to see our fair state when 60 percent of it was covered in tall prairie grasses and wildflowers. Wander among the tall grasses and wildflowers and look for rare birds, like the endangered Henslow’s sparrow. At night, the uninterrupted sky showcases a multitude of stars.
11. Indiana Dunes National Park (1 hour from Chicago)
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. (There are several nearby inns, too).