As they say, “Life’s better when you add fresh air, a warm campfire, bright stars and s’mores.”
Why plan and book campsites early in the year?
Because most famed campsites get booked way in advance! Can’t plan that early? Most of the public campgrounds have very liberal cancelation policies, so you can always cancel later with minimal fee.
Here’s a dossier on the Best Campgrounds near Chicago:
Campground Sites For Beginners
I would recommend to start somewhere closer and then fan out. Bullfrog Lake and Blackwell Forest Preserve were the first ones I tried. Note that very few campsites near Chicago area allow alcohol so if that’s one of your criteria, Bullfrog Lake would fit quite well.
Campfires – a recipe for endless tales and memories
Other Coveted Campgrounds Near Chicago
Below campsites are one of the most sought after ones in Illinois and obviously get booked very early in the year. You can book them here.
• Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park
• Chain O’Lakes State Park
• Kankakee River State Park
• Rock Cut State Park
• Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area
• Starved Rock State Park
Tip: Note that none of the Illinois public campgrounds will allow alcohol, you would need to venture out to Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan or one of the private sites like Bullfrog if you want leniency for hooch.
Morning at Chain O’Lakes campground
Best Campground Recommendations Outside Illinois
Indiana Dunes Campgrounds, Indiana
1 hour from Chicago
Hardly an hour from Chicago, Indiana Dunes offers great campsites along with 50+ miles of trails along the exotic shifting Indiana sand dunes, prairie, woodlands and lavish wetlands .
Indiana Dunes Trails attract thousands of nature lovers all year.
Courtesy, Indiana Dunes State Park
Maquoketa Caves State Park Campground, Iowa
3 hours from Chicago
Humungous bluffs, intricate cave system and miles of scenic trails make Maquoketa Caves State Park one of the most visited campgrounds in Iowa.
Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin
3 hours from Chicago
Devil’s Lake is a perfect mix – a lake with all water amenities for kids and adults: kayaking, river tubing, swimming; many hiking trails, well-maintained campsites. No wonder this is the most popular campground in WI and gets booked very early in the year.
Read all about our Devil’s Lake camping trip here.
Devil’s Lake, as seen from an overlook at East Bluff trail
Sleeping Bear Dunes Campgrounds in Michigan
5 hours from Chicago
Nestled in lower Michigan Peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes offer a magnanimity which seems surreal – the 1.75 mile strenuous hike has plenty of panoramic views, humongous dune hills and one of the most prettiest Michigan beaches as your reward when you conclude your climb.
One of the many spectacular views
NPS offers great camping options around the area, I would highly recommend the Platte River one – you can also merge river tubing to make a truly memorable camping trip.
Read all about Sleeping Bear Dunes and River Tubing at Platte River here.
CircleB Campground at Ozark, Missouri
8 hours from Chicago
Nestled by the Jacks Fork river, CircleB campground boasts of cabins, RV sites and campsites. If you can manage the longer journey, you will also be treated to the unparalleled river tubing experience in Ozark Scenic Riverways.
River tubing in Jacks Fork River
Alley Springs Mill, courtesy Chris Friese under Creative Commons
Cabins at CircleB, Courtesy circlebcampgrounds
You can find all the details of our Ozark camping trip here.
Tip: If you want a dash of luxury in your camping trip, search for “Glamping” – it is a fast-growing trend.
Camping Reservation Hacks
For campgrounds owned by the state, you can use their own website:
#MildlyInteresting – Most of the state and local camping reservation portals are managed by Reserve America, so you can use Reserve America directly as well.
Tip: If you are not getting any options above, try for campsites owned by Federal lands, using Recreation.Gov
Finally, when it comes to private sites, use below. Yes, they would be a little pricier that public campgrounds while might offer glamping or other fine-tuned luxury.
That’s all, hope this helps you plan your next camping adventure.