Campsites Near Chicago to Book Now!

by Shannon

Come January, I start booking our favorite campsites for summer. Seem a little early? It’s not, trust me. These are popular campsites near Chicago to book now! Some are in the burbs, while others are farther afield. To me, camping is a quintessential summer activity, especially on the 4th of July. It seems everyone else in Chicagoland thinks so too, so get the jump. These are all prime sites for summer and early fall.

Blackwell Forest Preserve- Warrenville, IL

If you’re looking for a quick and easy camping experience from Chicago, this is it. Blackwell Family Campground is located within Blackwell Forest Preserve. The campground is only open weekends May through October, but the sites are nice and the bathrooms clean.

Blackwell Forest Preserve offers lots to do on a short weekend trip, from hiking, to kayak and SUP rentals, and even archery. Bring your own archery gear, or sign up for a forest preserve program to use their bows. The park and campground are the perfect spot for anyone looking to quickly escape the city, families trying out camping, or anyone who just needs a dose of nature. We stayed during an overnight kayak trip with the Dupage County Forest Preserve District. They offer quite a few outdoor programs worth checking out!

Kayaking on Dupage
On the Dupage River to the park.

Starved Rock State Park- Oglesby, IL

If you’ve lived in or around Chicago for any time at all, you’ve heard of Starved Rock State Park. It’s one of the most unique natural destinations in Illinois, and lodging of all kinds fills up insanely fast. Every time I visit, I feel like I’ve been transported to the mountains. In fall, it really puts me in mind of northern Georgia. With it’s canyons and waterfalls, Starved Rock is worth the drive from anywhere in Illinois.

The campground is open year round and in every season, but winter, you’ll need to book far in advance. It’s worth noting, the Starved Rock campground is not actually in the park itself, but a couple minutes down the road. Most of the sites are sunny, and quite a few are wide open with no coverage from your neighbors. The shaded, more privates sites are on the back of the east loop. In the last few years, they’ve added photos of all the campsites to Reserve America, so luckily you can see what you’re getting. Either way, camping at Starved Rock is not about the campground- it’s all about the park! With 14 miles of trails, there are numerous canyons to explore. Thanks to those, waterfalls are abundant in spring, and icefalls in winter.

We tend to camp here in fall (wonderful foliage) and spring (waterfalls), so bugs are never an issue. However, the other wildlife is pretty darn bold. We’ve had raccoons come right up to the firepit while we were sitting there. They also managed to crack open our cooler, which was wedged under the picnic table, and throw all our deli meat out. Their little paw prints were all over it. One fall night we were awaken by crazy noises, and peeked out to see wild pigs in the campsite! Anyway, the point being, the wildlife is used to campers, so be smart!

Starved Rock State Park
A canyon in autumn, but waterfalls and knee deep creek in spring!

Devil’s Lake State Park- Baraboo, WI

My favorite camping spot in Wisconsin is about three hours from Chicago, located near The Dells. Devil’s Lake State Park has three full campgrounds, but we’ve always stayed in the Ice Age sites. They’re shaded and most suited for tent campers.

The park itself, like Starved Rock, is quite unlike the rest of the Midwest. Named for the large lake at its center, Devil’s Lake is also home to miles of hiking, unique rock formations, and even rock climbing opportunities. The lake has two beaches, the North Shore being home to boat rentals and the North Shore Chateau. When I first visited, I immediately thought of the resort in Dirty Dancing. The chateau holds a gift shop and snack bar, but during non-COVID times they also host big band dances, Friday fish fries and other events.

During summer weekends, the park is slammed, and the beaches can get pretty crazy. We paddled out to the small sandbar island in the lake, and had it to ourselves. I’m sure we’re not the only ones to discover it, but at least the crowds stick to the main beaches.

Devil's Door at Devil's Lake State Park
Devil’s Door Trail, far above the lake.
Husband at Devil's Lake State Park
My handsome hubby looking broody after a long day of hiking!

Warren Dunes State Park- Warren, MI

No summer is complete without a trip to the Warren Dunes! Amazing dunes, hiking, and miles of Lake Michigan beach- yes please. We always camp mid-July so we can also do some blueberry picking while there. Sites can be booked up to six months in advance for either campground at the dunes. They have both a modern and semi-modern campground, and I highly recommend the latter. The sites are bigger and more private. The semi-modern campground only has vault toilets, but it’s about 1/2 mile to the modern bathrooms and showers in the other campground. I gave a full run down on the dunes, campground, and surrounding area here.

Warren Dunes State Park
A trail from the campground to the beach
Warren Dunes State Park
Tower Hill Dune- over 200 feet

Leelanau State Park- Northport, MI

I love the Traverse City area, but especially the Leelanau peninsula. It’s a wonderful balance of small town charm and rugged nature. Leelanau State Park and its campground sit at the tip of the peninsula, jutting into Lake Michigan. It’s also home to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. Many of the campsites back up to the water, or at least have lake views. It is a rustic campground, but the surroundings are well worth it. See millions of stars at night, hear the lake waves, search for petoskey stones on the beach and don’t worry about the crowds down in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, or Traverse City.

That’s the beauty of this location to me. You can just enjoy your campsite and own slice of nature, or drive down to explore the town, national lakeshore, and more within less than an hour. With only 51 sites though, book early!

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Munising Tourist Park Campground- Munising, MI

Probably my favorite camping experience in all the Midwest or Great Lakes area- Munising Tourist Park Campground by Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s a great campground- and again, I recommend going for the rustic sites. There are 23 tent only walk-in rustic sites and they are all beach front. Down a trail from the main campground, it’s a short walk back to the bathrooms and your car, but it feels a world away. It’s my only time camping directly on the beach and I loved it. We feel asleep every night to the waves, and woke up to put our chairs in the surf and enjoy a cup of coffee.

Rustic Site Q

The main campground is wide open, without any coverage from your neighbors, but some sites do back up to the beach. They aren’t directly on it though! The bathrooms are exceptionally clean, and I never ran out of hot water. The campground provides wheel barrows to the rustic sites, so hauling your gear isn’t bad. Worth noting too, the campground is protected from the open winds by Grand Island. Just a mile or two down the road at Bay Furnace winds can be brutal, while it’s calm at Munising Tourist Park Campground.

Sunset from Munising Tourist Park Campground
Lake Superior sunset from the campsite- convinced yet??

Surprisingly, we didn’t have any critter interference, so we left most of our goods on site in sealed containers. I learned my lesson about this at Starved Rock- raccoons are shockingly creative when it comes to breaking into food- but with the hike back to the car, and no issues over 4 nights, I’d say it’s pretty safe. However, we were on a middle site, so those at the far end- bordering the woods- might not have been so fortunate! Mosquitos were pretty bad at night, so be bring Deet and a mosquito net hat.

It’s a short drive into Munising, and 20-40 minutes to various spots within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. If there wasn’t such an alluring park near the campground, I would have been content to just enjoy our awesome campsite!

Pictured Rocks
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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cass January 8, 2021 - 7:58 pm

It’s great when you can rent boats and have events direct at your camp site on the road, cool added facilities. Great round up.

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:04 pm

Agreed, it’s fun to have all those amenities at a campsite!

Megan January 8, 2021 - 8:26 pm

Rocks National Lakeshore looks incredible! I’d love to wake up to that!

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:04 pm

I’m dreaming of next summer already!

Emma January 8, 2021 - 8:35 pm

Beautiful post – looks like the perfect getaway where you can really enjoy the outdoors and not have another soul around!

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:05 pm

Thank you! It’s always good to have a nature retreat once in awhile.

Emma January 8, 2021 - 8:59 pm

You’re so smart to prepare now for summer. I usually forget until it’s too late, not really thinking about camping in January. These as some nice campsites, and some really good looking places to hike around Chicago

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:05 pm

Thank you! It’s the OCD planner in me! 😀

Katherine January 9, 2021 - 10:18 am

I’d love to camp at Devil’s Lake State Park. I’m not going to say that it’s entirely because you said the North Shore chateau reminded you of the lodge from Dirty Dancing, but it’s on the pro list!

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:06 pm

It’s a great location, with or without the chateau!

Helena January 9, 2021 - 11:14 am

All look like lovely spots! I spent a few days in Chicago a few summers back but would have loved to experience the summer in more rural spots like this!

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:07 pm

I know it’s hard for visitors to Chicago to leave the city, but there really is alot of beautiful nature within a short drive.

Cindy January 9, 2021 - 1:13 pm

Wow. I had no idea there were so many amazing natural areas near Chicago. Such a great list! I would love to camp at Devil’s Lake State Park!

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:07 pm

I love how easy it is to access nature from Chicago!

Rowena January 9, 2021 - 7:58 pm

Love this! The only place around Chicago that I’ve camped at is Starved Rock.

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:08 pm

It’s probably the most well known spot near Chicago, but rightfully so!

Travelling Tam January 10, 2021 - 4:09 am

I adore camping and do loads of it here in Vic, Australia. You really get to know a place well I think by staying out in the Great Outdoors. Pinned as I hope to make it to Chicago one day (and especially love the look of Devil’s Lake State Park!)

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:08 pm

I’d love to explore Australia!

Courtney January 11, 2021 - 10:57 am

This is a great list! I’ve never been camping near Chicago but I do have a few friends out there that I need to visit. Camping sounds like a fun idea! Rocks National Lakeshore looks gorgeous.

Shannon January 13, 2021 - 5:09 pm

Maybe y’all can go camping next time! Pictured Rocks is amazing, definitely worth the drive.

sam January 14, 2021 - 12:26 am

Looks like such an adventurous place to camp!

Shannon January 25, 2021 - 2:55 pm

So many great adventures near Chicago!


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