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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!