When it’s time to take a break from Chicago city life, there are tons of fantastic camping destinations right on your doorstep. The best places to camp in Illinois might be too far away for a short weekend break, but there are plenty of other options within a short drive of the city.
This part of the midwest is a natural hotspot. Lake Michigan is close by at the confluence of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, as well as a number of state parks and forest preserves. The metropolis of Chicago may seem like a far cry from quiet off-the-grid locations, but you’d be surprised how many fantastic camping spots can be found within two hours of the city.
1. Starved Rock State Park, Oglesby
Just a two-hour drive or 93 miles from Chicago, Starved Rock State Park is one of Illinois’ favorite natural areas. The most popular draw to this camping hotspot is the hiking trails, which total 13-miles of easy-to-navigate footpaths which explore the many canyons and waterfalls throughout the park.
As well as peculiar rock formations, visitors to Starved Rock State Park can enjoy fishing and canoeing on the park’s waterways on their weekend getaway from Chicago. Campers can stay in the historic Starved Rock Lodge in a cabin for a glamping experience, or check out the Class A premium campground located in an open grassy area. Make sure to get your reservations in early for this scenic Illinois destination.
2. Illinois Beach State Park, Zion
A 6.5-mile stretch of sandy shore on Lake Michigan makes up Illinois Beach State Park. Sand dunes, marshes, and forests are all networked in hiking trails ready for your exploration! Only 46 miles outside the city, Illinois Beach is easily reachable for a weekend vacation. If relaxing on the beach doesn’t appeal, try scuba diving to tantalize your taste for adventure.
The southern section of this Lake Michigan shoreline offers 240 lakefront campsites complete with showers and restrooms. You can camp in a tent or RV, but make sure to reserve your spot in peak season. The Zion Bike Trail also passes through this state park making it a hotspot for biking as well as swimming.
3. Indiana Dunes State Park, Chesterton
If you want a more primitive lakeside camping experience, Indiana Dunes State Park offers more than 2000 acres of gorgeous preserved landscape. As well as 3 miles of untouched shoreline, there are huge 200-foot sand dunes towering above the lake which make for an impressive landscape, and an excellent view should you reach the top. Located on the southern shores of Lake Michigan, it only takes an hour to get here from Chicago.
Indiana Dunes Campground offers 140 pristine campsites near the lakeshore, or a little further inland Dunewood campground offers more sheltered wooded sites. Pets are welcome so bring along your furry friends to enjoy this sweeping sandy landscape.
4. Chain O’Lakes State Park, Spring Grove
Just an hour and a half north of Chicago sits the state’s largest concentration of lakes. If you love to canoe, kayak, swim, or fish, this camping destination is perfect for you. This water-oriented recreation area is fantastic for fishing as well as boating. Anglers love visiting to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, northern pike, and much more.
Three natural lakes border Chain O’Lakes State Park and seven others are connected in a chain by the Fox River. In addition, another 44-acre lake is contained within the park boundaries. This state park totals nearly 6 and a half thousand acres of water with 488 miles of shoreline, making it the home of any water-related activity you could imagine. There are 230 campsites with hookups, as well as three cabins, so there’s plenty of choice for visiting campers.
5. Indiana Dunes National Park, Chesterton
There’s another recreation area in Chesterton just over the state lines of Chicago, offering a slightly different experience than Indiana Dunes State Park. Indiana Dunes National Park brags 15 miles of Lake Michigan coastline and a further 15 thousand acres of rugged natural beauty. 50 miles of hiking trails managed by the National Park Service let visitors explore the sand dunes, wetlands, prairies, and forests of the area.
Dunewood Campground is the premier camping spot in this national park, with 66 wooded sites providing restrooms and showers. It’s only a mile and a half from the shores of Lake Michigan, with plenty of beaches within driving distance. If you make the hour-long journey down to Indiana Dunes National Park from Chicago, we highly recommend checking out Dunewood Campground.
6. Kankakee River State Park, Bourbonnais
Kankakee River State Park totals an area of 4000 acres, enveloping an 11-mile stretch of the Kankakee River on both sides. It’s easily reachable from Chicago on Interstate-55, and the drive takes just over an hour. This unspoiled natural setting provides a ton of recreation opportunities for hikers, bikers, campers, and anglers. The river is excellent for canoeing.
There are plenty of camping spots to choose from within the state park, including 110 Class A sites. A further 150 Class B and C sites are on offer, some with electric hookups, and two cabin rentals set in the woods. There are no primitive sites available in this state park, but the large selection of campgrounds has something for everyone.
7. Kettle Moraine State Forest, Wisconsin
Kettle Moraine may slightly push the two-hour drive limit from Chigaco, but the 132-mile journey is well worth it. Almost 30 thousand acres of rolling hills, lakes, grasslands, and forests make up this fantastic camping destination. Kettle Moraine State Forest is also known for its unique glacial features.
The Ice Age Trail is a huge attraction to this area, drawing hikers from all over the country. A range of campgrounds offers different levels of amenities, with some primitive sites and some fully-equipped. There are also several secluded sites in each camping area for those wanting a more private and serene city getaway.
8. Rock Cut State Park, Rockford
Winnebago County is only an hour and a half from Chicago, where you can visit Rock Cut State Park. This fascinating recreation area is abundant in history, unique natural features, and wildlife. Among Rock Cut’s residents are deer, fox, woodchuck, beaver, and raccoon. More than 100 different wildflowers can be enjoyed in spring and summer, while the hardwood forests offer a stunning fall destination.
Wintertime brings ice fishing and ice skating to one of Rock Cut State Park’s two lakes. Aside from water activities, visiting campers can enjoy a range of hiking and horseback riding trails in this park which is open year-round. Rock cut campground offers 270 campsites with full amenities, as well as a primitive cabin. There’s even an equestrian camping spot.
9. Cook County Forest Preserve, Oak Forest
Camp Sullivan is only 30 minutes away from the capital of Illinois, offering a wonderful natural getaway so close to the city center. Hiking is a popular activity, as the campground offers easy access to the Tinley Creek Trail System. Accommodation for every kind of camper is found in this Cook County Forest Preserve, including electric and non-electric sites for tents and RVs, as well as a range of bunkhouses. We love the climbing wall located in the check-in area.
10. Warren Dunes State Park, Sawyer MI
Drive 80 miles around Lake Michigan from Chicago and you’ll reach Warren Dunes State Park. The sand dunes here are even larger than Indiana Dunes, towering at 260 feet. The views from the top are truly spectacular, and adventurous visitors can even try out hang gliding from the peaks. Three miles of shoreline and six miles of hiking trails offer plenty of entertainment to visitors. The 2000 acres at Warren Dunes are open year-round, with primitive, full hookup, and RV sites available.
11. Van Buren State Park, South Haven MI
Another Lake Michigan highlight within two hours of Chicago is Van Buren State Park. One mile of sandy beach offers chill-out space as well as tall sand dunes to explore. Nearby, the campground offers 220 sites with electric hookups, picnic tables, and fire rings. The swimming beach is popular with campers in the summer, and boating is another great option. One unique activity this state park offers is metal detecting, so you can search for treasure on your camping trip!
12. Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area, Shabbona
This man-made lake is within easy driving distance from Chicago and is an easy weekend choice for anglers! Fishing from a boat or the shore is highly productive, as Shabbona Lake is well-stocked with several types of bass, crappie, bluegill, sunfish, bullhead, catfish, perch, and more. The boat launch is conveniently located in Shabbona Lake State Park Campground, so you can waste no time in getting out on the water. Reservations are recommended for the 150 Class A campsites, all with access to showers, electricity, and a kid’s playground.
13. Matthiessen State Park, North Utica
Matthiessen State Park is just around the corner from Starved Rock, offering a more peaceful place to adventure in solitude. This park is less popular but just as beautiful, with 5 miles of hiking trails that pass through canyons, woodland, and waterfalls. A further 9 miles of mountain biking and horseback riding trails wind around the park, so everyone can explore the gorgeous scenery.
This camping spot near Ottawa is less than 2 hours drive from Chicago and is a great destination for equestrians. A horseback riders campground is located near the entrance to the Dells Area, open depending on the weather. This equestrian-only camping spot has access to plenty of trails so you can adventure throughout the entire state park.
14. Channahon State Park, Channahon
Channahon means “the meeting of the waters”, describing the state park where the DuPage, Des Plaines, and Kankakee rivers join. 15 miles of the waterway can be explored by a paddle on canoes, from which you can see some of the best scenery the park has to offer. Fishing in Channahon State Park is also fantastic with opportunities to catch bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish, and more.
There’s no glamping in Channahon; it’s primitive only with hike-in camping spots scattered around. Fire rings, picnic tables, and grills are all provided, and nearby you can find pit toilets and a drinking fountain. For primitive camping, this state park is well equipped, and a worthwhile place to visit and take in nature.
15. Tippecanoe River State Park, Winamac
Just under a two-hour drive from Chicago, Tippecanoe River State Park is the perfect destination for water camping. Canoeists and kayakers love to explore 7 miles of Tippecanoe River, and 23-miles of trails offer options for hikers and equestrians. Fishing in the river is another popular activity.
A variety of camping options are available to visitors within this state park. Camper cabins, sites with amenities, and primitive camping areas can be reserved for your stay. Fascinating wetlands are also located on the shoreline of the Tippecanoe River, offering unique exploration opportunities.
16. White Pines Forest State Park, Mount Morris
A small but beautiful park offering some of the best camping near Chicago, While Pines Forest is 385 acres of wooded nature. The Chicago-Iowa Trail reaches this state park, and there are also cross country skiing trails. Flowing streams and moss-covered cliffs make this scenic park a wonderful place to drive or hike around.
A selection of camping cabins can be rented at the White Pines Inn. There are also more than 100 campsites with shaded picnic areas. Fishing is a popular activity in White Pines Forest State Park, and hugely varied and colorful flower beds bloom throughout the spring. For a stunning natural experience, this state park in Mount Morris is an excellent place to visit.
17. Gebhard Woods State Park, Morris
Gebhard Woods State Park is popular for canoeing and kayaking on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. It’s one of the state’s most popular parks and is only a short distance from Chicago. You can enjoy the huge range of wildflowers that appear after the snowy winter in the 30-acre site.
This scenic park welcomes primitive campers, who will need to hike in as there’s no vehicle access. Every camping spot is equipped with a fire ring, picnic table, and grill, so you have everything you need. Visiting campers can use pit toilets and have access to drinking water nearby.
18. Fish Lake Beach Camping Resort, Volo
Fish Lake Camping Resort is the perfect place for a family vacation. You can fish and swim to your heart’s content, enjoying the sandy beaches and clean water. Anglers come by to catch crappie, bass, catfish, carp, and even more fish species. The picnic area and playgrounds are perfect to keep kids entertained.
Campers can sleep in their tent or RV, or rent a more glamorous accommodation. All sites have water and electric hookups, with a fire ring and picnic table. Anyone paying for camping also gains free access to the heated pool and themed weekend activities!
19. Lowden State Park, Ogle County
Lowden State Park is one of the most picturesque sites along the Rock River. The stunning scenery is made up of forest, grassland, and river buffs, one of which features a 50-foot statue of a Native American. Known as Chief Black Hawk, the statue is an awe-inspiring sight and one of the main attractions to Lowden State Park.
Hiking and fishing are common recreation choices at this Illinois state park. Campers have a selection of options, including Class A campsites with hookups, tent sites with shower access, and several primitive camping spots.
20. Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp Resort, Millbrook
Everyone’s heard of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Parks, and this location near Chicago is perfect for a family break with the kids! Pools and planned activities can keep everyone entertained, with mini gold and plenty of nearby places to go hiking and fishing. You can find everything you need for a memorable camping experience.
When staying at Jellystone Park Resort, most campers sleep in their RV. A range of RV sites with different hookups are available, or cabin rentals if you don’t have a rig. Well-equipped tent sites are also on offer, with space for two vehicles. The tent campsites also include a fire ring, picnic table, and electrical access.
There are so many excellent places to camp and hike in the state of Illinois, not least these 20 fantastic locations within two hours’ driving distance from Chicago! From ultra-popular destinations like Starved Rock State Park and Kankakee River State Park to secluded and natural backcountry getaways such as Matthiessen State Park or White Pines Forest.
Family fun is easy to find; just check out Fish Lake Beach Camping Resort or Yogi Bear Jellystone Park. Anyone of the 20 best places to camp near Chicago is a great choice for your next camping trip.
Just make sure you know how to stay clean while camping before you set off on your journey!
Bonus tip: Check out this gorgeous footage of Starved Rock State Park!