Midwest

Chi-Town Camping: The Best Campgrounds Near Chicago

by Kelsey Glennon

Chicago Skyline

(Sub)urban camping at its finest, Chicago’s outer suburbs welcome outdoor enthusiasts to its nature preserves.

Much like New York City, Chicago is bustling almost 24 hours a day. The busy city sits on the shore of Lake Michigan, drawing over 50 million visitors annually.

But it’s not just the urban hub that’s teeming with things to do.

As you head away from this lakefront city, you’ll encounter the suburbs that huddle around the heartbeat of Chicago — the sprawling suburbia affectionately referred to as “Chicagoland.”

It’s here, in outer Cook County, where you’ll find a quieter, slower pace of life. The suburbs are speckled with forest preserves and county parks that make the area a desirable place to call home.

Thanks to lush woodland forests, fishing lakes, and peaceful open prairie land, these forest preserves and county parks also make for great places to camp in Chicagoland.

Here’s a quick list of our favorite campgrounds near Chicago, all of which are less than an hour from the heart of the Windy City.

Camp Bullfrog Lake

Camp Bullfrog Lake
Photo by Kimberly Hayward Buys

Why you should camp here: This wide-open campground offers a host of recreational activities like hiking trails, boat rentals, and bike rentals, with ice fishing and cross country skiing available in the winter.

  • Reservations Accepted: Yes
  • Best Seasons: Year-round
  • Campsite Type: Tents, car camping, cabins, RVs
  • RV Hookups: Yes

Camp Bullfrog Lake is located within the Palos Preserves on a small lake, making for a relaxing experience camping on the open prairie in Willow Springs. With RV sites, primitive campsites, and cabins for rent, visitors can enjoy every kind of camping.

The Palos trail system offers mountain biking trails as well as equestrian trails, and features a unique hike out to a bluff called “The Swallow Cliff Stairs.”

Nearby points of interest include the Little Red School House Nature Center and the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center.

Free community programs led by forest preserve staff take place every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day, including everything from bonfires to skill demonstrations.

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Camp Reinberg

Camp Reinberg
Photo courtesy of Forest Preserves of Cook County

Why you should camp here: Enjoy camping with all amenities at your fingertips within the sprawling Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine.

  • Reservations Accepted: Yes
  • Best Seasons: Year-round
  • Campsite Type: Tents, car camping, cabins, and RVs
  • RV Hookups: Yes

The well-maintained campground at Camp Reinberg offers heated cabin accommodations, RV hookups with electricity, and soft primitive campground sites. A heated bathroom, indoor kitchen, camp store, and bike rentals outfit this campground with everything you need.

The Deer Grove preserve is a sprawling oasis of oak forest and marshland. Paved bike paths, as well as mountain biking paths, wind throughout the preserve, perfect for every type of cycling enthusiast. Deer Grove even has a hobbyist’s field, allocated specifically for recreational gliders and small aircraft.

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Camp Dan Beard

Camp Dan Beard
Photo courtesy of Forest Preserves of Cook County

Why you should camp here: Renovated cabins and open fields for tent camping beckon outdoor enthusiasts to Northbrook.

  • Reservations Accepted: Yes
  • Best Seasons: Year-round
  • Campsite Type: Tents, cabins

Nestled in the Potawatomi Woods, Camp Dan Beard is a woodland haven. Nearby in Allison Woods, those looking to get on the water can launch a canoe and access the Des Plaines River.

Heated bathrooms and bunk-style cabins make this campground accessible even in the winter months. For extra fun, try checking out a free Camping Adventure Backpack, stocked with binoculars, field guides, a compass, and activity sheets to assist in your outdoor exploration.

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Camp Shabbona Woods

Camp Shabonna Woods
Photo courtesy of Forest Preserves of Cook County

Why you should camp here: Primitive campsites and cozy cabins tucked away in the tranquil Sand Ridge Nature Preserve.

  • Reservations Accepted: Yes
  • Best Seasons: April to October
  • Campsite Type: Tents, cabins

Camp Shabbona Woods is nestled in the small Sand Ridge Nature Preserve in the suburb of South Holland, south of Chicago. The facilities are new and clean, with cabins and mulch tent pads available for campers.

Nearby, the Sand Ridge Nature Center educates visitors on the natural and cultural history of the Calumet Region. The Nature Center features live native animal displays, hands-on activities, and colorful butterfly and interpretive gardens.

When you’re finished exploring the Nature Center, head to the Green Lake Family Aquatic Center for some fun in the sun over summer.

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Camp Sullivan

Camp Sullivan
Photo courtesy of Forest Preserves of Cook County

Why you should camp here: A large campground in a Cook County Forest Preserve that’s conveniently located near two lakes and the Tinley Creek trail system.

  • Reservations Accepted: Yes
  • Best Seasons: Year-round
  • Campsite Type: Tents, car camping, cabins, RVs
  • RV Hookups: Electric

Camp Sullivan is best known for its large red barn, featuring bunkhouses and cabins in addition to campsites for tents, car campers, and RVs. The South Chicago campground is located within a Cook County Forest Preserve, where you’ll also find Turtlehead Lake, Arrowhead Lake, and the Tinley Creek trail system.

Perhaps Camp Sullivan’s most appealing draw is the indoor rock climbing wall inside the big red barn. The wall features auto-belay and certified assistants to facilitate climbing.

This campground is excellent for group excursions or large family camp vacations, with the bunkhouses accomodating up to 36 people.

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Paul Wolff Campground

Paul Wolff Campground
Photo by Mike & April R.

Why you should camp here: A large, well-appointed campground in a scenic preserve that’s surrounded by miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

  • Reservations Accepted: No
  • Best Seasons: May to October
  • Campsite Type: RVs, tents, car camping, equestrian
  • RV Hookups: Yes

With over 600 acres of rolling landscape, the Burnidge Forest Preserve is a beautiful place to camp. Located due east of Chicago in Elgin, oak woodlands, open prairie, and marshy lowland intermingle to create a stunning scenery.

Trails and creeks wind throughout the preserve, offering the opportunity to see wildlife living in their natural habitat. The trails are popular for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and there’s a stocked fishing pond for recreational fishing.

The Paul Wolff Campground inside the Burning Forest Preserve offers 89 campsites with 50-amp hookups and water, capable of housing RVs up to 50 feet long. There are also five equestrian campsites, and ten primitive campsites for tent campers looking for a more quiet, secluded experience.

McCormic Place

McCormick Place
Photo by Marco Verch

Why you should camp here: Camping in an asphalt jungle isn’t exactly scenic, but it’s the closest RV lot to downtown Chicago and steps away from the Lakeshore Trail.

  • Reservations Accepted: Yes
  • Best Seasons: Late spring to early fall
  • Campsite Type: RV
  • RV Hookups: No

McCormick Place is the largest convention center in North America and makes its 31st Street parking lot (Lot B) available for RVs, buses, and campers to spend the night. You simply cannot camp any closer to the city of Chicago.

Though you’re boondocking in a less-than-scenic parking lot, the close proximity to all that Chicago has to offer is certainly worth it. The Lakeshore Trail, running the length of the city, is just steps away.

I would recommend staying at McCormick place in your RV if you’re visiting Chicago for a music festival or sporting event, as you will be mere minutes from major event spaces like Grant Park.

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