The official user's manual for sunshine

Nature calls: Close camping

Living Arrangements, Parks & the Great Outdoors, Swimming & Beaches, User's Guide to Summer Add comments

The only real cure for the city is to get out of the city. Luckily for Chicagoans, there are literally thousands of camping opportunities, many of them 100 miles or less from that little patch of green in your front yard you call nature. Within the tri-state area (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan)a number of parks and preserves offer everything from hang gliding to hiking that will take you far enough to forget the office, but close enough to still be in cellular range. The following is a mere sampling of what is available to the weekend camper.


Big Foot Beach State Park, Walworth County, south of Lake Geneva on Highway 120, (414)248-2528. Site of one of the largest and cleanest lakes in southeastern Wisconsin, Big Foot is a small park with a large beach frontage ideal for sailing, water-skiing, canoeing and boating. A shaded picnic area borders on Ceylon Lagoon and the 100-site campground (showers; no electrical hookups) is in the middle of an oak woods. Reservations are accepted for individual sites, which cost $8-10 for residents and $10-12 for non-residents. Call ahead for availability.

Bong State Recreation Area, Kenosha County, six miles southeast of Burlington on Highway 142, (414)878-5600. This unique park is divided into recreation areas which include special zones for hang gliding, model-airplane flying and land sailing. Traditional activities such as camping, swimming and hiking can also be enjoyed with two campgrounds, called Sunset and Sunrise, which can accommodate up to 600 campers. Showers are available in the bathhouse on East Lake and horses can be rented from a nearby stable. 55 sites in the Sunrise grounds have electrical hookups. Illinois residents pay $12 for Sunrise (with showers and flush toilets), and $11 at Sunset (pit toilets only).

Kettle Moraine State Forest (Southern Unit), Highway 59 between Palmyra and Eagle, (414)594-2135. Sculpted by the Wisconsin Glacier over 15,000 years ago, Kettle Moraine has over 100 miles of hiking trails that highlight glacial land forms and local flora and fauna. With over 283 campsites split among four separate campgrounds (La Grange, Whitewater Lake, Pine Woods and Ottawa Lake), there is plenty of opportunity for exploring the area, with showers and flush toilets available at some of the campgrounds. Ottawa Lake has 51 sites with electrical hookups and prices for Illinois residents are $12 per night on weekends and holidays ($3 extra for electrical) and $6 for the required state park day sticker, $24 for a yearly pass.


Warren Dunes State Park, I-94 to exit 16, follow Red Arrow Highway to park entrance, (616)426-4013. This 2.5 mile stretch of sandy Lake Michigan shoreline attracts 1.3 million visitors a year to bask on the beach, to gaze at the majestic dunes and an excellent view of Michigan’s southwest corner, and for the best hang gliding in the Midwest. There are 194 camping with electrical hookups, toilets and showers ($14 per night) and 123 primitive camping beach sites with toilets only ($13 per night), call ahead for. Vehicle passes are $5 per day per vehicle, $20 for a yearly pass good at all Michigan state parks.

Holland State Park, US-31 to Lakewood Boulevard heading west, southwest onto Douglas Ave., 7 miles from Holland, (616)399-9390. Although it lacks trails, with its white sugar-like sand, Holland has one of the best beaches in Michigan, crowned by “Big Red,” the distinctively red lighthouse built in 1907 and located across the channel. There are two modern campgrounds with 304 sites, all with electrical hookups, showers and flush toilets. No primitive camping. $14 per night plus a $4 motor vehicle sticker $4. Call ahead for availability.

Ludington State Park, 8.5 miles north of Ludington at the end of M-116, (616)843-8671. The second largest state park in the Lower Peninsula, the 5,200 acre Ludington site includes 5.5 miles of Great Lake shoreline and a 1,699-acre Wilderness Natural Area. Hiking, fishing and biking are among the activities available in the park. 347 modern campsites divided among three campgrounds with showers, electrical hookups and flush toilets, $14  per night with a $4 vehicle charge. Expect to wait two days before obtaining a site, call first.


Kankakee River State Park, along the Kankakee river between Kankakee and Wilmington, eight miles northwest of Kankakee on Illinois 102, (815)933-1383. In addition to the Kankakee River which runs through the park, Rock Creek, a tributary, winds through the park in a deeply carved limestone canyon. Although there are two boat ramps, the river is shallow and more appropriate for canoe rentals (which are available at the concession stand) and for the July 4th fishing derby. Horse, bike and camping supplies can also be rented. In the over 500 campsites class A camping costs $11, Class B $10, Class C $7 and primitive camping is $6. Call ahead for availability.

Chain O’ Lakes State Park, twenty miles west of Lake Michigan, four miles south of the Illinois-Wisconsin border, three miles east of Spring Grove off U.S. 12., (708)587-5512. The site of ten lakes linked by the Fox River, which together make up 180 miles of shoreline, three lakes: Grass, Marie and Bluff are within the boundaries of the park with canoe and boat rentals at the concession stands. Along with a 2.25-mile Nature’s Way trail for hiking, there is fishing, horse trails and camping on 194 sites, 106 with electrical hookups, at $11 per night and 80 with no hookups at $8 per night. Flush toilets and showers are available in the showerhouse in the electrical area. Call for availability.

Illinois Beach State Park, four miles north of Waukegan on Illinois 42, (312)662-4811. The Lake Michigan Dunes that run through this park contain the only natural beach and dunes in Illinois. Along with swimming and fishing along the 1,000 foot beach, enjoy access to a nearby 18-hole gold course, biking and park interpreter-led hikes on the five miles of trails. The campground has 244 sites, all with electrical hookups and an overnight lodge with 106 guest rooms. Camping sites are $11, call for more information and prices. (Gil Kaufman)

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