Weekend Camping Trips Near Chicago
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
There are lots of options for outdoor adventures near Chicago! This article outlines options for driveable camping trips and outdoor activities like tubing, hiking, rafting, kayaking, and spelunking . . . all near Chicago.
Jump to a specific trip or section below (in order of driving distance).
Note that driving times will vary greatly depending on traffic and your location within Chicago. These trips work well for camping or renting an Airbnb or VRBO. If you want to try camping for the first time, check out my Camping 101 post too.
Camping Trips Near Chicago Less than 3 hours away
Illinois- Mississippi Palisades- Hiking to Mississippi views and Rock Climbing
Iowa- Maquoketa Caves- Spelunking in Caves, Hiking and Canoeing
Camping Trips Near Chicago Less than 5 hours away
Outdoor Weekend Trips Near Chicago Less than 6 hours away
Michigan- Sleeping Bear Dunes- Hiking Sand Dunes and Kayaking
Illinois- Shawnee National Forest -Hiking to waterfalls and Rock Climbing
Camping Trips Near Chicago Less than 7 hours away
Kentucky- Mammoth Caves- Spelunking, Cave Tours and Kayaking
Camping Trips Under 3 Hours Driving From Chicago
Indiana- Dune Hiking and Beaches
Destination: Indiana -Indiana Dunes National Park
Driving Distance: 52 Miles
Driving Time: 1 hour
Campsites: Dunewood Campground
The 3 Dune Challenge-1.5 miles with 552 feet in elevation gain climbing dunes
Cowles Bog Trail-4.7 miles- Pass through ponds, marshes, and swamp areas
Glenwood Dunes Trails-6.8 miles
2. Relax at the Indiana Dunes Beaches.
Illinois- Hiking to Waterfalls and Canoeing
Destination: Illinois- Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks
Driving Distance: 94.5 miles
Driving Time: 1.5 hours
Campsites: Starved Rock State Park Campground
Hike Starved Rock State Park- The trail map is here. Try to go early or on a weekday to avoid crowds.
Hike Matthiessen State Park- I prefer this park because there are fewer crowds and fewer trails with boardwalks. There are sandstone canyons and waterfalls throughout, depending on the time of year.
Kayak- You can kayak along canyons and bluffs in Starved Rock State Park. Kayak trips start at $49pp. Kayak Morris offers the tours.
Wisconsin- Hiking and Mountain Biking
Destination: Wisconsin -Kettle Moraine State Park South
Driving Distance: 2 hours
Driving Time: 100 miles
Campsites: Kettle Moraine State Park Campsites
Hike the Ice Age National Scenic Trail- This area was formed by glaciers 10,000 years ago and this trail spans a long line across Wisconsin. Parts of the trail can be accessed in Kettle Moraine. A trail guide is here.
Mountain Bike- There are 30 miles of off-road trails in the park. You will need to bring your bike, rentals are not available.
Illinois- Hike to Views of the Mississippi River and Rock Climb
Destination: Illinois- Mississippi Palisades State Park
Driving Distance: 151 miles
Driving Time: 2.75 hours
Campsites: Mississippi Palisades State Park Campgrounds
Sentinel Sunset and Pine Trail- 4.6 Miles
Indian Head Trail- 1-mile loop
2. Rock Climbing-Adventures in Climbing will lead groups in guided climbing here.
Iowa- Spelunking in Caves and Canoeing
Destination: Iowa, Maquoketa Caves State Park
Driving Distance: 190 miles
Driving Time: 3 hours
Campsites: Maquoketa Caves State Park Campsites
1. Explore the caves in Maquoketa State Park- There are 6 miles of trails in the park. Pick up a map when you enter the park or take a picture of a posted trail map for exploring the park. The Eastern section of the park has caves. Most of the caves you can easily walk into, and some even have lighting and walkways. A few caves do require crawling and headlamps.
Highlights to go to include:
Up-n-Down Cave- You drop down into a small hole to enter this cave.
Dancehall Cave- This cave has boardwalks and lighting.
Ice Cave- It maintains a cool temperature year-round.
Wye Cave- This is the most adventurous one we found and is for more serious spelunking. You enter through a hole in the ground and can continue crawling through small sections of the cave that open into larger caverns. If you are uncomfortable in tight spaces, don’t go too far into this one.
Natural Bridge-A rock formation you can walk under as part of your hike
2. Canoe, kayak, or float on the Maquoketa River - A Canoe trip through Pictured Rocks Park is a 45-minute drive from the campground. The river has sand bars to stop and swim at and views of bluffs along the route. We were surprised and impressed with the scenery along the way. Rentals with Monticello Canoe Rentals are $15-$30 depending on what you rent. The trip will last 3-4 hours.
Wisconsin- Rock Climbing and Hiking
Destination: Wisconsin- Devil’s Lake State Park
Driving Distance: 192 miles
Driving Time: 3 hours
Campsites: Devil’s Lake State Park Campsites
1. Rock climbing- Vertical Adventures offers half or full-day guided rock climbing. They provide all of the gear and are open to beginners. There is a short hike to reach the rock climbing site in Devil’s Lake State Park. Prices start at $85 per person for a half day of climbing.
2. Kayaking- You can rent kayaks on Lake Delton or Dell Creek with Dell Water Sports
3. Hiking in nearby parks
Pewit's Nest Gorge Hike- A short hike amongst tall sandstone cliffs.
Parfrey’s Den Hike- A short, 1 mile out and back flat trail that follows a stream with stone bluffs on each side of you. It leads to a small waterfall.
Camping Trips Under 5 Hours Driving From Chicago
Iowa- Hike to Views of the Mississippi with Elevation Gains
Destination: Pike's Peak State Park
Driving Distance: 234 miles
Driving Time: 4 hours
Campsites: Pike's Peak State Park Campsites (they have views of the Mississippi!)
1. Hiking- Hiking with some elevation gain to stunning views of the Mississippi. The tallest bluff on all of the Mississippi River is on the Chinquapin Ridge Trail in this park.
2. Hiking-You can combine visiting this park with visiting the nearby Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin.
3. Canoeing or Kayaking-See below for information on canoeing in the nearby Wyalusing State Park.
Wisconsin- Hike to Views of the Mississippi with Elevation Gains
Destination: Wyalusing State Park
Driving Distance: 240 miles
Driving Time: 3.75 hours
Campsites: Wyalusing State Park Campgrounds
1. Hiking- Hiking with some elevation gain to stunning views of the Mississippi. The Sentinel ridge trail has 1,100 feet in elevation gain.
2. Hiking-You can combine visiting this park with visiting the nearby Pike's Peak State Park in Iowa
3. Kayaking or Canoeing- You can rent canoes or kayaks from the State Park. The rentals are located near the concession stand in the Peterson Shelter on the Wisconsin Ridge Campground. You can then kayak or canoe in the backwaters of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. If you own a kayak or canoe you are allowed to launch it from the park as well. The park rentals aren't allowed to enter the main channel of the Mississippi, but personally owned kayaks can. The canoe trail is roughly marked with blue diamond-shaped markers on the trees. There are options to take the North trail, South trail, or to explore the Glenn Lake area where the boat launch is.
Indiana- Hiking and Canoeing
Destination: Turkey Run State Park
Driving Distance: 155 miles
Driving Time: 3.25 hours
Campsites: Turkey Run State Park Campgrounds (1st Choice) or Shades State Park Campgrounds (2nd Choice)
1. Hiking- Hike amongst sandstone cliffs and canyons. The park’s trail descriptions are here.
2. Canoe, kayak, or tube (float) on Sugar Creek- Sugar Valley Canoes offers rentals and transport from the beginning and end starting at $17.
Michigan- Hiking Sand Dunes and Floating
Destination: Michigan- Ludington State Park
Driving Distance: 247 miles
Driving Time: 4 hours
Campsites: Ludington State Park Campground (1st choice) or Cartier Park Campground (2nd choice)
1. Tube (float) down the Sable River- You will need to bring a tube and then either park a car and the beginning and end of the tubing area or walk back to your car with the tubes. Tube rentals are not available. You can put your tube in at the dam by Hamlin Lake and then float for a slow mile into Lake Michigan at Ludington Beach.
2. Relax at the Ludington State Park Beach
3. Hike the Sand Dunes in Ludington State Park-The Ludington Lighthouse Trail is a 5.1 miles looped trail that winds through the dunes.
Wisconsin- White Water Rafting
Destination: Wisconsin, Peshtigo River
Driving Distance: 285 miles
Driving Time: 4.5 hours
Campsites: Kosir’s Peshtigo River Campsite. Their campsite includes a bar, restaurant, volleyball court, and horseshoes.
1. White water Rafting- Experience class 4 white water rafting on the Menominee River with a guide, The activity is a 45-minute drive from the campsite and you will raft for 2.5-3 hours. 4 to 12 people will be on each raft and it is $45 per person. Kosir's offers white water rafting trips.
2. Bike, Hike, Tube, Kayak, or Paintball- Kosir’s can help coordinate or give advice for any of these activities.
Camping Trips Under 6 Hours Driving From Chicago
Michigan- Hiking Sand Dunes and Kayaking
Destination: Michigan- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Driving Distance: 318 miles
Driving Time: 5.5 hours
Campsites: Platte River Campground
Sleeping Bear Point Trail-2.8 mile loop along the dunes
Dune Climb Hiking Trail-3.5 mile trail
Platte Plains Trail- 15 miles of trail with multiple loops
2. Kayak, Canoe, or Float on the Platte River- You can rent from Riverside Canoes.
Illinois- Rock Climbing and Hiking amongst Waterfalls and Cliffs
Destination: Illinois- Shawnee National Forest
Driving Distance: 350 miles
Driving Time: 5.5 hours
Campsites and Home Rentals: Shawnee Forest Campground, The Potel Tiny House
Rock Climb- Southeast Mountain Guides offers guided climbing in the Jackson Falls area.
Jackson Falls-A 4.5-mile trail with waterfalls
Inspiration Point- A one-mile trail to the top of sand bluffs with views from the top
Rim Rock Recreation Trail-A one-mile trail that hugs the rim of a rock
Outdoor Weekend Trips Under 7 Hours Driving From Chicago
Michigan- Star Viewing and Adventure Tubing
Destination: Michigan- Headlands International Dark Sky Park and the Indian River
Driving Distance: 417 miles
Driving Time: 6 hours
Campsites: Mackinaw City/Mackinac Island KOA
1. Star viewing- Michigan has one of the few Internationally accredited Dark Sky Parks in the United States. It is a 2-mile unlit walk from the campsite. Bring blankets, telescopes, snacks, etc, and stay out as long as you can to watch the stars. Programming offered by the park is outlined on their website here.
2. Tubing on the Indian River- This activity is a 30-minute drive from the campsites. It is possible to tube without a guide. Alternatively, Big Bear Adventures offers tube rentals that include drop-offs and pickups on the river. The tubing goes for about 2.5 hours and you are allowed to have alcoholic beverages. They will rent out floating coolers as well. It was the most fun tubing river I have been on. It wasn’t as relaxing as your average float trip, because you had to maneuver around tree roots, small rapids, and turns, but that made it more exciting. Big Bear Adventures also has a ropes course, putt-putt golf, and bumper boats at the rental location.
3. Take the Ferry to Mackinac Island. To drive to the ferry from the campsite is a 20-minute drive. The ferries depart every hour. A ride costs $23 round trip for a 20-minute ride each way. Once on the island, there are a few activity options.
Rent bikes to ride around the island with Bike Mackinac
Kayak and/or snorkel around the island. A guide is required and drinking is not allowed. Tours range from 1.5 to 5 hours, starting at $100 per person with Mackinac Kayak. One tour option takes you to a secluded beach.
Ride horses-Cindy's Riding Stable offers tours.
Kentucky- Spelunking, Cave Tours and Kayaking
Destination: Kentucky-Mammoth Caves National Park
Driving Distance: 390 miles
Driving Time: 6 hours
Campsites: Mammoth Cave Campground
1. Spelunking and Cave Tours- Over 15 tours are offered by the National Park. Tours are outlined here
2. Kayaking- Mammoth Cave Canoe and Kayak offers guided trips.
Michigan- Hiking and Kayaking along the LakeShore
See my full Pictured Rocks Summer itinerary for more details.
This is a beautiful area to visit in the winter too. See Pictured Rocks Winter Itinerary for details.
Destination: Michigan- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Driving Distance: 397 miles
Driving Time: 6.5 hours
Campsites: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Campsites (1st Choice), Paddler’s Village (2nd Choice- it has glamping options) Munising/ Pictured Rocks KOA (3rd Choice)
1. Hiking- Day hike options are outlined here. Chapel Loop Highlights is a popular 10-mile hike that offers panoramic views of the coastline.
2. Kayaking- A guide is required to kayak the area around Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Paddling Michigan offers multiple kayak tours ranging from 3-6 hours. Some tours include hiking and kayaking and others include remote beach stops. Kayaking costs $99-$200 per person depending on which tour you choose.
Kentucky- Rock Climbing and Hiking
Destination: Kentucky-Red River Gorge
Driving Distance: 422 miles
Driving Time: 6.5 hours
Campsites: Koomer Ridge Campground
1. Rock Climbing- Climb with a guide with Red River Outdoors.
2. Hiking- Trails are outlined here.
Additional Reading: How to Plan a Weekend Camping Trip, Pictured Rock itinerary and Tips, Pictured Rocks Winter Itinerary
Article Updated: May 2021.