top of page
  • Writer's pictureLauren H

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.

chicago flag at a campsite

​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 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

Activity Options:

  1. Hike

    • 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

Activity Options:

  1. Hike Starved Rock State Park- The trail map is here. Try to go early or on a weekday to avoid crowds.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

Activity Options:

  1. 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.

  1. 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

Activity Options:

  1. Hiking

    • 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

Activity Options:

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:

  • Balanced Rock

  • Hernando’s Hideaway

  • Up-n-Down Cave- You drop down into a small hole to enter this cave.

  • Shinbone Cave

  • Dancehall Cave- This cave has boardwalks and lighting.

  • Dugout Cave

  • 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

Activity Options:

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!)

Activity Options:

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

Activity Options:

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

Activity Options:

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)

Activity Options:

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.

Activity Options:

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

Activity Options:

  1. Hike

    • 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

Activity Options:

  1. Rock Climb- Southeast Mountain Guides offers guided climbing in the Jackson Falls area.

  2. Hike-

    • Jackson Falls-A 4.5-mile trail with waterfalls

    • Burden Falls

    • 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

Activity Options:

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

Activity Options:

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)

Activity Options:

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

Activity Options:

1. Rock Climbing- Climb with a guide with Red River Outdoors.

2. Hiking- Trails are outlined here.


Article Updated: May 2021.


bottom of page