Going outside and staying outside
May 4, 2015 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I have spent enough time indoors to last the rest of my life, I want to start sleeping outside more. I'm looking for places to wilderness camp near Chicago and I'm having trouble finding any. I've gone camping at a few drive-in type sites and that's not really what I'm looking for. I don't want to be around people watching TV in their RV. I want to be shitting in the woods. I have a hammock and a stove, where should I go within a days drive of Chicago that is actually wild?
posted by mike_bling to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you're looking for Primitive Camping. Few (or no) facilities? This looks pretty good, and anything designated "D" on this list will be along the same lines.

The UP region has always had something of a draw for me, but I'd bet you'll pass a fair number of decent camping spots to get there.
posted by jquinby at 2:37 PM on May 4, 2015

National Forests will let you backcountry camp almost anywhere if you follow some basic rules. You can find a map of the forests here. Big ones sort-of close to Chicago include Daniel Boone in Kentucky, Manistee in Michigan, and Hoosier in Indiana.
posted by ghharr at 2:39 PM on May 4, 2015

I primitive camped years ago somewhere along Lake Michigan of Superior
Hiawatha National Forest maybe?
Probably about 350-400 miles from Chicago... not sure what your definition of "a days drive" is, though.
posted by czytm at 2:40 PM on May 4, 2015

Lake Michigan Recreation Area
Free Soil, MI 49411

That's a pretty good campground and if you want more primitive you can hike into the wilderness area. Lake Michigan is awfully nice to camp next to.

Otherwise it'll be hard to find any really remote places within a day's drive of Chicagoland. You can find a lot in northern wisconsin and the UP but that is a long day's drive.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 2:45 PM on May 4, 2015

About five hours north, at the very top of Wisconsin's Door County peninsula, you will find Rock Island State Park. It's a 900-acre island that does not allow any kind of motorized vehicles, so you have to take a pair of foot traffic-only ferries to get there, and once you do, you'll have to hike in to one of the island's 40 primitive camping sites, which can be reserved in advance here.

If you're not above doubling that drive (so, about 10 hours), and you're ready to truly rough it, check out Boundary Waters.
posted by divined by radio at 2:46 PM on May 4, 2015

Maybe not close, but Algonquin Provincial Park
posted by SemiSalt at 2:50 PM on May 4, 2015

You can make Nicolet and Chequamegon National Forests easily from Chicago. Those have dispersed and rustic camping available. The Motor Vehicle Use Maps will detail where you can disperse camp. The UP has many more places to get away available. UPoverland is a great message board with more info.

A bit farther away is the Chippewa and Lake Superior National forests, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Again, dispersed camping is allowed and there are many places to get lost.

WI state parks are nice enough, but the recent administration has been defunding them. MN state parks are generally in much better shape overall.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:52 PM on May 4, 2015

This is probably more of a shlep than you want (it involves a boat!), but North Manitou Island is nearly all wilderness camping.

camping permit info

basic island info
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:20 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Sylvania Tract has campgrounds as well as miles of lakes for canoeing and kayaking, and others are nearby, in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, easily within your range. Sylvania Outfitters is in Watersmeet, Michigan, just north of Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin.
posted by megatherium at 3:27 PM on May 4, 2015

The Palisades is probably the nicest campground in Illinois. 3 hour drive from Chicago to the Mississippi river. Amazing bluffs. And they have "primitive" camping grounds where you have to park your car and then hike a mile or so into the site.
posted by dis_integration at 3:42 PM on May 4, 2015

This is not the answer you're looking for--and I'm not familiar enough with your part of the country to help you with a good answer--but I do have something to consider from a fellow die-hard camper whose life, partner, and kids means that I don't get to get really far out there as often as I'd like to:

Do you have a yard? Or have friends with yards? Pitch a tent in the yard, roll a sleeping back out in the hammock, grill some taters on a camp stove, park a cooler nearby and get your urban camp on. I know this may be illegal or against code where you are, but that's never held us back. We've done this everywhere we've lived, even during the decade in LA when we didn't have a yard in any place we lived (our flat roof and patio/balcony worked just fine). We've gotten some kooky looks from people in the process, but, man, it's fun. We even put the tent up on the small open-but-divided-per-unit central patio of a friend in San Francisco who had an efficiency in a ten unit building because we couldn't all fit inside to sleep.

It ain't the Death Valley dark sky preserve, but you'd be surprised at how satisfying it is to be in a tent when you really want to get out of the house.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:54 PM on May 4, 2015

I love Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin, full spectrum of camping (car camping to backpacking). The Rockies, it is not, but we've always had fun. Very quick drive (especially if traffic is light), and Wisconsin state parks allow alcohol, so you can throw a few New Glarus in your bag before you set out.
posted by sicem07 at 8:09 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sand Ridge State Park is an interesting place (sand in the middle of corn!) with dispersed camping spots. It's about 3 hours from Chicago.
posted by TrarNoir at 8:16 PM on May 4, 2015

In two weeks I will be hiking the Kettle Moraine Northern Unit which is part of the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. You do have to camp in designated shelters, but otherwise suppose to be beautiful. Before this hike, I did Knobstone trail in Indiana (lots of elevation and blah scenery), and the High Country Pathway in Michigan (so damn beautiful it will make your eyes hurt).
posted by bleucube at 1:53 PM on May 5, 2015

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