Update: All of the five new campgrounds opened this year. Four out of five of the campgrounds are available for camping year-round. http://fpdcc.com/camping/
If you've ever wanted to do some weekend bicycle camping within reasonable riding distance from Chicagoland, your options have been fairly limited.
Indiana Dunes State Park and Illinois Beach State Park have long be go-to's for Chainlinkers. If you're open to "slingshotting" on a Metra train, Rock Cut State Park and Starved Rock State Park are also within easy reach.
But thanks to a recent project by the Forest Preserves of Cook County, we'll soon have five new campgrounds to add to the list. These are Bullfrog Lake (in Willow Springs), Dan Beard (in Northbrook), Reinberg (in Palatine), Sullivan (in Oak Forest) and Shabbona Woods (located in South Holland). In fact, Reinberg, Sullivan and Shabbona Woods are already open!
With the forecast looking promising last Saturday, The Chainlink decided to give Shabbona Woods a go for a quick overnight.
Camp Shabbona Woods offers, hands down, the friendliest staff I've ever encountered in a campground.
On a summer weekend, a campsite costs $35 for a Cook County resident and $45 for a non-resident (six people maximum per site). Eight-person cabins are also available for $80 (resident) or $90 (non-resident). Weeknight and off-season prices are considerably less. Registration includes one free bundle of firewood.
Nearby attractions include the Sand Ridge Nature Center and the Green Lake Aquatic Center. Onsite amenities include a pavilion (with lots of electrical outlets to recharge phones), showers, flush toilets, a children's play area and hiking trails. The campground office sells firewood, a limited selection of food and beverages as well as various camping supplies you may have forgotten (e.g. fire starters).
The biking route from Chicago is super easy. With the exception of a few on-street miles here and there, you're either on the Lakefront trail or the Burnham Greenway the entire way. Anyone who's ever ridden to the Three Floyds Brewery knows this route well. If you're starting on the north side of Chicago, the trip will be 30 miles, give or take.
The Burnham Greenway made for some easy pedaling to the campground.
This well-loved Chicago establishment, located next to the bridge made famous in the Blues Brothers movie, made for an ideal lunch stop.
Anyway, I can't say enough nice things about the campground and campground staff.
Everything onsite is brand-spanking new, clean, well-maintained, freshly landscaped, and very, very nice. Smart touches include solar-powered lights along the walkways and wood-chip tent platforms. A utility sink is located near the restrooms for washing dishes, and each site has a tall metal lantern post. While the post is designed for hanging stuff (like garbage bags, water jugs and obviously lanterns), it's also perfect for locking up bikes. In addition, there are bike racks located near the restrooms.
The lantern posts served double duty as bike racks.
The staff was extremely friendly and courteous, seemed quite happy to be there, and expressed a large amount of pride in not only Shabbona Woods, but in all the new Cook County Forest Preserve campgrounds. I kid you not, even the guy doing maintenance work at 2:30 in the morning (don't ask me why I was still up), was talking up the other sites and encouraging me to visit them.
The pavilion is used to host a variety of youth activities. Here, area schoolkids were learning about the turtles native to the area.
While this isn't something that necessarily bothers me, some people prefer a little more tree coverage when camping. If you're one of those people, you might try to reserve campsites numbers "1" through "4," as the rest are in an open area. You can site map here.
If you like your creature comforts, a Starbucks, Denny's, Buffalo Wild Wings, drug store and liquor store are an easy pedal from the camp. Speaking of alcohol, it's allowed...provided you're not "that guy." In other words, sipping a beer by the campfire is totally OK. Having a loud party well into the night is decidedly NOT OK. If not being "that guy" isn't reason enough, there are lots of area schoolkids who enjoy the campground and you definitely want to serve as a positive example.
Since there were scattered showers during our visit, the pavilion got lots of use for relaxing...as well as cell phone charging.
The camping experience is unique. If you're expecting serene silence and star-filled skies, this isn't the place. The forest preserve is nestled in a pretty well-populated area, so while you're surrounded by trees and wildlife, you can still hear traffic and other noises off in the distance. And obviously, that huge metropolis 20 miles to the north casts a glow over the night sky.
What the experience DOES deliver is the somewhat surreal feeling of camping in a city. It's a bit like pitching a tent in your parents' backyard when you were a kid. And that's kinda cool.
Anyway, Camp Shabbona Woods is an excellent facility staffed by truly nice people. It's a great option for a weekend bike getaway and I think it's worth checking out.
Visit http://fpdcc.com/camping/ to learn more.
Bikes and gear featured in this article:
About the Author
Brett Ratner (email@example.com) began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.