It was our first attempt at roughing it with the kids and we
were determined to get it right.
So we stuffed our SUV with a tent, camping supplies, coolers
full of campfire-friendly food and enough clothes to last us at
least a week, plus bags of balls, toys and games. There's no
question we packed too much, considering our kids (Julie, then 5,
and Johnny, then 2) entertained themselves with dirt, sticks, rocks
Mother Nature, however, was determined to test us.
We got pretty much everything thrown at us-from bug bites and
minor sunburn to a skunk infestation and a middle-of-the-night
We thought we packed everything imaginable to enjoy a relaxing
weekend at camp, but we didn't practice some camping basics. Local
camping experts say these tips will help make your camping trip
Do your research weeks, if not months, before your trip, says
Amanda Patrick, public affairs officer at Shawnee National Forest
in Simpson. Many campgrounds require reservations.
"The more you plan ahead, the safer and better your trip will
be," Patrick says. When choosing the campground, think about the
amenities your family needs.
Don't just shove your every possession in the car like we did.
Determine what to bring and make a list. Check off each item as
it's packed. That way you'll be less likely to forget a rain tarp
or a plastic tub for washing dishes. (Yes, we did that.)
When choosing a campground, kids should be able to add their two
cents, Patrick says. They also should be expected to help pack, set
up the camp and clean up the campsite, says Justin Grygiel, who
camps with his wife and kids.
Have a contingency plan for bad weather, Patrick says. Pack a
tarp to cover the tent. One beneath a tent can help with
Bug spray, a first aid kit and sunscreen are musts, as is a
broom to sweep the tent floor, says veteran camper Kate Hall of
Lake Zurich. A portable potty might be good for little ones who
have to go in the middle of the night, she adds.
"Parents on a camping trip become guides and teachers, so brush
up on your outdoor skills," says Mark McConnaughhay, park
superintendent at Starved Rock State Park in Utica.
Sharon Passero of Downers Grove hates bugs and doesn't
particularly like sleeping on the ground.
Her husband, Matt, however, grew up camping and wants
their kids, Dominic, 13, and Amelia, 7, to make similar
So they compromised.
Instead of tenting at a remote campground, the Passeros
bought a camper and found a family-friendly campground close to
civilization. There's a swimming pool, mini-golf and
Justin Grygiel of Bolingbrook spent most of his childhood
summers roughing it at state parks. His wife Bonnie Lee, though,
wasn't a fan, so they bought a camper and found a campground with
dance nights, ice cream socials and hay rides.
Whether your family is looking for a family-friendly
experience packed with daily activities or a low-key,
deep-in-the-wilderness weekend, there are plenty of options within
two hours from Chicago.
Kampgrounds of America are known for being especially
inviting to families. This one is no exception. About 75 minutes
from Chicago, this campground is hopping with hay rides, ice cream
socials, flashlight candy hunts and movies. There's no shortage of
activities with hiking trails, horseshoes, a mini-golf course,
swimming pool and volleyball and basketball courts.
This KOA campground provides many of the amenities as
Chicago Northwest KOA and is about the same distance (an hour
south) from Chicago. Kankakee River State Park is about five
minutes away, which has miles of hiking trails, horseback riding
Jellystone campgrounds please even the most wary campers
with entertainment, picnics, hay rides and other family activities.
This Jellystone has two swimming pools, a mini-golf course, crafts,
movies, laser tag and dance parties.
The biggest draw is the swimming beach, but there is also
fishing, hiking and biking. This state park is located about 75
minutes from Chicago.
Located on the Kankakee River, this state park is known
for its fishing. There are playgrounds, canoe rentals and about
10.5 miles of hiking and biking trails, seven of which are paved,
along with a 2.5-mile nature trial.
Fish along the Illinois River or hike 13 miles of trails
with navigable canyons at Starved Rock State Park, about an hour
from Chicago. Near the state park, there are marinas, horseback
riding stables and paddle boat tours.
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