Camping season is well underway. Whether you prefer the rustic, low-key, deep-in-the-wilderness experience or a campground packed-with-family-fun, there’s a campground compromise for all kinds of families. Families can find both types of campgrounds within a few hours of Chicago. Here are a few options within three hours from Chicago to get you started. Just don’t forget to pack the s’mores!
NOTE: Due to COVID-19 concerns, some locations may be closed or only offer limited access with extra precautions. Please see each location’s website for more information and practice social distancing when visiting.
For the crowd pleasers
Kampgrounds of America are known for being especially inviting to families, and this one is no exception. As the closest KOA to Chicago 75 minutes away 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. For more wild fun, your cowboys and cowgirls can’t miss hanging out at Donley’s Wild West Town located next door.
8404 S. Union Road, Union
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 and canoeing.
425 E. 6000 South Road, Chebanse
Jellystone Park Caledonia
Located just 75 miles from Chicago, Jellystone Park Caledonia is all about fun. Campers will be happy to hear that many of the activities offered are included. We’re talking about mini golf, laser tag, archery, jumping pillow, playgrounds, a mini outdoor theater, a zero-depth entry pool, a water playground, large waterslides and more! New this year is Bear Paw Beach where for an additional fee, campers can try out Adventure Island, one of the largest water inflatable obstacle courses in the nation.
8425 Hwy 38, Caledonia, Wis.
The family-run park is all about the family. The extras aren’t extras here at the campground located 90 miles southwest of Chicago. You won’t find resort fees, charges for crafts or any of the many activities they offer. They have tent sites, camper rentals and a cabin. Every weekend sports a new theme with activities to keep families busy. Located along Illinois’ Green River, campers can go kayaking, tubing or rafting. Campers can even try corcls, round kayaks, on the river. Other amenities include heated pools, a game room and going fishing without a license in their private lake.
1442 Sleepy Hollow Road, Amboy
Located just outside the Dells on the Wisconsin River, Holiday Shores offers all the things families love – a beach, playgrounds, fun on the river with boat rentals, fun activities like scavenger hunts, inflatables, and even fire truck rides, and so much more. Looking for a waterpark? All guests receive free Chula Vista Waterpark passes with a minimum stay of 2 nights. Looking for adult drinks? They have a bar for grown-ups.
3901 River Road, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.
Photo by KOA
Looking for a beach getaway? As the closest KOA to Lake Michigan, you’ll be within minutes away from several beaches in the St. Joseph and South Haven area. Paddlers will enjoy being centrally located to public access points along the Paw Paw River Water Trail, or visit beautiful lighthouses, spend time kayaking and paddle boarding or charter a fishing or expedition or sail boat cruise. If you’d rather stay at the campground, there’s a jumping pillow, hot tub, heated swimming pool, planned activities and more.
3527 Coloma Road, Benton Harbor, Mich.
Right in the heart of one of America’s largest Amish communities, you can visit the local towns of Shipshewana and Middlebury, where the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves will bring back a feel of simple living. Experience the Shipshewana Flea Market, home of nearly 900 vendors, held Tuesdays and Wednesdays every week from May through October. Or, simply relax on the campground and enjoy various on-site amenities and recreation, including sand volleyball, badminton, mini golf, basketball, bike rentals, paddleboarding, disc golf and even its own mining station.
52867 State Road 13, Middlebury, Ind.
For Nature Lovers
As the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state, the biggest draw is the swimming beach, but you’ll find plenty of other ways to be one with nature in this 4,160-acre park from fishing and hiking to biking. This state park is located about 75 minutes from Chicago.
1 Lakefront Drive, Zion
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 trail. Note: The campgrounds are currently closed due to renovations and repairs.
5314 West Route 102, Bourbonnais
Starved Rock State Park
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. How about swimming in the lake or kayaking? Check. Hiking? Check. (Also available with various levels of difficulty.) Learn more about the Starved Rock area in this guide.
2668 E. 875th Road, Oglesby
Photo courtesy of Travel Wisconsin
You may have to book way in advance for a chance to stay at this super popular spot. Play away at the two beaches, or explore the hiking trails. Get on the water with any of the rentals offered or go on a guided kayak tour.
S5975 Park Road, Baraboo, Wis.
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This article also appeared in Chicago Parent’s August 2020 magazine.