Art S.


Chicago, IL

Joined July 2016

Nice open sites surrounded by woods

This campground is within a couple hours of Chicago so it makes a nice getaway for the weekend. Things were pretty filled up when we came here. However there is plenty of space around to find a spot on your own.

The campsites are a nice size and have electric hookups. Water was at central locations and a dump is on the way out. We prefer more brush/trees between sites so this campground was just ok with us. It is better than standard RV campgrounds but we could have used some more privacy. Flushing toilets and showers are in a central location with some pit toilets throughout the state park. This particular campground was just about as far away into the park as you could go without going to the youth/group camp.

There is a boat launch with rentals and a bunch of hiking trails closer to the entrance. However, if you go just past the entrance- pass by the playground- you will come to a stop sign. Keep going straight even though it will look like you are just walking into trees. A trail is there that was a nice place to explore. Even on multiple adventures, we did not pass anyone when we went hiking on it. We did have to work our way through a few downed trees. The trail looks like it would be pretty muddy if it rains so choose your timing. It was a perfect escape from the crowds. 

We would come back to Fox Den if other campgrounds were filled up. However reservations would be important to make first.

Peaceful relaxation without electric/water

Prairie View campground is in the Chain O Lakes State Park series. This is the no services campground. We could walk to fill up with water but no electric on site. Checking in was interesting. No online reservations were allowed and their phone systems were down but we only found a few sites that were available. We were only able to camp for the night. I would recommend looking into this a bit more before driving out. 

Our campsite was encased in foliage which gave us some privacy. I could see through the brush to neighbors but it was enough to give my dog a sense of peace without disturbances. The sites are near enough together - we heard many children playing from all around us - but still gave us a sense of being out in the woods. Even with the amount of people we still only encountered a few as people walked past our site. 

A pit toilet was a short walk one way and flushing toilets were at the entrance. Water was dispersed at select locations but we brought our own for the weekend. Garbage and recycling bins are also available.

We drove back out into the state park and parked to hit the hiking trails. The ones we found are wide - maybe 8 feet - and covered in crushed gravel. Portions were paved. There are a series of connecting trails giving a wide variety of options. There are even horse rentals and a trail designated as horse friendly. We took a look at the boating docks and found paddleboats and row boats for rent. Most people were putting their own boats into the lakes. If we hadn't gone to the docks, the water was seen only in passing. 

This was an enjoyable stay along the Wisconsin/Illinois border and is well worth checking out.

Hidden among the farms - well-manicured camping

In mid-Illinois a campground waits for you. Well tended grassy sites with an impeccable grassy picnicking area. There was plenty of room in our site but most of the campground is empty. It would feel more crowded when full due to a lack of vegetation between sites. We grabbed a non-electric site but most have electric. The showers/restrooms are centrally located and could be crowded if the camp was full. 

We set up and walked some in the trails. The conservation area extends across the road and that’s where most of the trails are. Start at the one room schoolhouse and make your way down wide trails. They aren’t that long but take a few and they add up. Stay on the camp side of the road and you can find large grassy areas with playgrounds and picnic shelters. A few trails are on this side too.

Clinton Lake Recreation area is just down the road if you want to fish or bring some watercraft. 

One note: if you reserve a camping spot it’s just to have a site. Specific campsites aren’t reserved. Get here early and you have your choice. 

This is a nice mid-Illinois campground!

A sandy forest that is less visited with backcountry sites

This review is for the backpacking campsites within the Sand Ridge forest. The trail is a mix of sand and soil. It’s quite an unexpected discovery in Illinois. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail but we saw cars parked so hikers were out there. 

We stopped at 2 different campsites. They are just a short distance off the trail. Each was a small clearing with forest right up to the edge. A fire pit is also available. All the backpacking sites were empty so it seems that lots of options are possible. 

We didn’t come across water sources so we asked the ranger. He pointed out a couple spots the have spigots or hand pumps. Be sure to have a water supply before heading out. 

The longest loop is just under 15 miles but you can do different loops together to increase mileage. There is prickly pear in this area so be careful where you step. We also were told to avoid a trail because it was sandy and a tough climb. The man said he breaks horses by riding them up the hill. If this is a concern, I recommend asking around to find the best trail for you.

This is a hidden gem right in the middle of Illinois.

Creative campsites in a hilly part of a flat state

We drove down a few wrong roads before we found the campground. GPS brought us to the middle. It’s a small place so we quickly found camp. The hosts are really friendly and we spent some time talking before we searched for a spot. There are over 40 empty sites today. 

We quickly found out that each campsite has a different layout. Some a stretched out and others keep things close. One had the parking spot higher and camping was down a little hill. Every site has ample space and lots of grass. There is poison ivy all around so we were very happy to see grass. Our site is large enough for Dakota to have room to roam and yet her cable pulls her short of the shrubbery and the menacing ivy. The hosts raved about the water quality - it’s a cool refresher on hot days. The vault toilet near us has an issue with the men’s door not shutting without a little maneuvering. With camp so empty it isn’t much of a problem to use a different one. 

The Primrose trail goes right from camp along the top of the cliff. Take the trail down(water crossings required) or the stairs. The rice is below and is very shallow. It’s rocky so water shoes are useful. The recommended the tower trail goes up and up and then flattens along a nice wooded trail. There are a lot of picnic tables strewn around giving plenty of dining options. 

All this for an $8 camping fee! The recommendations are correct. This is a nice place to camp.

Ranger Review of the GCI Pod Rocker with Sun Shade at the Harry Swartz Camp

Campground Review:

This is a pleasant discovery! The drive into the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve winds between a few ponds. We saw many families fishing around each of them. Once at the campground, check in with the camp host. Right now you must register online due to COVID-19. There were no photos of the campsites online so we picked a spot distant from the others(my dog gets finicky). We should have picked a different site. Sites 40- 48 get full sun until around 2 in the afternoon. Luckily it was cool for our visit or we would have melted. Other sites are mostly shaded and beautiful. Some sites give more privacy than others(32 looked nice). There is a swimming beach and playground that were also closed for COVID. Each site has a raised fire pit, picnic table and lantern hanger. Every site comes with electric and still it only cost us $16 for the night. The shower house was also closed but pit toilets were available. There are double sites where small groups can share space. There is also a group camping area(near our site) that has a large open field right in front of it. A theater stage is found long a hiking path that starts near the camp host. Perhaps your family can put on a play :) 

The hiking here is interesting! The Oak Burl trail is mostly wooded. We came upon a 8” deep creek to cross (thanks small tree branch to walk across!). We found little offshoots to spots along the Middle Fork River. One couple found a rock bar to lay out on for their own private river-beach. The hiking on the other side goes through a mix of prairie and woods. The prairie is in restoration and we saw some traditional prairie plants among field grass- signs that they are working on things. Going further out brings you right to the fork between Sugar Creek and the Middle Fork river. We hiked these during the morning and still needed water and a rest. The trails are wide but some of the grass was almost a foot tall- its been raining here. 

We discovered a couple donut shops in a town about 20 minutes west- one is known for their scones! We enjoyed this campground but would hesitate before camping here during the heat of summer- unless you have a/c.

Product Review: GCI Pod Rocker with Sun Shade in Loden Green 

As a Dyrt Ranger, sometimes I get products to review. I am so happy that I found this chair! A good travel chair that is comfy and folds is key to summer-long adventures. The pod rocker folds into its own carrying case(extra tip: I put the case flat on the ground and my dog loves to lay on it away from some of the crawling ants and things). It is simple to push on the 4 corners of the chair and it opens right up. I immediately noticed that there are some extra shocks on the chair. This adds some weight so this chair might not be great for backpacking very far but it is still certainly carryable. 2 legs in front stabilize the pod rocker in a secure position. The first time I went to rock it I felt like I was falling over- there is a gap before you settle onto the flat base that allows the rocking. Once on this extra base, the shock compresses allowing you to rock your heart out! This transition from stable to rocking was easy to get used to and provides a solid base for eating/activity vs. rocking. This isn’t a chair that rocks on its own. You apply consistent force to rock. The sun shade is a retractable part that can rest behind your seat out of the way. It is really easy to click up above your head at different angles. I so often find myself in places without much shade that this is a feature I will continue to enjoy! When it came time to leave camp, the chair was easy to compress and slide into the carrying bag- no struggles at all. The arm rests are not a perfect fit for my body geometry but didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the pod rocker. Tucked under one of the arms I found a cup holder(big enough for my large coffee container) and a slim pocket perfect for my phone. I did enjoy one extra feature that the wide chair provided room for. The chair will allow you room to rock so I used this to turn the chair into a sort of recliner. I propped my feet on a table, scooted my butt forward in the chair and rocked back. My head was now supported by the top of the chair and my feet were up. Perfectly cradled for recovering after a long hike with my dog! Although you might see in the photo/video that my dog seems to like the pod rocker too. Maybe I need another one for her:) The material in the pod rocker feels like it will keep me sitting comfortable for the rest of the summer and in years to come.

Larger sites in the woods along a lake

In the Huron-Manistee National Forest is this rustic campground. The sites are really big and spread out. They are split between 2 loops. The first loop was almost filled so we checked the second one and found a site away from others. It felt like we were alone until we took a walk around the campground. Picnic table, fire pit and lantern stand are standard. Paved spots for rv’s with plenty of room for tents. Vault toilets are spread throughout. There is even a parking area for visitors. 

We walked down the short trail to see the lake. The trail goes partially along the lake but it’s not very long. We saw 2 piers- one had a jet ski tied to it. Camp was quiet enough to hear the tree fall just outside our campsite. Would it still make a noise if we weren’t here? 

This is a peaceful discovery that is perfect for a getaway.

Small riverside campground

This is a really small campground squeezed between the road and the river. The beauty of the river did not add enough to the appeal of this place for us. Sites are filling up though. Sites have decent room with taller grass around. One vault toilet is shared with camp. 

We didn’t get a comfortable vibe here. Maybe it’s the busy road or small space or a long day of traveling. This was one of the only options as other campgrounds filled up quickly for the weekend. 

There is ample fishing in a beautiful river. A few hiking trails are around that you can drive to. Big Timber is an easy 30ish mile drive away.

Donation based camping right on the Yellowstone River

Right next to Yellowstone River and in the town of Columbus is a free campground. There are a lot of sites that are well spread out. If the front is full, follow the road next to the golf course and there are more. We camped right next to the restrooms so it wasn’t the quiet spot. However it was the only one left with shade- it seems pretty full today. I agree with the other reviews. This is a nice spot but it’s not exactly what we’re looking for. There are a lot of dogs(some loose) and a lot of people. Traffic noise is higher and campers arrive late and leave early. It’s a great thing that this town offers. Mosquitoes are a bit of a nuisance. The river is beautiful and the river access is all around. 

If the crowd thinned out our stay would have been better. We got one of the last few sites and others filled in later. 

Near the entrance is a donation post so your contribution can help this continue.

Spacious sites with lots of wooded surroundings

Seaton Creek is the campground that is near the start of the Manistee River Trail. There is day hiker parking right in the camp. This is the perfect start to exploring a beautiful trail. 1 mile of trail gets you to the Manistee trail. You can cross the suspension bridge and hike the North Country Trail. Both are great but have different vibes. The Manistee trail is more up and down with plenty of backpacking campsites. The North Country trail drifts away from the river into the forest and makes its way back. 

Seaton Creek Campground has spacious sites that are spread apart. Some are closer than others but it’s nice to have choices. Clean vault toilets and a hand-pump for water can be found. The camp host has firewood for sale or you can stop at a local house on the drive in. Even with the forest, we still had enough sun for our solar panel to charge up the battery. 

With only 1 dot of cell signal, just turn it off and know you can still call out in an emergency.

Remote camping next to hiking trails

This is a surprisingly good discovery. The sites are large and covered in gravel. Plenty of room for multiple tents. The woods are filled with poison ivy so the big camp area is very useful. There are a few vault toilets scattered around that are ok but not the best we’ve seen. A hand pump for water is near the garbage cans. We found plenty of empty sites but people were starting to fill them in. I imagine it might get full for the weekend. 

Just around the corner(or down the trail at the start of camp) is a network of hiking trails. They scurry around cliffs, falls and ravines. We found small pools perfect for a summer dip. Half the hikers were carrying towels so it must be a common plan. 

We didn’t do much hiking because our dog kept trying to hike right into the poison ivy. This would have been better with our dog sitting this one out. 

At only$10 per night, this is a great deal.

Open field hillside camping near a fishing lake

This campground has walk-in only camping but it’s right next to where you park. It’s a quiet place in an open field surrounded by forest. Choose a campsite under some trees if you like. Vault toilets are up the hill. Garbage cans are plentiful. 

Deer run hiking trail is right in camp and gets you a bit of a hike. 

There is lots of fishing opportunity here. Spring lake is long and shallow. They allow pole fishing. We saw people fishing from boats as well as from nicely designed pullouts along the road. 

Be ready for a long slow drive in to the campground. Follow signs that direct you to the camp office. That’s where the camping is.

Closed (2019) but may open again

The drive quickly takes you down smaller and smaller roads. We didn’t see campground signs but there are small signs pointing the way to the Egyptian Hills Recreation area. Seeing a couple pyramids by mailboxes enticed us to continue. Online reviews said it was a good camp. 

The road is deceptively smooth. Ruts and water crossings appear suddenly. The creek looks like it overflowed. This is why I’m assuming that they will reopen. 

We drove until the locked gate kept us out. The area looks wooded and beautiful. It’s a spot to check out when they open again.

Moose!! Roadside camping in moose turf

Every time we passed this campground we saw empty sites. This came in handy on this holiday weekend. We grabbed a site and before we even filled out the forms the rest were taken. It’s nice to have found a campsite at late notice on a holiday but they did fill up. 

The campground has a couple loops. We ended up right next to the road. Consistent traffic became background noise if we didn’t pay attention to it. We would have preferred a quieter setting but at least we found a campsite. The campers in the other loop seemed louder and more active. One site had a bunch of dogs and a couple of sites had large groups. Our loop was quiet and restful.

The hosts keep the place clean. With all the rain we’ve had, the trail that links up to Sibley Lake trail was too muddy to hike. We walked up the hill away from the road where logging is being done. It led to a series of trails that seemed to lead to more logging. 

The highlight was finding a mother and baby moose grazing right through our campsite. The host told us that a moose killed a dog recently. I’m keeping a closer eye on ours now. 

We loved the moose coming into camp here! This is an ok campground but the closeness to the road wasn’t the best.

First to Review
Primitive walk-in tent camping in a cool riverside spot

Warning: google maps will take you down a small road with houses. Skip that one. Continue straight on the main road and it will have a turn off for the camp. 

At first we we a bit worried about what it would be like. The road there went through 20 some miles of ranching and no trees. Once the national forest starts it is a beautiful area. 

This is also walk-in tenting only. The sites are beautiful and hidden under trees. There is plenty of room between sites giving you privacy. The river is right next to the campsites - perfect sound to relax to. A hand pump water source is here. This is primitive camping in a cool little spot. 

There is a historical site open to tour on the weekend. Natural Bridge site is on the way here with hiking. This is a nice place but it doesn’t handle our teardrop camper.

Large sites with play ares for families

Given our experience was on a hot and humid day, I would rate this as 3. However I’m trying to be impartial so I’m putting our temperature discomfort aside and giving it 4. The campsites are large and reasonably priced for an overnight stay.

Campsites are large- some big enough for multiple campers. Most sites have water and electric. Plenty of tall trees around for shade. The sites don't have vegetation between them but they are big enough to give you some room. Restrooms are spread around with one being a shower house. 

The lake has boat access. Some kayaks were available to rent. Short hiking trails can be found(with such a large place we were hoping for longer hikes. Playground equipment was getting consistent use today. 

Most sites have nobody in them - perhaps during the week is a slow time. There are some sites for long term camping that are clearly designated. 

The drive through the touristy area had me guessing as to what this would be like. If simple camping is not your thing, there are a couple of resort type places right down the road.

Small campground right on the river - check for flooding before traveling

This is a very small campground. Parts were closed because of flooding so maybe your experience will be better. There were half a dozen sites available this weekend. Each site has direct water access for an easy fishing experience. A boat launch and day use parking area were seeing activity too. Vault toilets are at the end on the camp host side. 

Other than fishing or watching the water flow by, there wasn’t much else here. The drive in is through active farmland. You could walk along the gravel roads. Another option is to visit Loud Thunder forest for hiking. They also have boat rentals. 

A local church held a communal breakfast on Labor Day so check out the small local towns while you’re here.

Multiple campgrounds within a forest near the Mississippi

Registering for any site means stopping at the main ranger office. We waited while a line of people rented pontoon boats, canoes and kayaks. We found site 6 in Silva Campground to be nicely set apart. 

Silva is wooded and has more seclusion than the other camps. River campground has campers right in a line with no shade around them. Silva was good for us. 

Some sites are close together- perfect for a small group. Others are open and along the road. 6 was carved out of the woods- we felt immersed in the forest. One set of 4 vault toilets serves this campground. Water can be found in a couple locations. Our site had full sun during the day so our screen tent saved the day.

A variety of hiking trails are here. Some are used by bikes and horses too. Rock Island is a short drive away and we hiked on Sylvan Island there. Many people are here for fishing. 

We didn’t like the large family gathering at the site across from us. They disappeared as soon as the rain came but there was a lot of activity going on. Some of the picnic areas would be perfect for these moments but they didn't move to them. We still enjoyed our stay.

Stuck between a fairly busy road and the slough

Squeezed between the slough and the road, a campground awaits. Close enough so that one side of your campsite is against the road. The sites were not mowed super recently so the greenery was about 6” tall in spots. Evidence of recent rain was found in the small ruts in the one roadway. There are no trails or even a sidewalk by the road. 

This campground isn’t that enticing but it’s nice to know that there are options if everything else is full. On Labor Day weekend there weren’t any campers - this was enough to send us further down the road. Loud Thunder is just down the road and might be a preferable place. 

We did see people parking in the day use lot and launching their boats for a morning of fishing.

Amazing hiking and beautifully kept but a bit pricey

This campground is in a populated area but the nature preserve is big. We rarely saw traffic once here. A train goes by a couple times but it was always during the day. 

It’s pricey if you are from out of the county. We were hoping to camp at the primitive sites but they are walk-in only. Our teardrop wasn’t allowed. We settled at site 37 and enjoyed our stay. There are vault toilets but the large number of big RVs meant they were not used often leaving them almost like our private restrooms. Each site has water and electric. Trees are around the outside with few on the inside sites. All the sites have paved pads. 

The highlight of our experience is the hiking. There are miles of trails. On one hike we were on paved, sifted gravel, grass and single trek trails. There are a lot of loops giving you options. When we left we still hadn’t hiked all of them. 

If the price was more reasonable we would certainly be back. If you need the water/electric then this is a great choice.