Camping near hiking trails and close to the lake

Pine Ridge is a loop campground with some electric and non-electric sites. In April the leaves were not on the trees so there was intermittent shade. This was a decent place for $10 a night.

The main draw for us was the hiking trails. If you go over to the Pounds Hollow Rec Area you can find picnic areas and a pond to explore by boat. We saw a few kayaks and a family having a picnic lunch. However there is a trail that you definitely should try.

Go to the far end of the picnic area (away from the parking). There is a trail that goes west along the shore of the lake. You can keep following it and you end up at the Rim Rock Trail. Now you have choices. You can go left and follow a gradual uphill along the side of the cliffs to another parking area. Then you can access Rim Rock trail info. If you go right (pretty amazing choice!) you will find a hollow cave with historical significance. Keep going and you can squeeze into a crack in the rock and discover a staircase bringing you to the top and a lookout area. The trail goes around and you can find your way back to the same trail along the pond to return.

Garden of the Gods area is also a short drive away.

Walk-in camping within sight of homes but along a great bike path

I'm betting that this was a beautiful place in its day. When we visited, it was an ok place to walk around but it could just be that it didn't start popping this early in the spring.

You definitely need to walk a bit from the parking lot. The sign says to follow the path but at the end of it (by the vault toilets) you need to go left. It's all a rolling, grassy area but it's divided up like formal gardens. There is even a bridge over a depressed grassy area - we are guessing that it could be a nice pond at times. If you walk around before getting to the tenting area, there are some nice offshoot areas with plenty of raised grills. The ground was bumpy and things look a bit tired but it is a nice respite.

The tent camping area is in a small peninsula that is surrounded by homes. You can see the backyards and houses. A small creek separates things and there are some small trees and vegetation providing a bit of privacy. In this early spring time I felt a bit on display in this area. The water was closed up - maybe due to covid? The vault toilets are in the middle of the other park area, just before the start of the tenting spots. There are no individual sites. It's all just open field (and a bit bumpy).

The best part of this is that it is right in town and it's also right on the I & M Canal bike path. The bike path is a great way to get from Chicago to Starved Rock while avoiding the roads. I can see that this would be a great night's stop on a cross state adventure.

So close to hiking but close to each other in the sites

This campground is a small loop with sites on both sides. You pass a public picnic area on the way in. This was packed when we went. The sites were a bit too close to each other for us. Our dog needs more vegetation to mask other camper distractions. The campground is beautiful though. The main draw for us was being able to walk to the Garden of the Gods trail. The views are refreshing. The rock formations are intriguing. The trail is only 1/4 mile or so but we spent quite some time mesmerized by the unique patterns and formations. Signs gave some education but our minds expanded more by imagining how they could have been formed. This is a popular place and we did come across plenty of dogs checking things out with their humans. The big draw for this campground has to be the closeness to the trails and views.

Backpacking camping along Indian Point Trail

Many different experiences available so decide what you are looking for. The parking lot is marked as backpacking parking. We headed down Indian Point Trail and within 50 yards or so we came upon the first site. An offshoot trail headed off to the right and ended at a nice campsite with a set fire circle. If you are looking for something close to the car this is perfect. We kept going and found others close by. If you can keep going further. About halfway around the loop trail we found some wonderful campsites. One was nicely tucked atop the cliff with a perfect view. A group of young campers grabbed the furthest site. It was also on the cliff but the trail went right thru it. A small trail headed in and ended in a nice clearing providing room to stretch out your group. The crowds at the Garden of the Gods main parking didn’t make their way onto this trail so traffic was light. This is a great option if you are willing to hike in.

Riverside rustic camping - check if open

We drove down to camp here and found this campground closed. We walked in past the locked gate to scout it out and there was a line of debris left behind from when the river was higher. 

There is a vault toilet and a simple loop setup to the campground. The road continues past camp to a marina where you can launch your boat into the river. We found a family camping in that lot and enjoying the area on their four wheelers.

We drove in through Shawnee national forest. The road went through some small towns with gas and food but not much else. Farms surround the area. We enjoyed the creative decorations - especially the bikes people used as sculptures.

This looks like a simple, no-frills camp right along the water line. It is wonderful to know that this is here if other campgrounds fill up but it is a bit of a drive from the main part of Shawnee. We had time to continue on to another campground (Camp Cadiz) which was another simple, rustic campground.

Dusty, rustic camping at the edge of Shawnee

This small, rustic camp is at the edge of Shawnee and only had a few campers staying multiple nights with us. Then the turkey hunting season came upon us and the sites filled.

We had site choices that ended up being along the gravel forest road that goes by camp. This put us away from other dogs but caused other issues. Every vehicle that went by generated dust which then coated everything in our camp. If you come here, we suggest taking the site that is furthest from the road (it's right next to the small forest road that heads off to the hiking trails. They had shade as well as sun and no dust. 

The sites are large but there isn't any foliage between them. Luckily the dogs were in camps further away from our dog so she was able to relax. The water pump got frequent use and the twin vault toilets were plenty for the campground. 

The hiking trails that headed out from the camp were wonderful. We even hiked down the forest road and found a hidden cemetery tucked away. The river to river trail heads out from camp too - we saw a group of backpackers leave their cars and head off for the night. Garden of the Gods area is a short drive away for more hiking options.

Choose your time wisely. Camp filled up with hunters who started generators at 3 in the morning to get ready to head out for turkey. Once we realized what was going on, we put our dog's bright shirt on. Everyone was wonderful and we had some interesting conversations. It was also morel mushroom time so some people were hunting for them.

Road and river side camping with no frills

We had the entire campground to ourselves on a cold weekend stay. There isn’t much area to explore- just the campground and the river shoreline within it. However we witnessed the most spectacular sunset over the river. It was well worth the night’s adventures. 

We stayed in the non-electric loop. A bunch of sites with divisions obscured by crunchy, fallen leaves. We had a picnic table and fire pit. A pit toilet and water pump are located at the building used to clean up your fishing/hunting catches. The electric sites are on the opposite side and have a couple sites that look more long term campers. The host is over there but we never saw them. Once it was dark half a dozen bright lights came on in the parking area between the two camping loops. It was close to us so our teardrop camper was well lit up inside. I covered the window to block some of the light but I would suggest camping further down away from the building and those lights. 

A main road runs right behind the campsites. They have a wood fence on the electric side but not on our side. It obscures some of the headlights. Sound died off pretty early even with a few locals pulling in to meet up with friends in the parking lot. We walked to the river and found a short trail. We stood out by the boat ramps for a nice view across the river. 

A sign shows a hiking route that you can drive to. We planned to hike it in the morning but unexpected events changed our minds. At 5 AM diesel pickup trucks pulling boats began to pull into the parking area. It was cold and dark so we stayed inside. Eventually we heard the boats heading out along with gun shots- some were nearby. We started packing up and in the process saw that they were hunting birds from the boats along the river. We chose to skip the hiking trail with the onset of hunting season. 

A 30 minute drive got us to the Hennepin Canal Trail and we hiked along it for a few miles before returning to our car and heading home. We did make one more stop at the Flour House Bakery in Princeton and highly recommend it. 

The spectacular sunset made this worth a weekend getaway but it doesn’t seem like a nice spot for an extended stay unless you plan to make more use of the river access.

First to Review
Beautiful, well cared for campground with small town charm

We stumbled upon this campground after spending a night camping in a parking lot along the Hennepin Canal. Another camper walked right over and said he loved it here. They were already going on 2 weeks at Francis Park. It's charm won us over quite quickly.

The campground is small and almost like an open field among tall trees. We drove along a road but part of it was driving on the grass. Sites are marked with electric but I'm not sure if it worked since we are solar. There are many picnic tables but most are piled up by the pavilion. We bring out own table and chairs so we didn't need to pull one over. We didn't see the host but the number is there to call if they have run out of papers by the office.

There is a playground and pavilion. Restrooms are there but closed up. There is a beautiful house that is made into a museum. It was closed due to covid but it looks intriguing. This is a nice, quiet campground tucked in among farmland.

Children would have fun running around the big grassy field but we drove on looking for a longer hiking trail. We found some nearby along with some nice small farm towns.

Low frills camping right on the canal

The first time I came through this area was on my bicycle as I rode from Chicago to the Mississippi and beyond. This time we drove here for a weekend getaway. We found ourselves alone - well except for the early morning fishermen. This canal corridor experience is a wonderful gift of history that you can explore under your own power.

There is a large open area for tent camping but no real space for rv's. We set up in the parking lot and nobody asked us to move. There is a camping area next to the parking and a smaller area across the canal. A pit toilet and water pump can be found. There were just a few picnic tables and campfire rings. It seems more suitable to a group or communal camping. However we found nobody else there. Having the entire space to ourselves was relaxing. The farm across the canal did get some visitors through the day and evening. Some walked away with bags of goods. The highway can be heard in the distance but the sound of water through the lock washes it away.

We hiked both directions along the canal. Imagine a flat trail with the canal on one side and farmland on the other. It would be hot in the middle of summer with a big sun but it was perfect on this cool day. We encountered nobody on the trail except for that farm dog we heard warning us to continue on our way.

I would highly recommend this if you are traveling through on your bike or need a quick, inexpensive stay for the night. There are some other campgrounds in the area that are more inviting if you are looking for a camping experience with more options.

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.