Riding your bike to over 4 Illinois State Parks from Chicago
Looking to ride your bicycle from Chicago to a campground or hotel for a weekend? You have plenty of options. There are over 4 state parks within bicycling distance from downtown Chicago! And it's safe and easy. Plus there is always an option to take the train back if need be! Check out our Chicago bicycle camping guide to help you find your path.
If you're wondering what kind of bike you need, the different types of setups, and what you need to bring or if it's your first time, check out the helpful article links at the end of this guide to help you get started. Enjoy.
1. Illinois Beach State Park- Bike camping Chicago
Welcome to a unique coastal environment on Chicagoland's north eastern edge: Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park.
More than 650 species of plants have been recorded in this area alone, including dozens of types of unique wildflowers and rare species making Illinois Beach State Park a biological hotspot. Prickly pear cactus thrives in large colonies in the dry areas, and the wet prairies are carpeted with a wide variety of grasses and sedges. Large expanses of marsh in the swales support dense stands of cattail, grasses, big bluestem and sedges. Experience what downtown Chicago looked like 200 years ago when you visit the mouth of the Dead River.
Perhaps it would surprise you to know that Illinois Beach State Park lies on some of the youngest land in Illinois. The 4,160 acres of park land did not exist 4,000 years ago. Even as recently as 500 years ago, when Columbus arrived in America, much of the southern section still had yet to form.
Learn more at website here: Illinois Beach State Park
Bike Tent Camping: http://www.reserveamerica.com/
Plush Hotel on the Beach: http://ilresorts.com/
You can ride your bike directly there or you can hop on the Metra train and get off at the Zion train stop right outside the State Park. But we highly recommend traveling there completely by bike. Why? Because there are great things to see along the way! Plus you have an option to take a different path back to Chicago, that way you don't see the same scenery twice.
First, take the Lakefront Trail from Chicago, then link up with the Sheridan Road bike lane where you'll see large architectural masterpieces, eventually leading you into the historic backside of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. Here you'll witness Illinois's very own natural lake bluffs! Right outside the Fort Sheridan gates is the Green Bay Trail/RobertMclory Path. This straight shot north will get you to the state park. Make sure to turn onto Salem/Shiloh Road from the bike path. There is traditional camping as well as a hotel on the beach. By staying at the hotel, you can travel light with just your bike, a water bottle, small gear bag, and credit card; or get your adventure on with an inexpensive camp site while on your loaded bike. The choice is yours.
Ridership Level: Easy to Moderate | Pace: 12mph | Travel time: 5 hours | Mileage: 52
2. Chain-O-Lakes State Park- Bike camping Chicago
photos by Dahai Z
Located in the heart of Illinois' largest concentration of natural lakes is the Chain O'Lakes State Park. The park borders three natural lakes - Grass, Marie and Nippersink - and the Fox River connects the other seven lakes (Bluff, Fox, Pistakee, Channel, Petite, Catherine and Redhead) that make up the Chain. In addition, the park contains a 44-acre lake within its boundaries. It has nearly 6,500 acres of water and 488 miles of shoreline. Get some grand views as you ride from the gate to your site.
Visit their website here: Chain-O-Lakes State Park
You have two different route options travelling north from Chicago, both starting on the Lakefront Trail. For the Nature's Path route from the lakefront trail, take the Lawrence Avenue bike lane to the Elston Avenue bike lane where you'll enter the North Branch Bike Trail. For the Sheridan Hills route, ride the lakefront path until it ends. Then, follow the bike signs and zoom in on the map for street names and bike paths to get you to the Sheridan Road bike lane. Use the google map below to identify all the trails and directions for this route. Helpful tip: you can disable the blue route layover by un-checking it in the map layers, to help you read the street names and bike paths.
There are train stations along the entire loop, so if your legs get tired or you are running behind schedule, you can always hop on the train with your bike and make it back home. Click on the train station map layer to reveal all the available stations along the route.
Ridership Level: moderate-advanced | Pace: 12mph | Travel time: 7 hours | Mileage: 80
3. Indiana Dunes State Park- Bike camping Chicago
Large sand dunes, located beyond the entire shoreline, have taken thousands of years to form, and tower nearly 200 feet above Lake Michigan. Indiana Dunes consists of 2,182 acres of primitive, beautiful, historic and unique Hoosier landscape.
photos by Tom Gill
Indiana Dunes State Park (reservations accepted)
Indiana Dunes National Lake shore (Only walk ups. Can not reserve spots)
Spring House Inn
You can do it all by bike or do one day by train.
On a Bike:
Starting from Buckingham fountain there are two main routes you can choose from. The safest route is almost entirely on bicycle paths and provides for an enjoyably relaxed ride. It adds 10 more miles to the trip but offers a safe, off the road route.
The advanced route is more direct but it does contain sections that are on the road (U.S. Route 12). Therefore cyclists taking the advanced route should already have knowledge of, and be comfortable with, on the road riding. Sections are truly daring, and the road narrows to no shoulder at all within 3 miles of the state park. Cyclists not familiar with the area are recommended to take the more relaxed bike trail path.
On a Train:
Hop on/off with your bike at the Dune Park train station located at the front entrance of the state park.
*Bringing your bike on the South Shore Train Line Finally Begins!!!
*Pilot Starts on April 2nd 2016 ends October 30th 2016 and ONLY On WEEKENDS.
*Only select trains, times and stations will allow bikes.
**Click here for Full South Shore Train Bike Schedule Brochure**
Ridership Level: Easy to Moderate | Pace 12 mph | Travel time: 5 hours | Mileage 55
*Alternate Route Option- Ridership Level: Advanced (on tight-road) | Pace: 12mph | Travel time: 4 hours | Mileage: 45
One of the most beloved hidden jewels near Chicagoland is Starved Rock State Park. It is one of Illinois'most beautiful destinations. The park's 18 canyons feature vertical walls of moss-covered stone and multiple waterfalls, formed by glacial melt water that slice dramatically through tree-covered sandstone bluffs located along the Illinois River bluffs in Utica, La Salle County.
The State Park Lodge features live music, full bar, cafe, swimming pool, sauna and a main dining room for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The visitor center provides great exhibits explaining the Native American history of the area, local wildlife that makes Northern Illinois unique, and the story of the massive geological event that created this region.
While out on a hike, catch sight of a bald eagle or two and discover the waterfalls and canyons.
State Park Lodge and Cabins: http://www.starvedrocklodge.com/
1st option- Go half way by Metra out of LaSalle Street Station towards Joliet. Then, travel by bike along the Illinois River. This option provides 4 hours of bike time with 50 miles of paved bike paths. And yes, you can bring your bike on the train. The closest Metra stop near the State Park is the Joliet Station.
2nd option- Travel the full length by bike from Chicago, and you'll earn the right of being called a full on bike adventurer. This is a great route if you want to get into long distance, multi-day bicycle touring and bike camping. Plus, you'll witness the geo-engineering marvel that changed the course of the Chicago River.
Ridership Level: Advanced | Pace: 12mph | Time: 8 hours | Mileage 100
Half By Train- Ridership Level: easy-moderate | Pace: 12mph | Time 4 hours 50min. | Mileage 60 miles
5. Beyond Chicagoland
We would love to hear about favorite spots and stories. Submit your bicycle camping story to us to have it featured site. We always like hearing from other cyclists doing weekend bike overnights in and near Chicago. Have fun biking. #BikeTheBlueBasin
The only way to get lost is within your own sense of wonderment-
To learn more about weekend bike adventures in the chicagoland area please visit
Other helpful articles to you get started on your weekend bike overnight adventure
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