This summer, my camping buddy Cyndi and I decided we wanted to do a “tour” of campgrounds in northern Illinois, near our homes. We have limited resources and time, so I needed to choose the right spots for us.
Admittedly, my first choice wound up being a great place to go back to, but only in the fall. We happened to make it there the hottest weekend of the year and wound up miserable and exhausted, restless and overwhelmed.
After that fiasco, I knew we needed to do a deeper dive into finding the perfect place. I now report back on my successes with this little breakdown of what we did to find the best spots for our later adventures this summer. Hopefully, they’ll help you!
The Right Distance From Home
In the past, I’ve always gone far-flung and exotic, but we only had weekends this summer for our camping adventures – so I needed to make sure that the grounds we chose would be within a close enough distance to be worth it.
If you do a Google search for “state parks in [insert your region of the state], you’ll probably get way more results than you want or need. You can take the route I did and click on one – anyone – and use the website’s search option for other campgrounds in the area. It will take quite a bit longer, though, than scrolling through and looking at the addresses of the grounds.
I reduced the search by going to Google maps and putting in a specific distance from home. I knew that anything within about 50 miles would be suitable – less than 2 hours – so that’s what I did. There were still more campgrounds than I could choose from, so I moved onto the next phase of my search: the right amenities.
The Right Amenities
Growing up, every time we went camping, my family chose campsites with both electric and water pumps at the site. As an adult, before I started looking myself into sites – and after asking a lot of questions of a poor park ranger – I automatically assumed they had these unless marked “primitive.” As it turns out, that’s more of a Florida camping thing than an Illinois. We have yet to find a campsite nearby and offered both electricity and water.
So, before you select the campsite you want, be sure to check the amenities at the individual sites, not just the campgrounds. You can determine what will be available by their classification.
- Class A: Showers, toilets, vehicular access, electricity, picnic tables, fire rings
- Class AA: Everything Class A has, plus sewage hookups – no water hookups
- Class AAA: Everything Class A and AA provide, plus water hookups and possibly more powerful electricity hookups
- Class B: Vehicular access and electrical hookups and toilets (can be non-flush) – may not have showers and sinks
- Class C: No showers or electricity, but usually a gravel pad for parking
- Class D: Water and toilets within walking distance – vehicular access may or may not be included
The Right Activities
Because I’m a runner and hiker and my camping buddy isn’t, I knew we needed a combination of activities available to be used that we both could enjoy – together or independently. I asked Cyndi what she’d like to do while I was out hiking, then compiled a list of our interests and looked for:
- Kayaking or canoeing rentals
- Hiking/running trails
- Beach access
- A commissary
- Horseback riding (horse provided)
When I found the campground with all the required activities, I moved onto the next stage: the right spot.
The Right Spot at the Campgrounds
At our second campsite this season, we drove in along a long row of sites out toward the beach. As we approached our spot for the weekend, we saw how much shade versus sun we saw on the two sides of the road. “Of course,” I noted as we pulled into a fully sunny spot. It was hot and humid, so, like our previous campsite, we’d gotten the one without enough shade.
The site was, however, conveniently located near the shower house. Not too close (so we couldn’t smell it), but close enough we could walk there even in an emergency. And, as it turned out, within a couple of hours, our campsite turned into the perfect spot – as we had predicted from the website when we chose it.
Most websites provided images for each campsite or maps that indicate treeline, the shadiness of a given site, etc. After ignoring these for our first site, I 100% recommend using these as you choose your own. You might wind up as we did in an unbearably, completely sunny spot during the hottest weekend of the year. And trust me, heat exhaustion isn’t fun.
The Perfect Camping Spot is Absolutely All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Ultimately, the other campgrounds we visited wound up being perfect for us. The right amount of shade during the day (and yes, we made notes for return visits next year!), easy beach access, hiking trails, electricity to power our fans overnight, and nearby showers made for the perfect relaxing camping weekend for these tired city gals.