Starved Rock State Park is a popular spot for campers and anglers, and it’s no surprise why. The Illinois River has some of the best fishing opportunities and the park’s beautiful setting and proximity to Chicago make it an attractive destination for daytrippers—or a quick weekend away. In recent years, however, Starved Rock’s visitor numbers have surged. When the park reaches capacity, traffic can back up for miles, leaving adventure-seekers stuck in their cars instead of casting a line or taking in the scenery. Read on for equally dazzling places to enjoy nature without getting stuck in gridlock traffic.
Lowden State Park
Located just 90 minutes from Chicago, Lowden State Park has 80 campsites with access to electricity and a shower building. There are another 46 primitive campsites, for a more rustic experience, in a separate campground. This park sits right on the Rock River, which has an average depth of about 3 feet at the height of summer. Rent a canoe or kayak from local outfitter White Pelican if you don't own your own boat, but there are docks located along the riverbank where the public can cast a line. Check out the dock by Margaret Fuller Island for a great view.
The Hennepin Canal is an ideal spot for families willing to trade amenities for solitude. The Hennepin Canal includes nine campgrounds, 150 miles of trails and some of the most abundant stocks of fish you’ll find in Illinois. All campsites are first-come-first-served, have no showers or running water, but toilets are available at each campground. Fishing on the canal is allowed 24 hours a day and trawlers should have no trouble pulling out bass, catfish, walleye, crappie and bluegill. Visitors who prefer to cast a line from their boat will find 29 miles of portage-free canoeing along the feeder canal from Rock Falls.
Spring Lake Park
Spring Lake Park outside Macomb has an impeccably maintained campground, with great amenities, and 6 miles of shoreline to cast from. Spring Lake is stocked with blue catfish, muskellunge, bass, bluegill and crappie. Campers have 102 campsites to choose from, with space for either tents, RVs, or cabins. An on-site bait shop rents pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, paddleboats, and fishing poles. Within the park itself, there are over 12 miles of biking and hiking trails, so you’ll have plenty to do if the fish just aren’t biting.
Chain o’ Lakes State Park
Located about 60 miles north of Chicago, Chain o' Lakes State Park is great for families looking for a variety of activities. Camping is abundant, with 151 sites and three cabins. A concession stand rents boats and sells bait. Anglers will find bluegill, bass, walleye, crappie, muskie, northern pike, bullhead, and catfish. This park lives up to its name, with three lakes and the Fox River within the park itself. That means the shorelines get marshy and most fishing is done from either on a boat or designated fishing piers. Other activities at Chain o’ Lakes include hose rentals, hunting, and over 10 miles of hiking trails. There is even an accessible picnic area with a quarter-mile hiking trail, that will accommodate anyone with mobility concerns.
Nauvoo State Park
Nauvoo State Park is a stunning and peaceful place. This park is small, just 148 acres on the banks of the Mississippi River. It includes a 13-acre lake with one mile of shoreline, stocked with bass, catfish and bluegill. There are no boat docks or rentals, so be prepared to cast from the shoreline or use the primitive boat launch. Campers will find 105 camping spaces, a few short hiking paths and a playground area. Visit the in-park museum to learn about the town’s history as a stop for French explorers and as a settlement for early Mormons.
— Lindsay Welbers
Lindsay Welbers is the author of “Chicago Transit Hikes: A guide to getting out in nature without a car.” She lives on the Northwest side of Chicago and writes the ultralight camping blog “Third Coast Hikes” which encourages Chicagoans to explore their backyards, especially the corners they may not have considered before.
Featured photo: visionpic.net via Pexels