Pitch your tent this season

Local forest preserves have everything needed for a fun camping excursion

The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of ... the western suburbs!

With apologies to Texans, there's a pretty good sky show on clear nights around here for those willing to spend the night out of doors. With school winding down and the weather warming up, it's time to start gearing up for camping season. The low-cost, hands-on experience is easily accessible close to home with facilities through both the DuPage County and Cook County forest preserve districts.

The Blackwell Forest Preserve on Butterfield Road just west of Winfield Road in Warrenville is open to campers on weekends through Sept. 25. Campsites have electricity and can accommodate visitors with tents, trailers and motor homes. Each has a gravel parking pad, fire ring and picnic table and can hold up to eight people, two tents, and one vehicle. The campground has restrooms, showers and hand water pumps. It also has a water-fill station and a dump station for RVs. Firewood is $7 per bundle; outside firewood is not allowed.

While there enjoy hiking on land shaped by the retreating Wisconsin Glacier 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. After the glacier's retreat, savannas with widely spaced oak trees formed on the higher ground while the lower-lying ground became home to marsh and prairie plants. At Blackwell's McKee Marsh, the 13,000-year-old skeleton of a woolly mammoth - one of the oldest finds of its kind in northeastern Illinois - was discovered in 1977.

The district converted a quarry on the south side of the preserve into Silver Lake, a multi-use area with a variety of recreational activities. Mount Hoy was created as a county landfill from 1965-73, providing valuable knowledge about managing solid waste and today offering scenic vistas and a popular birding site.

"Our Blackwell family campground is a great way to treat your family to a fun camping adventure, connect to nature and enjoy a weekend getaway without leaving DuPage County. Blackwell is one of our most popular and beautiful forest preserves. There are plenty of fun things to do there, including fishing, archery, hiking, biking, boating and paddleboarding," forest district spokeswoman Deb Humiston said.

Visit https://www.dupageforest.org to purchase a camping permit for $20 for DuPage residents ($30 for nonresidents) online up to a year in advance. Reservations must be made at least three full business days before the desired date. For additional nights around Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day, call Visitor Services at (630) 933-7248.

Camping in Cook County

Across the county line, Camp Bullfrog Lake, 9600 Wolf Road in Willow Springs, offers year-round camping right on the water, where visitors can drop a fishing line or rent a kayak for some aquatic fun. The camp lies in the heart of the vast, hilly Palos Preserves, the perfect environment for hiking, mountain biking and birdwatching adventures.

Camp Bullfrog Lake has tent sites and RV/tent sites with electricity as well as large and small cabins for those who like a bit more comfort in their camping. Tent sites are 10 feet by 10 feet with a mulched tent pad and timber edge, and also come with a picnic table and a fire ring with grate. Accessible sites are also available. A bathroom/shower building houses a changing area with a bench.

Nightly campsite rates from Thursday night through Saturday night are $37 for Cook County residents, $47 for nonresidents. The rates are $32/$42 for Sunday night through Wednesday night.

Campers at all Cook County campgrounds can rent basic gear packages, ranging from $70 per night for one camper to $177 for four camper. The package includes a tent, a flashlight, chair(s), binoculars and sleeping bag(s) and pillow(s). All rentals must be reserved prior to arrival at campground.

To make a reservation or for more information, visit https://www.fpdcc.com, call (313) 636-9785 or send an email to [email protected].

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean