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Backpacking w/in 150 miles of Chicago?
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James Davis
(jd555) - MLife

Locale: Chicago
Backpacking w/in 150 miles of Chicago? on 11/25/2012 17:11:55 MST Print View

I am organizing a crew to do the Manistee Quest trip, a five-day four-night backpacking trip through a portion of the Manistee National Forest in western Michigan -- it's a program organized through Camp Owassipe, the Chicago Area Council's scout camp. I am using the Backpacking merit badge requirements to structure the preparation for the quest.

The BP merit badge calls for three 15-mile, 3-day, 2-campsite trips (in addition to the 30 miler, which the Quest trip will satisfy). Does anyone have any suggestions for places to go within a reasonable distance from Chicago? Say, 150 miles?

I'm already scheduled to do something in the Kettle Moraine State Park, on the Ice Age Trail, which is in southern Wisconsin, about 100 miles away.

I would like to find something else good for backpacking that would satisfy the merit badge requirement for the shorter hikes.

Any ideas will be much appreciated.


Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Not sure how far... on 11/25/2012 18:51:35 MST Print View

But as I recall there is a national forest or two in southern Illinois. Might be some trail down there?

(I was going to suggest Kettle Moraine, but you've already got that!)

James Davis
(jd555) - MLife

Locale: Chicago
Re: Not sure how far... on 11/26/2012 08:48:35 MST Print View

Thanks - yes that's a good suggestion -- I know of the River-to-River trail through the Shawnee National Forest, south of Carbondale. It's a bit far from Chicago -- about a six hour drive. Something closer would be better.


Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Backpacking w/in 150 miles of Chicago? on 12/06/2012 15:21:48 MST Print View

For that distance you'll be pretty much limited to state and national forest land. I'd guess Deam Wilderness just SE of Bloomington, IN, would be 5 hours. My map may be of some use in looking up various areas. I know the 4 south of Chicago near I-74 wouldn't be suitable. Sand Ridge SF is the next closest it appears.

Edited by topshot on 12/06/2012 15:22:26 MST.

James Davis
(jd555) - MLife

Locale: Chicago
Re: Backpacking w/in 150 miles of Chicago? on 12/07/2012 13:30:04 MST Print View

Thanks much!


Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Not much in 150 miles... on 12/09/2012 08:01:33 MST Print View

I have pretty much done just about every 15+ mile trail near Chicago in my 20ish years of backpacking...and frankly there's just not that much that close. The Manistee River Trail and NCT loop is great, but that's about 250 miles away. Charles Deam in southern indiana has a lot of great trails but again, about 200 or so away. You can do an easy 10-mile loop in Morgan Monroe state forest (near Martinsville) called the low gap trail, and that actually meets up with the longer Tecumseh trail...also a nice option.

Obviously you have the kettle moraine parks near Milwaukee, yellow river in IA, and the Jordan River Pathway in N Michigan (I've actually seen many scout troops there...) but you are still looking at 5-6 hour drives for everything. Shawnee in southern IL is closer to 8-9 hours, and for that distance you can get to Red River Gorge, KY or the Porkies in the UP.

Trust me, I soooo wish we had better trails closer...and one of these days the sierras will call my name a little too loudly and away ill go.....

James Davis
(jd555) - MLife

Locale: Chicago
Backpacking w/in 150 miles of Chicago? on 12/09/2012 09:05:46 MST Print View

These are great suggestions (if not exactly what I wanted to hear). Thanks much for the reply.


Cory Whitesell
(Coryw) - F

Locale: Midwest
Another option on 12/10/2012 17:58:36 MST Print View

Shades SP near Crawfordsville, IN would work. They have a backpacking campground and a scout campground both- so you could turn it into 2 nights. If you do the loop in neighboring nature preserve (nice) and the connector trail - you could easily get 15 miles. It is 169 miles from downtown Chicago. Lots of scouts use this park.

James Davis
(jd555) - MLife

Locale: Chicago
Re: Another option on 12/10/2012 18:06:39 MST Print View

Hey that's a great idea. I'll check the Crawfordsville option out.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Shades on 12/10/2012 19:43:45 MST Print View

That was one of the 4 I thought would be unsuitable for 2 reasons. If you did EVERY trail in the park, which now includes the Pine Hills Nature Preserve, you'd barely get 15 miles and there would be a fair bit of overlap as most trails are neighboring loops. The second is there's only one backpack camp (with 7 sites for 2 tents each). Your second camp would need to be in the group campground. Not to say you can't do that, just not as nice a BP experience for the boys (though that depends largely on their mindset).

The BP camp is a good place to intro people because there's potable water and pit toilet (same with group camp) and it's just 2.5 miles out and the same back. Took my wife there for our 17th ann (we were married at Shades). You can see the video of that trip if you check my profile.

Highly recommend you visit Shades at some point, especially trails 1, 4, 5 & 8 and the Preserve (10 gets you there) - just don't know how well it will meet your need. Since it's over 3 days, it should work. The BP camp gives you 5 miles, trail 10 and Preserve trail give you another 5 miles so that leaves you to do a combination of the others to make 5 more miles.

James Brady
(superpenguino) - M
Re: Backpacking w/in 150 miles of Chicago? on 01/26/2013 14:35:13 MST Print View

I can't believe anyone hasn't posted this yet. Check out Starved Rock State Park.

It's not huge (there are only about 13 miles of marked trails), but you get what IMO is some of the most varied and scenic terrain in Northern Illinois. Canyons, waterfalls, and fantastic views of the Illinois river make it seem a lot further away than it is.

My troop did training hikes there for nearly every backpacking trip we went on.

Best of all, according to Google maps, its just under two hours from the city.

Edited by superpenguino on 01/26/2013 14:36:46 MST.

Charles Hutchins
Backpacking close to Chicago on 05/25/2013 15:34:28 MDT Print View

Just for those still interested. Next week our Troop is hiking on the Des Plaines Trail. We have options to camp at Van Patten Woods or at Camp Oakarro, owned by the BSA (NEIC), around a mile away from the trail. You can start hiking anywhere along the trail and camp at either place.

James Davis
(jd555) - MLife

Locale: Chicago
That's a great idea on 05/25/2013 15:48:18 MDT Print View

That's a great idea! We;ve done a couple of camporees at Oakarro, and really liked it. I never thought of the Des Plaines River Trail. I will check it out. Thanks!


Dan Yeruski
(zelph) - MLife

Re: Backpacking close to Chicago on 09/05/2013 19:44:57 MDT Print View

Get out this fall and hike the Illinois and Michigan Canal


Backpack carry-in is allowed at designated sites along the trail. Tent and youth group camping also is available at Channahon and Gebhard Woods. Open fires are permitted in campstoves and fire pits provided at the sites. Permits must be obtained from the park offices prior to camping.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Backpacking w/in 150 miles of Chicago? on 09/05/2013 19:55:16 MDT Print View

I put together a nice hike out near Naperville a couple months ago. Had to walk through suburban areas to go from preserve to preserve. I suspect camping isn't allowed, but I didn't ask. When stealthing through cities I put on my Cuben poncho when some official looking person engages me. The poncho kinda looks like a trash bag, so they avoid me. Probably not recommended for Boy Scouts.