Monday, August 3, 2015

The challenge of urban camping

August 2, 2015--On our first trip up to Raleigh, N.C., to visit Rob and his family a few years ago, I searched everywhere for a campsite. I found one in state park only about five miles from his house. Beautiful location, right near a lake, in the woods. But camping in North Carolina was problematic: The park closed at dusk and rangers put a chain and lock at the entrance! In Florida, parks close at dusk, but campers are given a code to enter to get back in. In North Carolina, no such luck. You have to park the car outside of the gate and walk to your motorhome (in pitch black darkness). And that can be quite a hike. We did a work-around the first night we were there, by taking the motorhome to Rob’s house and parking it on a side street while we went to his birthday party.

The next time we went to Raleigh, I made another search for campgrounds, and this time I discovered we could camp at the State Fair Grounds. I think we had electricity; I can’t remember if we had water. It, too, was only a couple of miles from his house, and we could come and go as we pleased. The campgrounds were also policed, so we were secure. No amenities, but who cared? We were there to park our traveling hotel.

I learned from the Raleigh lesson to check local and county fairgrounds and parks for camping facilities. These are not usually listed on or in the Good Sam Camping Directory.

On our trip to Chicago, I did my research and kept coming up with few alternatives. We wanted to camp near my daughter in Palatine, Ill., (a suburb), and we also wanted an easy commute into Chicago where we could become tourists.

My daughter lives very close to a village park. I even called the parks department to find out if we could dry-camp there. We were told we could, if there were no events going on, but on reflection we decided that because the parking lot was on a busy street and would be unguarded, we did not want to leave our motorhome unattended there.

I finally found four options: 

       The truck staging area behind McCormick Place Convention Center. No electricity; no water; no sewer. Just a place to park for $35/night. That would be OK, except or two things: The neighborhood (especially at night) is not what I would call safe. And you have to walk about a mile to catch public transportation. We decided McCormick Place was not a good option.

        Fish Lake Beach Resort. This RV campground is located in Volo, about 45 miles from Chicago, accessible by Metra train. It cost $35/night for electricity and water, no sewer.

        Illinois Beach State Park. This park is located in Zion, way north of Chicago. Like Fish Lake, it is about 45 miles from Chi-town. It would be possible to catch the Metra. But both Fish Lake and Illinois Beach were quite distant from Jennifer’s house. I believe the cost was $25/night for non-residents.

        Burnidge Forest Preserve In Elgin, Ill. This was the best option. No sewer hookup, but it did have electricity and water (on some sites). And best of all, it was 30 minutes from Jennifer as well as from the L-station near O’Hare. The only problem: The forest preserve did not take reservations.

We decided to take a chance on getting a spot at the forest preserve in Elgin. I am glad we did. It was convenient and relatively inexpensive ($25/night for non-residents).

If you are traveling to the Chicago area, I recommend this campground. aware that the water has a very harsh iron taste ; there are no community showers, so you will have to take “Navy showers” in your RV, and you may need extra long hose for water hookup. (Not all sites have both electricity and water.) There are two dump stations.

Driving to Chicago can be a nightmare and an expense. (We did drive to the Museum of Science and Industry, because it is so far south. The cost to park was $22.) At my daughter’s suggestion, we drove to the Cumberland L-station and parked for $5/day. We bought an all-you-can-ride CTA pass (for the L and city buses) for $10 a day. (You can also get one for $20 for three days, as well as other longer-term options.)

Taking public transportation is an adventure, but CTA drivers/employees are very helpful in advising how to get around the city. The city also posts CTA routes on nearly every block, so it is not difficult to figure out the system.

Although I lived in Chicago for several years, I lived and worked in the fringes of the city. Both my workplace and my apartment were very suburban and were located on the far north side of the city. I rarely ventured into the city center, except when I had company who wanted to visit some of the attractions. Obviously, I am not a “big city” person. I prefer the calmness of the suburbs. But, every few years it is OK to fight the crowds.

We had a good time.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


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