Welcome to the Camping Helps page of our website. Looking for a good place to camp with your pack, troop or crew? Our Camping Chair John Brauer features a monthly place to camp. Feel free to contact him with ideas for other camps to feature!
September Camp: Trail Camp; I&M Canal
Hiking or biking along a trail allows for opportunities to practice the skills needed for backpacking or other high adventure, learning to travel lightly enough to carry, and to set up and break camp efficiently enough to be able to get to the next destination. Planning trail camps to practice these skills is easy to do locally; one needn’t wait for the chance to get to Southern Illinois, the Porcupine Mountains, or Philmont to practice.
As an example, the I&M Canal Trail runs alongside the old shipping canal, and has excellent trails along most of it. The trail runs just over 60 miles, from Rockdale to LaSalle, and has opportunities for camping along the trail. Beginning in the south end of Joliet, for this example, one can start hiking at the south end of Rock Run greenway, and hike westward to Channahon to camp at the state park, with other camps at Aux Sable and Gebhardt Woods. The trail is easy walking or biking, and long stretches of it travel the narrow space between the Illinois River and the Canal. There are places of historical interest along the way, as well as mile markers which have little signs noting trail related trivia along the way.
August Camp: Camp Reinberg, Palatine IL
Located in Palatine, in the midst of the oak woodlands of Deer Grove, Camp Reinberg is another Cook County forest preserve camp. In addition to small sites and cabins for patrol sized groups, the camp also has a larger youth group area, suitable for large troops. There are two nearby nature trails (Deer Grove East and West), as well as the nearby Crabtree Nature Center. The nature center is almost 1200 acres of woodland, wetlands an prairies, with several miles of self guided nature trails through varying habitats. The camp itself offers staffed programs, including campfires and daytime/evening programs for weekends throughout the summer. Reasonably close to our district, at approximately 45 minutes from the Morton Arboretum.
July Camp: Camp Dan Beard, Northbrook IL
A Boy Scout favorite on the north side for over 50 years, Camp Dan Beard has a couple of small cabins, a large group camping area, as well as various shelters and picnic areas. Small cabin for a patrol sized group on a cabin campout, or a group campsite for a larger troop (up to 60 people). Reasonably nearby (about 40-50 minutes from the Morton Arboretum).
Organized activities throughout the summer, including campfire programs on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as other evening and Saturday afternoon programs. Nearby access to the Cook County Forest Preserve’s River Trail, as well as the River Trail Nature Center nearby.
June Camp: Camp Bullfrog Lake
This Cook County Park district campground is located off Wolf Road in Willow Springs, and is in the midst of the hilly and large Palos Preserves. Camp Bullfrog Lake offers ample opportunity for hiking, biking, fishing, and canoeing, and they offer sufficient camp space for medium to small units (the group camp site accepts groups of up to 30 people for tent camping, and their large cabins hold 10 people each). It is very near Maple Lake as well as the Little Red Schoolhouse nature center.
May Camp: Eagle Creek
Near Findlay IL, Eagle Creek is a large state park with thousands of acres of woodland and water, including 250 miles of shoreline. There are three nature trails and access to the 11 mile Illini Trail. The site was a side effect of the creation of Lake Shelbyville by the Corps of Engineers and includes a wide range of water based activities as well.
April Camp: Marengo Ridge
In McHenry county, Marengo Ridge is over 800 acres of oak and hickory woodlands, situated on a ridge formed by the retreat of the glaciers. There are 5 miles of trails in the park, with nice views from the high points of the ridge as well as a small (1 acre) pond with largemouth bass and bluegills. Camping is booked through the McHenry County Conservation District, and the group camping area can hold units of up to 100 people, so it is good for large troops as well as small.
March Camp: Van Buren Dunes
Just outside of South Haven MI, this 400 acre park on the lake has a youth campground for two small units (or one large unit), and is a short hike to a very nice beach with great dunes. They have a mile of Lake Michigan beach, with substantial dunes and much smaller crowds than are seen at the better known dunes parks.
February Camp: Churchhill Woods
Part of the DuPage County Forest Preserve system, Churchill Woods in Glen Ellyn is rather small, but has a wide array of habitats, is very near, and has a youth campground, making it a good place for younger scouts, for recruiting events, or due to the wide range of natural habitats, for a campout in which the troop is focused on learning about local nature and environment. It includes oak and maple savannah, a well maintained natural prairie remnant, and the DuPage river runs through, offering good scenery of the river. Although there is only a short trail within the preserve, it connects with the Regional Trail, making hikes of any length easy to plan.
January Camp: Turkey Run Star Park (Indiana)
Indiana’s Turkey Run State Park and nearby Shades State Park are both spectacularly beautiful state parks in Indiana, full of deep sanction canyons, rugged trails and hemlock forests. The place is gorgeous, and Sugar Creek, which runs through the park, is a great place to canoe. The park does not offer canoes directly, but there are several livery services nearby, which will start from camp canoe the other direction. Sugar creek is not a very large stream, but is beautiful, with a lot of wildlife and very little of the “canoeing through backyards” sense one gets on some other reverse in the area.
December Camp: Upper Limits (Evergreen Lake)
Near Bloomington, there is a county park called Evergreen Lake at Comlara Park, which offers youth camp grounds on a large lake, formed by a dam to provide a water source for the city of Bloomington. Although the campground is nice, and the fishing is great, the main focus for most groups that camp here is the nearby Upper Limits climbing gym in Bloomington. It s a converted grain silo, which has climbing walls going up inside of the 65’ high silos, as well a cavern style room and when weather permits, ice climbing on the outside of the silo. The gym is scout friendly, and offers merit badge programs as well as open climbing options.
November Camp: Pratt's Wayne Woods
Pratt’s Wayne Woods in Wayne is a DuPage County Forest Preserve, with a reservable youth campground. There preserve has excellent fishing, plenty of natural interest, with excellent wetlands, which the Audubon Society designated as an important bird area, due to the habitat it provides for numerous species of wetland and grassland birds. Aside from the 12 miles of trails for hiking, skiing or snowshoeing within the preserve, the Prairie Path passes through as well, connecting to the massive trail network throughout northern Illinois… hike as far as you like!
October 2016 Camp: Any given Island
For mor of a “roll your own” campout, consider an island. For example, the Wisconsin River has numerous outfitters who will rent canoes for a down river trip, allowing a troop to canoe all day, pick an island for the night, and canoe further in the morning to a takeout point where the outfitter will pick you up. The canoes offer an opportunity to take a mobile camp trip, and the islands are sufficiently numerous that the scouts can experience the process of schooling a site, rather than finding the reservation number on a post, and they can have some flexibility to set their camp how they wish. The larger rivers offer navigational opportunities as well, learning to read the river maps to find correct channels and to figure out how far down stream they have travelled. Fishing is an opportunity as well, and seeing the river from the viewpoint of a traveller allows for a more interactive sense of “being part of it” than just camping on the banks.
September 2016 Camp: Camp Big Timber
One of our Council Properties, Camp Big Timber in Elgin is a very nice property, and is being improved as the Council increases it’s focus pos this property. It is close, and has numerous building rental options, as well as campsites, a river, and backwoods options for camping. Plans are still being developed for the property, but as updates become clarified, I will post more here. As it is, it is already a great option for year-round camping, as can be seen by the photo gallery here.
August 2016 Camp: Cantigny Park
The former estate of Tribune publisher Robert McCormick, Cantigny is a 500 acre park in Wheaton, making it a good close-to-home campout for newer scouts, with enough interesting perks to make it great for older scouts as well. For colder weather campouts, the indoor First Division museum offers a bit of indoor activity to warm up newer scouts who are not yet great at staying warm in the cold weather, though you will likely find them enjoying the opportunity to climb on the numerous army tanks scattered around the park.
July 2016 Camp of the Month - Camp Freeland Leslie (CFL)
The main camp for our own Three Fires Council is Camp Freeland Leslie near Oxford, Wisconsin. While many troops have developed traditions of going to other summer camps over the years, there are compelling reasons to take a look at CFL if you have not been there lately. The programming at CFL is very wide ranging and has been steadily growing and improving over the past several years under the leadership of the past couple of program directors. The full time, year round ranger has been able to make significant improvements to the property, with the addition of a new, state of the art shooting facility, new archery range (with sporting arrows), as well as water front additions of a fishing dock and an iceberg feature. The camp has added significant program options, with blacksmithing and welding in the “New Frontiers” area (tech and handicrafts), and the steadily improving staff uses detailed lesson plans for all merit badges, to ensure that scouts actually learn the material for the badges. The gaga pit is also very popular.
Although they have a patrol cooking approach at the camp, there are three camp-wide meals each week, allowing for the Scouts to get together and to hang out with staff for those three meals, as well as having the benefit of a week-long, ongoing exposure to patrol method to solidify the scouts’ ability to work together on camp tasks.
The older Scout program is bouncing back now as well, with very popular ATV programs, as well as COPE and climbing at nearby Devil’s Lake. Water front activities include kayaking, fishing, canoeing, small boat sailing and stand up paddle boards. The spring fed lake is very pristine, with a ~3 mile hiking trail around it. As our own council camp, the older scouts also have the option of having their OA tap out, Ordeal and Brotherhood experiences at summer camp.
The camp is also open for use during the rest of the year, with the Deicke building open as a cabin camp option in the winter, for those who want to visit the Dells (40 minutes away), ski at Cascade Mountain (30-40 minutes away) or cross country ski in the nearby moraines. There is also the option of reserving campsites for weekends throughout the year, by calling the Council office. There is a Webelos camp option in the summer (4 days and 3 nights), although not a Cub Scout camp (look to the much closer Adventure camp for that option).
June 2016 Camp of the Month - Eagle Cave
Eagle Cave is located in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, near Blue River. It is a large onyx cave, in which groups are allowed to sleep inside the cave. This is not a wild cave, with asphalt paths and electric lighting throughout the cave; it would require a serious effort to get to a spot where you cannot see light, and it is simply not possible to get lost in this cave. It is endless fun for scouts to explore though, with tunnels and cubby holes in which they can climb, crawl and get covered with clay and mud. The cave does not allow for cooking (due to air quality issue which would arise, and the facility includes a dining hall as well as a recreation room and activities to keep the scouts (other groups will be there as well) from getting bored, or to give them a chance to rest up a bit. The grounds include extensive hiking trails through the woods and hills of southern Wisconsin, and if you venture outside the cave, you will likely see many birds, deer and other wildlife. It is a great winter camp, as the cave is constantly in the low 70s, all year long. The scouts will be filthy by the end of the trip, so have them bring spare clothes for the ride home, and bring hefty bags in which the filthy stuff can be stored until it gets home. Cleaning clothes in the backyard with a hose is well advised, as you will find clay in the wash machine for months after if you do not. The cave tends to be wet, so you will need a means of protecting gear from dripping water (rock floors do not admit tent stakes well), and the groups who go there develop ingenious means of draping plastic over the gear (the above pictured method is lashings and conduit).
May 2016 Camp of the Month: Mississippi Palisades State Park
Mississippi Palisades is a state park on the Mississippi River near Savanna, in the northwest corner of the state. There are 15 miles of trails in the park, with the easier trails in the north end, and more strenuous in the south. The bluffs offer great views of the Mississippi and vantage points for seeing the eagles which often hunt around the area. Camping is three seasons, with the campground closed from the end of October until early May, and they have family campgrounds as well as two youth group sites. Fishing, canoeing and rock climbing are available in the area, and just across the river, the Maquoketa Caves State Park in Iowa offer excellent cave exploration (but call first, as they are sometimes closed due to concerns for the health of the bats).
April 2016 Camp of the Month: Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods is in far southern Illinois, in the Shawnee National Forest. About a 5 1/2 hour drive from the Morton Arboretum, This is an absolutely breathtaking place for backpacking, camping, hiking or nature study. It is in the east edge of the state, in Hardin County, and it features breathtaking views, with sandstone bluffs and cliffs falling over 100 feet into deep ravines and canyons, and has numerous, huge pillars and formations of sedimentary rock, pushed up from ancient seabeds and covered with oak and hickory forests. Pharaoh campground is a popular spot, and is open all year round. If you run out of things to explore at Garden of the Gods (incredibly unlikely in under a couple of weeks), there are numerous other hollows, falls and rivers in the ares to explore. Many troops use the trails in this area for Philmont preparation, as the trails are quite hilly and often pretty steep. For more information on other nearby places to see, camp, hike and explore, look for this book.
March 2016 Camp of the Month: Ranch-O-Ree
Our District has been doing a cooperative camp with Potawatomi Trails for several years now, called the Ranch-O-Ree. It is held in October most years, and is at the Adventure Camp in Rochelle (formerly known as the Ranch, hence the name of the outing). This is an excellent event, with competitions among units with camping skills as the focus, as well as other events in recent years, including pumpkin trebuchets (catapults), homemade water craft races (built from milk jugs), three man sling shots, and a great campfire on Saturday night. Fred Turek from our district, and Tim Ford from Trails have done an excellent job setting up and running this event for years, and it is well worth your unit’s time to come check it out. Typically (though no guarantee from year to year) there has been an option for packing in to a remote camp site as well as having the more common option of camping in a large mass of units, jamboree style. Units are welcome to invite Webelos as well if they wish to use this event as a recruiting event... a great way to begin teaching scouting skills to incoming scouts. This year the event is scheduled for October 14-16.
February Camp of the Month: The 2017 National Jamboree - Feb 2016
The 2017 National Jamboree will be the second Jamboree at the BSA’s new permanent home for it. Located at the Summit Scout Reserve in West Virginia, the Summit is the newest of the BSA’s high adventure camps, and the closest to our council. The activities at a Jamboree are nearly countless, with anything a scout might want to do being available. Although it is a National Jamboree, you can expect to encounter units from all over the world, as well as the nation, and learn about scouting programs of all kinds. The Jamboree is not available to individual units, so you will want to check out the Three Fires Council website to find information about how to sign up for one of the contingents that our counsel is sending. Although it is 2017, there is a lot or preparation that will happen, so start looking at the Jamboree now, before it fills up. Any adults who are interested can sign up as well, as there are many staff needs as well as leader needs for the Jamboree Troops that the Council is forming.
January Camp of the Month: Warren Dunes - Jan 2016
Located in Sawyer Michigan, Warren Dunes is a spectacular park, with enormous dunes and three miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan. The dunes rise 260 feet above the lake, with very impressive views from the top. While the 6 miles of hiking trails are very cool., the main attraction for the scouts generally is about climbing the dunes (and jumping back down them) or swimming in Lake Michigan. Be sure to review water safety in regard to undertows and rip currents before the trip, as Lake Michigan can be unpredictable at times.
December Camp of the Month: Waterfall Glen - Dec 2015
Waterfall Glen is a forest preserve in DuPage County, offering two youth campsites as well as ten miles of hiking trails and an excellent orienteering course. Being close, it is a great spot for camping for new scouts, campouts with special activities involved, or for Cub Scouts, as it allows easy access for extra parents to come out for the day to help out with the campout or activities. The orienteering course is great, and the Forest Preserve office can tell you how to access it (the maps and route descriptions) if you call them in advance. The terrain is quite varied and the scouts can experience and learn about a wide array of different ecosystems, rare plants and animals (including the white deer that roam the park).
November Camp of the Month - Nov 2015
Starved Rock State Park
Hiking through the canyons of Starved Rock State Park is like leaving Illinois. A very different terrain from anything in the area, with canyons, forests, and the Illinois River through the heart of it. Excellent opportunity to see and explore mature forests and to learn about about the local history at the Visitor Center. Eagles nest here in the winter and there are other excellent hiking options nearby at Mathiessen State Park as well. The youth camp area is a large grassy field that can fit any size troop with ease. Hiking trails are abundant, and Mathiessen State Park is just up the road for even more liking options.
Camp of the Month - Oct 2015
Pick A Pilgrimage
April is the month. I know it is a ways off still, but in the interest of planning ahead, there are a couple of interesting options for the end of April each year. Unfortunately on the same weekend, there is Grant’s Pilgrimage in Galena IL, and the Lincoln Pilgrimage in Springfield. These are both very large events, with numerous troops and plenty of activities planned. Each has historical components to them and each is an opportunity for your Scouts to meet and interact with other Scouts from around the Midwest. You do have to plan ahead a bit, but either activity is worth the trip.
Camp of the Month - Sept 2015
Von Oven Scout Reservation
As local as a camp can get, this one is in the heart of Naperville, across the road from Linden Oaks Hospital, and just north of the Naperville Sportsmen’s Club. The camp is approximately 10 acres, and provides the usable area and environment of a much larger camp due to it's site plan, buffering vegetation, and (to varying extents) buffering properties on three of its borders.
The western ("back") half of the camp is heavily wooded. The eastern ("front") half of the camp consists mostly of mowed grass with trees overhead, a nice mixture of shady and sunny areas, offering the choice of camping in a big field or off in the woods.
There is running water, a spigot at one location which is municipal water. There are five individual bathrooms with separate entrances under one roof, newly rebuilt, lit, not with water, and with handicap accessibility.
Other program related facilities include a cabin (approx. 25' x 30' inside space with countertops, a refrigerator and a fireplace) the pavilion which is an approx. 20' x 20' shelter with open sides, and the campfire bowl with stadium type seating. Besides the program areas, there are about 9 "troop sized" campsites in the camp. Larger events use them according to their event plans. Usage of the camp by individual units is generally limited to 2-3 compatible units, and so there are plenty of sites and space.
Camp of the Month - Aug 2015
Wolf Creek State Park
On Lake Shelbyville, this is a very nice campground that rarely fills up. More than 11,000 acres of water with 250 miles of shoreline. Equestrian and snowmobile trails in addition to the hiking trails. Day use areas include a beach with changing house, there are hiking areas and places for canoeing, fishing, hiking and other activities on grounds and in the nearby Fish and Wildlife area. Central Illinois, near Champaign and Effingham, about 200 miles from the Morton Arboretum.
Camp of the Month - June 2015
Shabbona Lake State Park
A unique mix of grass-covered meadows, upland mesic woods, bottomland woods, and a native, undisturbed fen make this an ideal location for natural relaxation and outdoor activity. You can see loads of wetland plants and areas of prairie restoration throughout the park. They have a big fishing lake stocked with large and smallmouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, rock bass, black and white crappie, black and brown bullhead, channel catfish, walleye, muskie and perch. There are 5 miles of hiking trails through the park, including the 4 mile Arrowhead Trail through a mix of woodlands and fields. In addition, Shabbona Lake contains a 15-acre seasonal nesting area for migratory waterfowl such as canvasback, redhead and pintail ducks and Canada geese. 47 miles from the Morton Arboretum
Camp of the Month - May 2015
Rock Cut State Park
In Love’s Park, just outside of Rockford, this is a very large park with a wide variety of activities. Two sizable lakes, over 300 acres of park, and about 40 miles of hiking trails make this a good park for all seasons. They groom the trails for cross country skiing (when there is snow), and the lakes are good for fishing a variety of species. Plenty of variety in the habitats make for good bird watching, tracking, hiking, plant and animal identification, orienteering and most anything else a troop might want to do. They have ample space for you groups along side the lake.