The Run Down

This guide has you going deep inside a forest preserve where you'll camp along the shores of a small lake, do a bit of hiking, and hang by a campfire. With it being about 30 minutes from downtown Chicago, it's just about everything you need for a an easy weekend nature getaway.  

1. Tent Camping @ Camp Bullfrog Lake

2. Hiking @ Palos Trail System

1. Camp Bullfrog Lake

We’re setting up at Camp Bullfrog Lake, which is about 30 minute drive southwest of downtown Chicago. It’s located inside the Palos Preserves, and at 15,000 acres, it’s the largest concentration of preserved land managed by Cook County.

The transition from city to nature is fast. One moment you’re on the highway with the skyline as your backdrop, and the next moment you’re driving through winding forested roads like you’re in a car commercial. Here’s the view of the campground from a distance.

Here are some other tips as you plan your trip.

–  For tent campers, there are 31 sites setup across the park. 26 of those sites are equipped with electric outlets for a full on glamping experience.

– Here’s a map of the grounds to get a better sense of which sites have what.

– From Thursday – Saturday, it costs $52/night to tent camp at a site with electric outlets. It’s $37/night for non-electric sites.

– Call ahead or book a reservation online in advance to make sure you have a spot. Contact and other details here.

They also have other lodging options including small cabins and large bunkhouses if that’s the experience you’re looking for. This is one of their small cabins that fits 6 people. There is no heating or A/C in those.

There are larger bunkhouses that fit 10 people and have heat and A/C.

In terms of camping difficultly levels, this is as easygoing as it gets. There are restrooms, clean showers, the grounds are well maintained, and this paved sidewalk that will lead you to the hiking trail we’ll be going to next.

2. Palos Trail System

One of the best things Camp Bullfrog Lake has going for it that it’s connected to the Palos Trail System. Sitting in our tent, you can see the trailhead at the top of this hill on the other side of the lake.

Unlike most forest preserves near Chicago, which are pretty flat, the the Palos Trail system has actual hills and ravines.

Also, if you’ve got a mountain bike, pack it with you. This is the only trail system within any of the forest preserves that have designated single track trails. We spotted way more bikers than hikers on our trip.

This is the trailhead that will get you started on the 42 miles of trails that are part of the Palos Trail System.

Part of the hike features these long and wide trails that cut deep into the forest. The massive trees on either side make it feel like you’re going through a tunnel. There’s 42 miles of this and a lot more that we haven’t covered.