Northern IL canoe/camp suggestions??

-- Last Updated: Jul-30-10 2:16 PM EST --

Hey there,
I'm new to this forum and canoe camping in general. What I'm looking for is a place to take my wife and son on a 3-4 day easy flatwater camping trip. We're experienced campers and fairly new paddlers (so lazy flatwater/class 1 is better, we don't mind paddling). We'd rather it be a few days though, not just 1 or 2.

I have the equipment but I'm finding it hard to find a place within a 4-5 hour radius from the Chicago area for such a trip. After talking it over with the looks like a chain o' lakes type situation would be preferable. A lake with islands, or a nearby river would be great, providing there's a nearby shuttle/livery service. Breaking camp every morning is not as desirable as setting up a base camp and doing day trips in the canoes.

Sorry for the long post.....just wanted to get all the background info out there. So what say you, folks?

I grew up near Chicago but have only
returned to run the “big” and Middle Fork Vermillions, which probably don’t meet your criteria.

Is the Iowa River in NE Iowa too far? Check out this link:

They’ve had a lot of water this summer, and probably the Iowa River will remain runnable. Note that there are outfitters and developed campgrounds, or you can find gravel bars to suit you.

This is on the Places to Paddle part of the Go Paddling key on the top of pnet pages. If you haven’t used that feature, check it out.

Also check out southern Wisconsin and northern Indiana. Sugar Creek in Indiana is not out of your reach, and there is outfitter support.

I looked into the Vermillion
Vermillion seemed like a good option but from what I’ve read (and looking at the USGS gauge) the Middle Fork is probably better in the spring or early summer. I thought about the Kikapoo Rec area (right next door) but I don’t really know anything about it. It might be a little less “wilderness” than I was looking for.

The other day, somebody mentioned the Sylvania Wilderness Area in Michigan’s UP. That sounded perfect, and from what I’ve researched it seems more like what I was thinking of(a base camp, with an option to paddle a variety of lakes). A 7 hour drive is stretching might be stretching it a little though, that’s the one hold up.

Turtle Flambeau is another option
Although about as far as Sylvania, the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage (around Mercer, WI)which can include the Manitowish River if you choose is great for what you are considering. All camping is free (first come first served) and there are about 200 islands and 50+ campsites. If you choose this option, I suggest putting in at Murray’s Landing which is at the area where the Manitowish River (Flambeau at that point) enters the flowage. The eastern area of the flowage is designated as a quiet area and has less boat traffic. Hawks Nest outfitters on the Manitowish River is a good local outfitter/shuttle operator if you need one. Putting in at Murray’s you could base camp and paddle the flowage and part of the river with no shuttle.

The Wisconsin, of course (:->)
The Wisconsin has everything you want. No dams below Sauk City, lots of wide open sandbars for camping, good current, clean water, and on and on. Spring Green is about 4 hours from my house just SW of CHicago so it should meet your criteria.

If not this time, be sure to paddle here before you hang it up.

My $0.02.


Short of the Turtle/Falmbeau but beyond the Wisconsin - the Black River below Black River Falls. There’s a State Forest campground in Black River Falls. I don’t know of any particularly good livery there, but I bet there is one around somewhere.

You might want to check out a copy of Mike Svob’s book “Paddling Southern Wisconsin.” Should be available through the library if you don’t want to buy it. There’s some tips on finding some nice little waterfalls on tributary creeks in there. Bet you’ll get plenty of ideas if the Black seems undesirable for some reason.

Grayling area - Michigan
It would be easy to set up a base camp in the Grayling area (lots of State Forest campgrounds around) and day trip on the Ausable & Manistee. There are plenty of liveries in the area if you would need shuttle.

Permits needed for river camping?
In illinois or wisc, do you need anything permit wise to camp on an island or sandbar? I thought that I read one time that it was fair game in Michigan… but don’t know about IL and Wisc… I am curious. I am in N Il.

in Wisconsin, and it wasn’t the case when I lived in Illinois. Illinois was a long time ago, though. Perhaps there has been some change since I last river camped there. Camping on posted lands anywhere is to be avoided except in emergency, of course. Many of the Illinois islands weren’t posted though - at least not back then. But no permit requirements. In my experience, that’s usually something that’s required on BLM lands or in Natnl. Parks.

BTW, that might be a paddling destination for the OP to consider… When I was young in N. Illinois I often used to paddle the Fox River from Yorkville to Ottawa and then on down to Starved Rock on the Illinois. There are islands that we camped on (and presumably one still could)if not posted.

The last time I did that run was in 78 and there was a hassle getting around the dam at Wedron, I think it was. The old carry (and the logical one) on river right that I used as a kid was closed off with a high fence. The other side was also fenced but on the left side there was a gate and large guard dogs. The owner grudgingly let us through and we then had to get the boat down a bunch of steep limestone ledges to get back on the water. Hopefully that mess has been straightened out.

I don’t know if there are any campgrounds down there now. Perhaps Silver Springs. Back then there was a private campground near Sheradon or Serrena as I recall. I never used it except as a place to get drinking water, but if its still there it might come in handy.

And its close to home for a great many N. Illinois folks. Perhaps too close. Might be crowded now.

Illinois River

Drewski—the IL River
Drewski—the IL River is not subject to low water (like the Middle Fork), and you can do many days on it, and see many things, including the Illinois and Michigan Canal and it’s feeder rivers. See Places To Paddle on PNet under I and M Canal and Illinois River. Strongly suggest camping at Starved Rock.

The link above is from a Hammock Forums Member with a couple photos. You will enjoy the Asian Carp at ground zero on the Illniois. Enjoy!

SO many good suggestions!
The more I’ve looked into nearby options, the more surprised I am! Shortly after my original post, we ended up going to Kickapoo SP, down by Danville IL. It was nice, the lakes were clear and clean and the paddling was excellent. The campgrounds were a little less rustic than I had hoped for, but they were pretty much empty anyway.

My wife and I are planning on canoeing the Wisconsin river in the next month or so. We’ll probably try to go from Boscobel to Wyalusing State Park (as outlined on ) We just need to find a shuttle, which hopefully won’t be a big hassle. Haven’t worked out the logistics…yet.

I’ve got the canoe-camping bug! Can’t wait until next spring/summer when we can kick into full gear! I’d like to try the Fox River (south of Yorkville), Turtle Flambeau, Sylvania, Black River, etc. etc. etc.!!!

thanks for all of the suggestions! Keep em’ coming!

Attached is a link for quite a few
canoe camping rivers. It used to be on pnet miscellaneous links, but hosting problems removed it. Now it seems to be robust and running again.

a new place
My friends and I found a place on the Illinois river this year. It is sandy beach camping and all wooded camp sites. We paddled our canoes right up to our campspots, but you can rent boats too from the place. We were also right next to the I & M Canal/Towpath too. We asked about the asian carps but were told that they were downstream of the dam by Ottawa. we are hoping to get a Jeep road rally going and canoe camp at this place next year