Yep, you can (and should!) camp along the trail
Since 2015, the Cook County Forest Preserve District has opened five new or rehabilitated campsites across the city, an enormous resource that most Chicagoans remain unaware of. The Outerbelt is a perfect way to experience them, as four or five of the forest preserve campsites are located along its path. (You can also camp at a cozy private site near the northern section of the trail called Little House of Glencoe.)
These public campsites are undervalued local treasures, like Camp Bullfrog Lake in the Palos Hills area and Camp Sullivan in Oak Forest (which used to be a Boy Scout camp and includes an indoor climbing wall). There's also Camp Shabbona Woods in South Holland, which boasts new facilities like a shower house and picnic shelter with trail access to the nearby Sand Ridge Nature Center and free access to the Green Lake Aquatic Center.
For a more secluded site, Camp Dan Beard in Northbrook features renovated rustic cabins and open fields for group tent camping. The walk from Camp Sullivan to Camp Bullfrog Lake is also an ideal day hike.
What’s in the future for the Outerbelt?
“People are really interested in what we’re doing,” Readey says of the Outerbelt Trail. “It’s one of the lowest-cost ways to experience Chicago.” In the future, Readey envisions curated “coming-of-age experiences” along the Outerbelt for local high school grads or international college students. The Outerbelt Alliance is also placing a premium on promoting outdoor recreation among more diverse populations in the Chicago region to reach a demographic “beyond those typically marketed to by the outdoor industry,” says Ready. The location of the Outerbelt, particularly its southern section, “brings this right to the doorsteps of people living in diverse communities.
“It’s just gonna get better and better.”
Wanna hit the trail? REI’s hiking project has a detailed overview of the entire Outerbelt route, or check out this interactive map to find a section of the trail near you.