Camping in the city?! Chicago may not seem like the ideal camping spot. It is a very urban area and has a reputation for being unsafe. Our experience was not like that at all. Mostly.
We dry camped at the McCormick Place Marshaling Yard. Their website is really hard to navigate since, I think, the RV parking is not high on their priority list. It is a flat rate of $35 a day. We tried to book online but when I put in dates it was indeed charging us PER DAY. That meant that for two nights of dry camping it was going to be $105! No thank you! We decided to just show up without reservations and confirm the craziness in person. Make sure to got to Lot B and do not use your GPS – there are low bridges if you go that way. There are directions at the bottom of this post that will help you avoid the 900 bridges in the city! We had no problem getting in and we were charged a nightly rate – so we “only” paid $70. Much better! It was not glamorous, there was no shade, there was a noisy train and pretty regular traffic driving through the parking lot. There was one questionable car there – but they didn’t stay long and security was making rounds so we gave them a heads up. But let’s be clear. We weren’t there for a relaxing camping experience. We were there to see the city! We locked the camper up and hoped security did their job as we headed out! We felt pretty good about it since there were several other campers there and it was daytime. We were able to ride our bikes (and felt completely safe) in about 15 minutes to where the the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and Lake Michigan are.
The Field Museum and Adler Planetarium ($0 with ASTC)
Our first, and favorite, stop was the Field Museum. It is the most incredible museum! It has extensive and well displayed exhibits from mummies and ancient Americans to mammals (holy taxidermy Batman!) from around the world and d-i-n-o-s-a-u-r-s. My kids and dinosaurs? Yeah, they are like BFFs so you can imagine how much fun was to be had!
I was really impressed with the size of the Early Americas exhibit. One arrowhead? Psh,we saw a few dozen. Native American clothes, tools, pottery? I bet there are thousands of pieces. We spent a good part of one day at the museum and ate our picnic lunch in the cafe area downstairs. We brought Collin and Eric here about 10 years ago and got to recreate a picture of Collin with a T-rex skull. That was my favorite part. I didn’t cry though 💪 I would show you the comparison but the original is on a CD in a box in Kansas. #thatisso2008
We rode our bikes over to the Adler Planetarium and spent a couple of hours in there. It was several stories of space exploration! We learned about the planets, we recreated a meteor hitting the ground, and we got a history lesson on Jim Lovell and the early space program. If you or your kiddo is a space nerd (like we are dinosaur nerds) you will be in heaven! Or, perhaps, the heavens 😏
The planetarium is right on Lake Michigan so we took that in for a while after we finished up exploring the indoors. IT IS GINORMOUS! There is a lot of green space as well as a beach area to hang out at. We would have loved to go the Shedd Aquarium but for our family it was going to be over $200 to get in! Not in the budget this time around. A lot of places in Canada have a great plan for making it easier for large families to do touristy things. They have a “family” admission rate that is usually the same as the cost for two adults and two children. America – we need to hop on that bandwagon! With our ASTC membership this day was FREE!
It was a noisy evening at McCormick Place, but like I said, we weren’t there for the camping experience!
Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park, and Maggie Daley Park ($56 in parking)
The next day we headed out to the Lincoln Park Zoo. We should have headed out earlier (yes Mike, I know, you told us so). The zoo is free, and there is free parking but by the time we got there it was all taken up so we paid for parking. It ended up being $30 (or $35). The zoo was a good one – especially considering it was free. Most of the major animals were there – giraffes, a rhino, lions, gorillas, zebras, and more. We had another picnic lunch and then headed over to the bean. I’m sorry, I meant THE BEAN! It is actually called Cloud Gate and is in Millennium Park (another $26 in parking!). We took a million pictures and then went over to Crown Fountain. Crown Fountain is a water feature with two 50 foot tall glass block walls that show pictures of the faces of 100s of
Chicagoans – one at a time. They “spit water” onto a splash pad area where the kids had a blast getting soaked! We then walked over to check out the sign marking the start of historic Route 66. The city’s skyline is one of the coolest we have seen with amazing buildings everywhere you look. A friend of ours went on an architectural boat tour of the city. That would be a fun thing for next time – and maybe without kids and with wine 🙂
A short walk away is Maggie Daley Park which had extremely cool (like entertained-the13-year-old-cool) playgrounds. There is also a skate/scooter ribbon (track) that you can use that circles several rock climbing walls of various difficulties. You can bring a scooter or skates or rent a scooter to use. There is mini golf too! There is more to do – we just didn’t have time to see or do it all!
All in all I have to say that Chicago offers a lot to it’s visitors – and you can do a lot of it for free or at least without spending too much. Get out there and check it out! Just buy the ASTC membership first!
Getting to Lot B of the McCormick Place Marshaling Yard (directions copied and followed from AllStays): Take I-90/I-94 to I-55 North (Stephenson Expressway/Lakeshore Drive) and watch for the large overhead signage (No Trucks/All Trucks). Follow the All Trucks route onto US-41 South. Stay right on the 31st Street ramp and watch for the 180 degree right turn onto the marshaling yard service drive then take a left into the marshaling yard – there is a security booth. (The sign on the side road is confusing and makes you think you need to drive further in but you don’t. Just look for the security booth.)
Next time: Shedd Aquarium and the Science and Industry Museum