Kelly Katzmann has camped in some pretty wild places in years past, including the Boundary Waters area in northern Minnesota when she was a high school student.
"That was the most 'roughing it' camping I did," she said. "We portaged, had to bear-proof our sites. (We had) no bathrooms and didn't shower for 10 days!"
But when she was planning a trip with her young daughters last month, she wanted something closer to home, but still teeming with nature and beauty and away from the "hustle and bustle" of everyday life. That's why she decided to reserve a spot at the Forest Preserve's campground at Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve in Crete Township, one of five campgounds located within the District. Katzmann said she became familiar with the campground when she attended a program last fall at the preserve's Plum Creek Nature Center.
She liked the fact that there was a latrine at the campground and that the campsite was located near the nature center, which would provide a nice diversion for her daughters during their campout.
"With small children, you want to have more conveniences," she explained.
She also liked that it was just a half-hour drive from her home in Mokena.
"It's local," she said. "Instead of me going out of state, I'm supporting my own county. And it's affordable. ... I like that Will County has campsites that are accessible to everyday residents."
Katzmann said she wants to expose her daughters – Helena, 5, and Estelle, 3 – to camping while they are young.
"I definitely hope this will be the first of many trips over there," said Katzmann, who is a middle school science teacher.
Katzmann said she will teach her daughters how to start a campfire and make meals outdoors. Camping is a great confidence builder, especially for women, she said. But she recommended beginning campers start small with manageable trips close to home.
The Forest Preserve offers a nice variety of campsites throughout the county that would be perfect for beginners, or even those who would like a bit more adventure, said Lynn Kurczewski, the Forest Preserve's director of visitor services. And each campground offers a unique way to experience nature, Kurczewski added.
Check out these five camping sites and the features that make each unique:
Forked Creek Preserve – Ballou Road Access, Wilmington
The preserve offers a connection to the 22-mile Wauponsee Glacial Trail and is close to historic downtown Wilmington, which features a nice mix of antique shops and restaurants. The preserve also features a 9-acre dog park.
Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve, Crete Township
The campground was completely redesigned in 2012 to provide more campsites, including a youth camping area complete with a group fire ring. Enjoy hiking and biking, or experience the nature center's programs, playscape, live animals and pollinator garden.
Hammel Woods – DuPage River Access, Shorewood
Camp close to the DuPage River where you can fish or launch a canoe or kayak. Bring your dog to visit the dog park, or pedal along a 3.7-mile segment of the DuPage River Trail.
McKinley Woods – Frederick's Grove, Channahon
Camp along the Des Plaines River and near the 60-mile I&M Canal State Trail. Fish or kayak in the canal or the river, and view a historic shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Messenger Woods Nature Preserve, Homer Glen
Campsites are located in a mature oak woodland along Spring Creek. The preserve is known for its spring wildflower display and a wide variety of birds. A 2-mile woodland trail loops through the preserve, and a short drive connects you to the 8-mile Spring Creek Greenway Trail.
Four of the five campgrounds have campsites that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act; Hammel Woods is the only exception.
Kurczewski encouraged potential campers to plan their trips to coincide with Forest Preserve programs. For instance, Goodenow Grove offers a wide variety of programs including bird hikes, children's activities and the "Hummingbird Festival & Nature Celebration," which will be held August 19.
To get a camping permit, you must be 18 or older and your reservation has to be made two business days in advance. Each campsite costs $15 per night for Will County residents and $30 for nonresidents. For more information on camping in the preserves, including 360-degree photos of each campground, visit the District's Camping Page.
Stay up-to-date on the happenings in Will County's forest preserves by subscribing to our digital newsletter, The Citizen. Signing up is easy, free of charge and provides subscribers with weekly updates on Forest Preserve news, upcoming events, and other fun and useful information for the whole family.