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Camp Chicago – The Ultimate Downtown RV Camping

When searching for a campground near downtown Chicago, IL we hit a wall, there is literally nothing within an hour drive of Grant Park in the windy city. You see, we had tickets for the Lollapalooza music festival and we knew camping an hour away from the concert would prove to be a royal pain in the butt.

I searched high and low using the terms “RV Park Chicago”, “Camping in Chicago”, “RV Parking in Chicago” and so on.  The best option I came up with was a KOA in Union, IL that was only a short drive to the public transportation which would then take approximately an hour by train to get to Grant Park.  I’m sorry, but that is way too complicated after 10 hours of Lolla!  Then it hit me…where do all the band buses park?  Come to find out the artists get a special parking permit, but it lead me to search “Bus Parking in Chicago” and Boom, a solution for RV Friendly Wild Camping in the heart of the city.

McCormick Place is the largest convention center in North America and it’s located across the street from the Lakeshore Trial and just 1 mile from Grant Park, which is a perfect location for attending the music festival.  The spot turned out to be sooo perfect we decided to stay 5 more days to Bike Chicago where we explored by using the DIVVY city bike program.  In the 10 days we were in Chicago we only drove our car twice: Once to the nearby Whole Foods to stock up on groceries and another time to a couple of the local breweries not easily accessible by bike or public transportation.

The Details

  • Cost – We paid $22 per night plus an $8 per night reservation fee for a grand total of $30 per night.  Considering the cost for hourly parking of a car at the nearby parking garages, this is a bargain.
  • There are two McCormick Place locations for overnight RV parking in Chicago:
    • The 18th street lot is on the north side near Soldier Field and is the least used location for overnight parking. It’s nice because you’re all alone, but for some that may be too scary.  We didn’t feel like we were in danger but I will say it was odd being the only one there in the middle of such a large city.
    • The 31st street lot (also known as “lot B”) is on the south end of the Convention Center closer to the 31st Street Harbor. This is where the main office is and I’d say it’s a less desirable location for sleeping as there is consistent buzzing of trucks, trains and cars passing by.  The good part about this lot is the security office is right there so it might help set those who worry at ease to know that people are there in the office 24/7.
  • Amenities – This is dry camping, or boondocking if you prefer, so there is no electricity, no sewer and no fresh water. In fact the nearest dump station we found was a Travel Center about 35 miles away.  We survived for 10 days no problem with our RV Solar Setup in the Excursion and we used approximately 80 gallons of freshwater (thanks to all of our Wild Camping Gadgets and Gear).  There is a “driver center” at the 31st street lot so you can probably fill up jugs of water but I’d call and confirm before you assume anything.
  • Booking in advance is an option and highly recommended if you’re coming into town for a specific event. The parking lot can fill up if there is a trade show, or an event, at the convention center.  The 18th street lot will be rented out for events at Soldier Field, during our visit the Bears played and we were required to move to the 31st street location.  There is a small reservation fee.  You can book on this site but I’d call/email in advance to chat with the parking lot crew before you book: truticket.com/bus_eventparking_1.aspx  You can find additional Motorcoach Parking info directly from the City of Chicago visitor website: choosechicago.com/articles/view/MOTORCOACH-INFORMATION/154/
  • The weather cooperated most days with highs reaching in the lower 80’s and lows in the low 60’s. Many of the days had cloud cover so it felt cooler than actual temperatures, especially since we’re right off the lakeshore.  It was fairly breezy and it did rain part of two of the days we visited.
  • Driving in can be tricky as there are low clearance bridges on Lakeshore Drive. Make sure you contact McCormick Place in advance to get the best route into the marshaling yard.  We followed our RV specific GPS unit that has bridge heights programmed in and it worked perfectly, although I’m always weary and drive extremely cautiously when I’ve been warned obstacles may be en-route.
  • Public transportation is abundant with several DIVVY bike locations and Metra Rail stops near both lots. We found the Lakeshore Trail to be our favorite way to get around, it’s relaxing to take a stroll or a bike ride along the lake and see all the people out enjoying the perfect summer Chicago weather.

 

Where else in the states can you park (and camp) your motorhome in the middle of a world class city like Chicago?  We think it’s a pretty unique camping opportunity, but what do you think?  Give us your two cents on Chicago and if you’d feel safe enough to park your RV here and if you know of any other spots like this!

Famous for my "how-not-to" videos, and typically the man behind the camera, sometimes I’m forced to be here in the “spotlight”. When you see my face you’re probably reading something more technical than adventurous, but either way I do my best to tell it like it is and infuse my opinions into the commentary…after all this is a blog and not MSN.

Comments (61)

  • Kurt

    Compliments of this thread (and thank you!), we’re dry camping in the B lot tonight before an early morning date with the Children’s Hospital. The parking fee is now at $38/day, which is a pittance compared to the cost of downtown Chicago hotel rooms. I imagine we would pay more in taxes for a room-night than the parking cost 🙂

    Since I have nowhere else to post this, I’ll leave these notes for the world to discover: We found ourselves in Philadelphia last week. There’s a $30/day lot for RVs, tour/charter buses, trailers, boats, etc. at 114 Callowhill St, Philadelphia, PA 19123. http://lots.impark.com (215) 829-8200. Friendly lot staff. Expressway and train noise similar to this thread’s B lot. This is just a couple blocks from the Delaware River and the Benjonamin Franklin Bridge – good sight seeing & plenty of fun neighborhood restaurants and bars.

    We also found ourselves in Pittsburgh last week. We were referred to a $50/day gravel lot on West Station Square Drive (Pin at https://goo.gl/maps/jpYEZGNXUv12). Nice view of the intersection of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela rivers. Plenty of fun neighborhood restaurants and bars a few miles southeast on Carson Street.

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  • Ed Narke

    stayed in the 31st lot last 2 nights… called Lot B… very serviceable. Especially since there are no campgrounds close to city. Total boondocking of course so if its hot, you better have air. Thanks to the Wynns for alerting us about this gem. The 18th street lot looks better, trees and better access to the bike trail but it was locked up. no access. 31st street here is about half mile to the beach and half mile to Field museum but getting there involved biking under the conv center and on a fairly well traveled road. Overall a great spot to use a base to see the city.

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    • Thanks for coming back to tell us about your experience! We agree, its no campground but its the only option, safe for city dwelling and the location can’t be beat.

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  • Lynelle N Phillips

    I know this is an older blog, but I really need your help. My friend and I are taking my 35 ft motorhome to McCormick Place (Lot B) for Star Wars Celebration next April. We did our research and it was the best option for us. I read in your blog that you found a dump station at a Travel Center. Could you please email me the address of that Travel Center? I cannot find any “honey wagon” services to come to our spot to empty our tanks and fill our water. We’ll be there 8 days and will need to empty tanks and fill water on day 4 (longest I can boondock in that big RV with two, possibly three, people). If you can send me any info on dump/water stations in the Chicago area without going an hour outside the city I’d appreciate it very much.

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    • We used an app/website called sanidumps to find dump stations near us.

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  • We are planning a trip through Chigaco in Aug 2018, and plan on staying at McCormick Place. Can you run a generator in the lot? We do not have any solar yet.

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  • BJ

    Would it be frowned upon to pitch a tent?

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  • chris

    From their website on 7/26/2017: “Bus and RV Parking is available in Lot B which is an outdoor surface parking lot located at 31st Street near Lake Shore Drive South and Moe Drive. The parking rate is a flat fee of $35 per day with in-and-out privileges. This parking lot is open throughout event hours. Overnight parking is permitted. Reservations can be made at mccormickplace.clickandpark.com “

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  • Amy P

    Just an FYI, I believe the 18th street parking lot is not reservable anymore for overnight parking. It only gives you the option of the 31st street ‘Lot B’ location from the McCormick Place website. I also called to make reservations and the lovely woman on the phone said that Lot B was the only thing available. Another thing to note is that we couldn’t pay ‘per night’ it was rather ‘per day’. So we are arriving at 2pm on June 29th and leaving at 10am on July 1st (Less than 48 hours) but technically in the lot for 3 different days. Therefore, we had to pay for 3 days. :/ Bummer. Hope this info is helpful!

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  • Seung

    We had a tire problem and had to spend a night in Chicago. Upon the recommendation of the tire shop owner we went to Palmer Square and parked it there overnight and stealth camped and parked it there the next day until 2 pm when our tire arrived at the shop for install. There is no parking restrictions and there were a few stretches where we could find space to park our 30ft MH. We parked around 3 pm and it got fuller after 5 pm. It was a lovely park and I would recommend it as a day parking spot or an overnight stealth camp spot of needed.

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  • Dominique Boudreault

    My Motorhome Is 10’6″ height, am I safe anough to pass through the low bridges? Thanks

    Sue & Doom

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    • Curious Minion

      Standard bridge height on U.S. Interstates is 16′, so *usually* bridges that are lower than that are marked with the clearance height. A couple of things to consider: make sure that’s your overall height. Some RV info will give the height of the RV alone which doesn’t include things like the AC unit. If you want to be sure you can buy an RV model GPS. Those allow you to enter the height, weight and length of your RV. It will then route you around any bridges or overpasses that are too small/short. There are also a few phone apps that will alert you to low bridges but the RV GPS is the best single source for all the info.

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  • Gypsy

    Was there a size limit?

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  • Dan

    We will be in Chicago first part of June 2017 as well. A bit nervous leaving our motorhome in a parking lot all day while we site-see.

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  • Ric

    Thanks for the information! Great to know this possibility in Chicago.
    After calling the McCormick Place marshaling yard directly, they said Lot B is the only place to park an RV now. However, the person I talked to did reference another lot to the north of McCormick Place but said it was not used for RV parking. Since we are not planning to go to Chicago until June of 2017, it would be nice if someone who has more recent actual experience would update this blog with current information.
    Please include more accurate location information on the lot north of McCormick Place if it is available (is this lot on the SE corner of S Lake Shore Dr and 18th Drive, south of Soldier Field/Waldron garage). Thanks all.

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    • We are also going to Chicago in June and plan on staying a few days in one of these parking lots. Maybe we will see you there!

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    • Jim

      I’m parked in lot B now, this is just south of McCormick Place (other side of 55). We got here around 1PM and lot B was full so I went to the lot just south where there are all semi trailers parked. They let me park there and said I could move to B later in day. We biked into Chicago and when we got back around 6pm Lot B was half empty and we move there. There are about 7 or 8 other RV here of all sizes. If you don’t mind highway noise it works good. They charged me $35.

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    • Mel

      Did you attend yet? We have made a reservation with a truck and 5th wheel, hope we are not turned away because it’s not a ‘bus’….. is there room when it’s busy to put out the slides?

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  • Rob Hopkins

    You two are incredible. I lived 53 years around Chicago and you saw more in ten days than I did a lifetime. I never would have had the guts to hangout in an RV at McCormick and wander the lakefront. I’m jealous of your carefree and fearless attitude towards life. Now that I’m looking at getting back on the road I might just have to head back there. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  • Hello, you used to write excellent, but the last several posts have been kinda boring… I miss your super writings. Past few posts are just a little bit out of track! come on!

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  • Paul Ledbetter

    Thank you for this…my wife grew up in Belleville, IL and has yet to visit Chicago. I grew up in Knoxville TN and have been to Chicago probably 10 times…love it there..I used to wholesale at McCormack Place twice a year.

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  • Bill Hoot

    Thanks so much for suggesting and thinking of bus or coach parking. I want to do one overnight in Chicago this July 2016. I’ll be meeting friends for a meal and will definitely use public transportation to get around. Do you happen to have any vids or
    Pics of the 19th or 31st street locations.

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  • austin

    I am a new RVer and I enjoyed your videos and tips very much. You guys are so informative and do it in such a fun way. Keep up with good work!
    I see you have been camping all over the US. Can you come up your 5 favorite camp sites in each geographic region in the US? Thanks.

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  • Just a 30 minute train ride into Chicago now, the Bullfrog campground has partial hookups for around $50 a night in a beautiful natural setting here in Willow Springs. Check it out next time through.

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    • Jennifer

      Thanks!! Looking for a traditional campground with transportation to Wrigley in Aug. 2018. Will check out Bullfrog’s website.

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  • Shaun

    Hi. I love your site. Considering it my self. But first. ..I’m considering turning the city lot I own ten minutes west of wicker park off north ave into an rv campsite. Id put power, propane, and sewer on the lot. Do you think this would be popular? How much would you pay for something like this given the travelers you are? I’m looking for a way to support my need to travel over the next year and I’d love to bring a cozy spot to RV ers wanting to enjoy our awesome city but not be an hour away or live without the amenities of there RV. Feel free to call with suggestions or input. 312-340-8385
    Happy travels!

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  • Glenn L.

    Sounds like you found a good niche in seeing Chicago in a more affordable way! My ex-hometown and I too, have disliked the cost of parking and so great to see all the new areas that were not there when I was…looks inviting! Just recently heard that Cook County (Chicagoland) has once again opened up camping that has not been available for decades. Still would probably be about 35 min to an hour (yes that’s why they(?) call it “rush hour”, how ironic….right…lol) get downtown, so am planning a trip next week to see family/friends there and will physically tour the campgrounds and report back! Thanks again for the updates!

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  • Barrie Loeks

    Thank you so much for the Chicago info! On the link you so thoughtfully provided we saw how you can book parking on the McCormick Place 18th St. lot, and it showed availability for the days we wanted, but when we called McCormick Place they said the only rv parking was the 31st St. lot! Based on your report, the 18th St. lot would be our preference so I guess we’ll just book it online and hope for the best. One question however – do you go directly to the 18th St. lot or do you have to check in at the Marshalling yards at the 31st St. lot first? Thank you again for your report – can’t wait to hear more about Alaska.

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    • We did book ours online for the 18th street lot and you will check in at the 31st marshaling yard first and they escorted us over.

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  • michel brouwer

    hy you are at chicago and we are at barcelone now

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  • Mike & Norma

    Hello Wynns, We are part- time rv’ers from Las Cruces, NM. We have 3 acres where we live. Las Cruces is conveniently located near I-10 & I-25. Because of our location We have hosted a number of rv’ers over the years. We extend our invitations to fellow FMCA members and others as well, one mutual acquaintance would be Cherie and Chris [Technomadia]. Like previous guests traveling west in the fall, or traveling east in the spring, we welcome you to stay. We have all hook-ups except dump. This is just a friendly gesture, absolutely no charge! During your stay our only offer to you is, privacy, security, and peace & quiet. Travel safe, Mike & Norma.

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    • What a lovely invitation! We have family in Cloudcroft, NM and find ourselves in the area almost every year (because we love it and them). We just may take you up on the offer some day! Thanks so much!!!

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    • Chad Christopher Schneidewind

      How can I get in touch with you

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  • david clephas

    Would like updates to this post!

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  • Eric

    Another nice downtown campground is in Little Rock, Arkansas. It is owned by the city, has full hook-ups, and some sites are right on the river. The campground is on a bike path and is across the river from the Clinton Library.

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    • We love that campground! We go on a hike there every time we visit Jason’s Grandparents.

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  • There is a RV park in downtown St. Louis. It is just a parking lot, but it is close to downtown.

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    • We have stayed there too and loved the old mom and pop that own the place. Another fantastic downtown camping example!

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  • Jody blair

    I was searching for a place in the Chicago area as well, as we will be going up this August. But, we need to stay in the burbs as our children are out there. So, if we take the RV we are looking at lakeside rv, Joliet as we can stay there with a good Sam membership. Our kids homes are not conducive to an RV. Great info though! I am glad to know you struck out too in the burbs I mean. Validates my searches! Lol

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  • Thanks for sharing this. I’ve seen some very vague info about it online and it’s nice to have it all confirmed!

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  • john brunson

    Wonder if NYC might work this way too…

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    • You know there has to be something good on the outskirts of town. We haven’t stayed there yet so I haven’t looked into it but it does make me wonder. 🙂

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  • Good for you! When we visited Chicago, we found out about the McCormick Place parking, but we decided not to bother driving downtown. Since we were visiting for only a day and not staying overnight, we managed to find free parking on the side of a rather busy street/road beside a park on the outskirts of the city near the farthest-out subway station in our direction. That turned out to be fine. Our truck and trailer were fine all day. Even our water hoses, lawn chairs, rolled up mat, etc. were safe in the back of our pickup. If we had seen your post before we went, we might have ventured the drive downtown. Maybe we can do it another time and stay longer! I did enjoy Chicago! Thanks for the info!

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  • Whitney Turner

    I travel with my teardrop to a number of trade shows each fall, and have become familiar with facilities like this in several cities. My restriction is that I need electric (for ironing) and nearby facilities (teardrops don’t have showers). I’m getting ready to build a 28 ft. ultralight fifth-wheel, so maybe Fall 2016 will see me free of those restrictions too. Many thanks also for the ongoing build/maintain/equip articles, as they have been a great help in the design/spec phase of getting the 5er planned.

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    • Sounds like your options will open up a lot with the new 5er! If you’re ever interested in participating in our Make Money and Travel series, we would love to hear more about what you do at trade shows. Such a great way to travel and work!

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  • Wayne Reeder

    Last year we were visiting my son in Madison Wisconsin, as we are getting ready to leave my daughter tell me. I want to go to Chicago, and go to the Sears Tower! I started looking for a campground around Chicago and nothing was to be found. That’s when I started looking at parking thinking the same way you did! We parked for 35.00 a day in a parking lot by Adler Planetarium. It was in a great location for us to walk to all the sites. We went to the Sears Tower, stood in the Glass Room overhang, pictures with the bean. After we did our visit we changed into our bathing suits and swam in the lake!

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  • John

    The website talks about “bus parking.” I’m wondering if they will accept a travel trailer and pickup truck?

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  • Steve

    Interesting, thanks.

    We’ll be doing the Lake Michigan circle drive in a month with a stay in Chicago.

    How is the traffic/drivers in the area, large cities in a 40’+toad has me a little concerned.

    We did the Alaska trip 5 years ago, we enjoy your videos, you let us see the pictures and videos we wish we could have been talented to take.

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  • I’ve just recently discovered your blog, and I’m enjoying it. My husband and I are quite a bit older than you, Tony is turning 69 in a couple of weeks, and I’m 54. We travel in our motorhome mostly to my husband’s motorcycle trials events, which are always located in very remote areas, and always without services, so we are mostly boondocking. However, to keep a happy marriage, I find it very important that we make some ‘fun’ stops along the way when possible, and also that we do our Anniversary trip to Napa Valley as often as possible. (That is civilized, in a lovely RV Park in Calistoga, and I actually get dressed up and wear make up, LOL!). Anyway, your story about finding a place to boondock close to Lollapalooza and in the middle of Chicago is brilliant! And, responsible! We have parked our motorhome in a parking lot in Palisade, CO., too close to a train track, so that we could enjoy what we like to call the “Alcohol Trifecta”… a Distillery, a Brewery, and a Winery that all share the same parking lot. So, to be able to enjoy them all while being responsible, we boondock there. We were fortunate to stay at a winery parking lot in Washington State (J. Bookwalter Winery, I HIGHLY recommend it, great wine, food, ambiance, gardens, and sometimes music). We’ve stayed at Flying J’s, Walmart’s, and other overnight parking options many times when we just needed a night stop on a long journey. While camping in parking lots can be a little scary, and certainly you should only stay where you feel safe… it can be a great option. Also, we travel with all of our dogs and our cat (4 dogs now, but it was 6 for a long time). There are times when I am very thankful for our noisy, barking, attentive dogs. By the way, we also own an RV Park, and I love staying at full hook up parks when we can… but we also love our ability to stop anywhere, pretty much, to take a break or enjoy the locality. Next time we go to Arizona Bike Week, if they have a band we want to see, we’ll boondock (with permission) in the parking lot. At any rate, way to go, finding a place to stay in the middle of Chicago! I’m enjoying reading about your adventures!

    Travel safe and Best Regards,

    Brenda Savage & Tony Down

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  • Staying downtown Chicago has always been a challenge… so we totally appreciate this option! Sure beats staying an hour outside town and transporting in. Just the cost of a campground, trains or fuel/parking would be more than the very reasonable $30/night fee.. nevermind the time! Perfect for those of us who are totally self contained who also like some urban stays. Thanks!

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  • Paul green

    Love you guys and the info, videos etc. Maybe it’s just me, but honestly, $30 a night for ZERO services doesn’t seem like a good deal. We once “camped” like this in College Station, TX to attend an A&M football game – but it did have water and electricity, at least. Close to a city like Chicago is great – but a week + without water, electricity (A/C) or any way to dump ANY tanks for $30 a night is a bit of a stretch.

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    • Its not unreasonable considering it is the only option. I am with you on not wanting to pay $30 with no services but this is the middle of a major city where just parking for a couple of hours for a car is $5+ so when you look at the big picture it isn’t much at all considering there is security and cameras keeping an eye on things. If you want to stay in the middle of the city sometimes places like this are the only option and with our solar and water saving gadgets, we made it through very comfortably!

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  • Liz Mangold

    Was it really ok to stay the night in the RV? We’re headed to Chicago soon. Thanks!!

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    • Yes, if it wasn’t we wouldn’t have made a video about it as we want you all to have safe enjoyable travels!

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  • The Turners

    We stayed overnight at the marshalling yard and thought it was great. No one else but us there, wide open lot with anywhere to park that you like(away from the street, please!), and security comes by fairly often.
    We used an Uber driver to take us to downtown to a Christian concert at the House Of Blues.
    [yes, having not driven in Chicago before, I searched the correct path intensely prior to lift off, but everything went well on the way in]
    Note: I did not realize that the President had a residence just south of there, and guess who had a 100 police car blaring escort right by us to their home place that night? You guessed it!
    Another note: If leaving Chicago up the N Michigan drive side, be aware that there is a 12′ Tunnel underpass north of town – our 2014 Thor Palazzo cleared it – we are about 11’10’ aired up.

    Enjoy : )
    The Turners

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