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.
- 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!