Kettle Moraine State Forest (South)
Address: S91 W39091 Highway 59, Eagle, WI 53119
Time from Chicago: 2 hours, 10 minutes (100 miles)
Backcountry camping at Kettle Moraine State Forest (South)
There aren’t a lot of places to go backcountry camping near Chicago, but one of the closest places you’ll find to Chicago is the Kettle Moraine State Forest, South Branch. There’s a North Branch too, which is a separate park several miles away.
The South Kettle Moraine State Forest includes a portion of the Ice Age Trail, a 1000-mile footpath throughout the state of Wisconsin.
Wildlife in Kettle Moraine South includes the occasional coyote and red fox, plus cranes and hawks. The Scuppernong River Habitat Area, at 3500 acres, is the largest wet prairie east of the Mississippi River. There’s a nature center and six self-guided nature trails in the park.
As for backcountry camping, the Southern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest has three backpacking (hike-in) sites along the Ice Age Trail. Each site has a fire ring and Adirondack shelter that can accommodate up to 10 people, but you can pitch a tent if you prefer more of a true backcountry experience.
Camping at these backcountry sites is limited to one night, so that other Chicago (and Milwaukee) area residents can have an opportunity to use the sites as well. Make sure to pack in all your food and water and pack out all garbage.
There are car camping options for those who don’t want the backcountry experience.