Sand Ridge State Forest
Address: Cactus Rd. & County Rd 2450 N, Forest City IL 61532
Time from Chicago: 3 hours, 20 minutes (194 miles)
Camping at Sand Ridge State Forest
We’re moving beyond our typical two-hour radius of Chicago to visit Sand Ridge State Forest. At 7200 acres, Sand Ridge is the largest state forest in Illinois. It’s located just southwest of Peoria, which means you’re looking at a drive of 3-plus hours from the Windy City.
Is the drive worth it? That depends what you’re looking for. Camping sites are precious few here – just 27 class “C” sites with pit toilets and fire pits. Reservations are available online. Standard tent sites cost as little as $8.
In addition to the tent sites, backcountry camping is also an option here, something which is a rarity in the Chicago area. (For the curious, Forest Glen Preserve and Kettle Moraine are a couple of other local spots in which backcountry camping is possible.) That’s especially cool since most of central Illinois is farmland – the forest website calls itself “an island in a sea of agriculture.”
Another reason to visit Sand Ridge? The network of 44 miles of scenic hiking trails, which offer opportunities for viewing birds, deer, foxes, and coyotes. In the winter, 26 miles turn into prime snowmobile territory.
The landscape of the park ranges from forests to grasslands to prairies. This area features wildlife and scenery most often found in the southwest, like prickly pear cactus, gophers, and badgers. They’re remnants from a prehistoric desert period that brought dry conditions to this part of the country. It’s a unique environment that Chicago residents don’t get to experience often.
The location of Sand Ridge makes it accessible for most Illinois residents, from Chicago all the way to the southern portion of the state. The extended trip length may be worth it if you’re looking for solitude, hiking, or backcountry camping.