Originally, we wanted to go to a national park. But we live in Chicago, an area not known for its natural resources, and most national parks are eight hours away or more. So we lowered our sights and spent a long weekend exploring western Illinois at Lowden State Park.
Camping at Lowden State Park
We already had a car and a tent, we just needed a place to set them up. An afternoon of scouring campsites within three hours of us (seemed like a decent radius for a weekend camping trip) brought us to Lowden State Park. We parked, set up the tent, and bought firewood.
I don’t know how to broach this subject in a better way, so I’ll just plow though: camping in the midwest can mean different things to different people. Some people, like us, brought tents, campfire food, and hiking shoes with the intent of seeing the woods and scenery. Others brought mammoth RVs with TVs, gas stoves, and lawn chairs. For many people in the midwest, a campground like this is as close to a summer home as they’ll get and they spend months on these lots. I saw this a lot growing up in Iowa.
When I went camping as a little tyke, I was in the latter camp (ha, puns). I never really enjoyed it because I was ten years old and thought it was boring. I also never realized how much preparation has to go into camping. One piece of advice that I learned the hard way: don’t forget a pad for your sleeping bag at home. Lumpy ground hurts to sleep on.
The campground itself catered to both parties well had nice amenities; hookups for RVs and power outlets, but also in-ground fire pits and public toilets for those who didn’t want to imitate Eddie Griswold from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
The reason we drove the almost three hours to get out to Ogle County, Illinois was to see some nature. And that didn’t disappoint.
Being Illinois, the hiking wasn’t that hard. It gets less-flat when you get over towards the rivers in the west, but even then, they’re steep hills not mountains making it a great place for a casual hike.
What was really weird about all of this was that I was starting to enjoy my time in nature. Again, as a child, camping (in places with more breathtaking scenery) was boring. Now, as an adult, I’m growing to like it? What is this? Am I changing?!
The Rock River
The Rock River is a tributary of the Mississippi River. Like any other hundreds of small rivers that criss-cross the midwest, it’s not huge but it offers a scenic break that’s close to home.
“The Eternal Indian” – Chief Blackhawk Statue
Up until now, the hiking had been easy. From the camping grounds down to the river banks was a wide, meandering path that was never too steep for even a novice hiker. Then there was this monstrosity. To be fair, you don’t need to be an experienced hiker to handle stairs, but being in shape helps. And there were a lot of stairs.
But at the top lives “The Eternal Indian” also known as the Chief Blackhawks Statue.
And from a more artsy angle:
The statue was built overlooking the Rock River which, from a higher vantage point, is a great view.
From here, we went back to the campsite and started making a fire for dinner. In one day, we’d driven three hours, set up a campsite, and hiked about five miles. We were tired. Next week, I’ll talk about what we did on day two.
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