A new cold-weather camping option

I’m not really a cold weather kind of person, mostly because I dislike feeling cold. Part of that stems from my childhood, I think, though I’m not sure why – perhaps because I’ve always been on the slender side… not exactly a lot of insulation on me. The other derives from my college days, when several pledging rituals involved ice-cold water and/or immersing oneself in water.

In February.

In central Illinois.

In 20 degree temperatures.

So why subject myself to the cold of winter outside while camping? 

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For starters, I finally have all the right clothing and gear for this. I detailed some of this in my early posts on this blog, but some of that gear is more recent “end of season” purchases that haven’t seen much if any use yet. My amateur astronomy passion along with doing more tent camping has also gotten me on the right path for more synthetic clothing, wool socks, proper boots, warm winter layers (and layers, and layers!) plus some nice snow pants I even picked up recently for only $25.

That means I actually have a LOT better idea of how to start and stay warm. Last spring I also camped – okay, “camped” in my backyard – and tested my temperature resistance while sleeping in a tent (so far, I’m good down to 28F). I then did a few nights at a local campground late last winter and early spring, where the temps got down into the 30’s. I can probably get by with colder temperatures than those, given that I have multiple sleeping bags I can layer to provide added warmth.

Another reason for going is the hiking and photography opportunities. I’m no expert photographer, but I enjoy the exercise, and I like seeing what I can capture on film… err – digital media (see photo at end of post).

But my final reasoning for going is the aforementioned astronomy. Winter stars can be seen in other seasons – but not at “normally-awake” hours in the evening. Since I’m not fond of getting up at 3 a.m. to see Orion in August or September, proper clothing has allowed me to manage those stargazing opportunities in winter. And that’s meant, sometimes, camping a bit further from city lights to see more stars.

But then there’s a new problem: Where to go?

My usual go-to camping spot in the off-season months (Nov 1 to May 1) has been the Chippewa campground at the Kankakee River State Park near Kankakee IL – about 60 miles south of Chicago. Typically open year-round and with a miniscule $8 per night fee for tent camping, it also has generally open views of the sky, and a hiking path – plus it is 30 minutes from my house. What’s not to like?

Small problem: The state government has a budget impasse, and the campground is currently closed due to a broken well and improvement projects that are stalled.

So I asked on the r/camping subreddit. A very helpful poster suggested Illini State Park. It’s still close – just over an hour away. But there are multiple campground loops – I wasn’t sure which one was best for tents. Here’s the key details that poster shared with me:

It’s not really tent only camping on Great Falls 35-62, but it would be difficult to back an RV into those locations.

FYI, Whitetail tends to be closed from Dec – April and Pine Glen is reserved for Boy Scouts (I believe), so Great Falls would be your best option.

If you go in summer months, Whitetail is a little nicer since it’s away from a majority of people. Great Falls has an ice cream shop and a park near it so more families camp there during warmer months.

So there’s a good option: Close to home, has hiking, open spaces for stargazing, and fairly RV-camper-free areas not just from the cooler weather but the site arrangement. But, it is close enough to civilization that I can warm up if need be, or even just drive home should the temperature unexpectedly drop to uncomfortable levels. And, it is a possible place to camp in the warmer months as well.

Plus, it will give me a chance to do a bit more astrophotography that I’ve been dabbling in, and try out some of my new gear that’s seen little use so far like an REI Passage 1 tent, a down jacket, those snowpants, and some other clothing items.

Besides, now that I’ll be dressed properly, I won’t even feel much of the cold anyway, right?

And that’s the way I like it.

M42

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