Recently unseasonably warm weather (thanks climate change?) and federal holidays coincided to allow me the chance to visit my third of the Cook County Forest Preserve campgrounds: Camp Sullivan. Located about 30 miles from Logan Square, Camp Sullivan is definitely a very doable distance, but the ride quality is lower than other sites. Camp Sullivan has the same great online booking experience and bike camp friendly tent policies as the other Cook County campgrounds, making it an easy choice. While each of the sites I’ve visited so far definitely have a lot of things in common, Camp Sullivan also has its own advantages and pitfalls.
Probably one of the best things Camp Sullivan has going for it is how long it has been around. Camp Sullivan used to be a boy scout camp, but has been handed over to the Cook County Forest Preserve system to manage. Unlike many of the other sites, you can clearly see Camp Sullivan is an established spot. The primitive campsites are definitely the most private of any of the Cook County campgrounds I have visited. Because my photos are from February, it all looks a little bleak and open, but in peak summer you’ll have a level of privacy that is very hard to find within this distance of the city. However, I would avoid selecting a site close to the road the entrance is on. The noise level was similar to being on a major street in the city. It made the whole experience feel less like an urban escape. Thankfully the sites on the other side are considerably quieter.
However, like many other Cook County campgrounds, the campsites are pretty small. I’m sure if you really wanted to you could cram 3 tents onto the site, but there would be no small amount of tent Tetris involved in the process. Unlike some of the other sites, Camp Sullivan’s tent sites don’t have a mulch tent pad; they’ve gone for good old fashioned dirt. This makes the tent Tetris a little easier.
Both the primitive and electric/RV sites are equipped with brand new picnic tables (all of which are ADA compliant, good work FPDCC!) and fire rings and grills in good condition. You’d have no problem cooking over these. The electric/RV sites really don’t leave a lot of non-gravel options for setting up your tent, so you might want to skip those. Sleeping on gravel is no fun!
Unsurprisingly, the RV sites are also considerably less private. These appear to have been new construction and are quite close together. They lack natural barriers and kind of bleed into one another. If you really, really need to charge your iPhone while you’re camping, I’d invest in a battery pack, or ask the camp store if you can borrow an outlet for an hour before resorting to booking an electric site.
Most of the campground paths are gravel and some of the sites appear to have less than ideal drainage. The camp host was very kind when we arrived and gave us some input about which sites were likely driest and offered to let us move. As it gets busier, you may wish to keep in mind that the area may be unavoidably muddy. Between the gravel and the mud, I’d probably skip the high end carbon soles for this location. I spent about 20 minutes digging out my cleats. Twice.
One of my favorite things about camping in Cook County is the bathhouse. These are some next level camp bathrooms. They are brand new, climate controlled, and have showers with surprisingly good water pressure. They are truly a treat.
Camp Sullivan also provides campers with one bundle of wood with every reservation. Additional bundles are $5. It’s pretty easy to go through at least 3 as the first one is usually spent on trying to get the fire hot enough to burn the damp wood.
Camp Sullivan has a really cool feature. Housed in the big red barn are both the camp store (GET SOME HOT DOGS PLEASE!) and a climbing wall. On the two occasions that I’ve been, the climbing wall has been free for campers to use. As I know next to nothing about climbing, I cannot attest to its quality, but it’s pretty neat that it’s there.
If you’re looking for a different kind of adventure, there is a steak house/ cocktail lounge literally across the street. It’s Oak Forest’s destination, so you may want a reservation. I have yet to feel fancy enough to check it out.
At 33 miles from Logan Square, Camp Sullivan is definitely within the beginner range for distance, but some of the route features make me hesitant to recommend this to folks who are not at least somewhat comfortable riding with traffic. The route features A LOT of Halsted, which is almost entirely stripped with bike lanes, but it does get pretty dicey around UIC sometimes. The Major Taylor Trail provides a nice, but brief, respite from city streets. After exiting the Major Taylor, all but the final couple of miles are on suburban roads. Notably, these roads are way wider than they need to be and not heavily traveled, but it may feel intimidating to newer riders. Also, there are SO MANY POTHOLES through Blue Island. Keep your eyes peeled, particularly under the bridges. Finally, you connect to the Tinley Creek Trail. The trail travels through some lovely woods and is completely paved; however, it does see some minor flooding after a heavy rain. I was able to ride through, but if it has been particularly wet, you may end up needing to detour. Overall, the route isn’t very stressful, but I also don’t find it particularly relaxing or interesting.
Camp Sullivan is a pretty average campground. It’s really great that it has so much more privacy than the regional average and at 33 miles from the city, it’s definitely accessible. The so-so route and 3.5 mile trek to groceries don’t make me particularly excited to ride here, but there is also nothing really wrong with any of it. If you can get a site on the far side of the campground you can get a pretty quiet and private experience in nature without a lot of hassle. If you’re really into climbing, that could definitely make the experience more enjoyable for you, but it doesn’t add any extra value to my ranking. I’ll probably come back to the location, but probably only once a year.
Overall Score: 3/5
Ride Quality: 2/5
Proximity to grocery: 3/5