If you’re from a small town like I am, you may be familiar with the tiny park that looks like someone’s front lawn. People camp there sometimes, but you’re not really sure why. Much to my chagrin, this is the most apt description of Channahon Park. I should have been suspicious about the complete lack of information about this site, but luckily for you, you don’t have to make the same mistakes I have.
The good news about this site, is it’s incredibly cheap. They charge $7 per tent, with no real limitation on tent placement. If you’re willing to get up early, you can probably get away without paying anything. A man comes by at about 8 AM to collect money. Unfortunately, this also means there is a lack of staff, and amenities on site. There are no showers. There are pit toilets. There is nowhere on site to buy firewood, so you’ll have to hoof it to the Jewel to get that. The Jewel is about 3 miles away on low stress roads.
Another wonderful feature of this site is that it appears to be in a flood plain. Roughly 1/3 of the site was unusable, under about an inch of water, when we camped here last summer. It was a rather wet year, but this seems like it may be a chronic problem. We all know nothing is more fun than digging mud out of your cleats!
Finding a workable route here was a definite challenge. While the route is almost entirely trail from Willow Springs, getting to Willow Springs proved to be a challenge. For reasons that are unclear to me, the Metra line that runs through Willow Springs, blocks from the trail head even, only runs on weekdays #ugh. The route we took to get out here was a bad idea. It was terrible. If you really want to bike to Willow Springs, I’d check out Strava maps. Routes heading from the city via Ogden are generally fine. However, because it’s already about 30 miles to even get to the trail, I’d suggest taking the Metra to nearby Brookfield (Palos Heights is also a good option for the return trip as this uses the Cal-Sag trail, but the weekend westbound schedule is not very conducive to bike camping). I created a map of the route from the Metra stop. It’s still a good ride at around 42 miles. The route features probably the nicest trail I have ridden on in IL (The Centennial Trail), and the only length of trail that has ever made me hate what I was doing (ICM South of Joilet). The Centennial Trail is wider than average and fully paved. The trail runs right along the canal and is tree-lined providing ample shade and protecting from the heat. There are resting points scattered throughout the trail if you want to stop for a quick snack or to reapply bug spray (there are a fair few mosquitoes). I thoroughly enjoyed my ride along this stretch. From the Centennial trail, you connect directly to the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail (ICM) which is gravel. For the most part, the trail is fairly well maintained and of better quality than the Illinois Prairie Path, but things really start to get rough south of Lockport. There are moments through Lockport that would not be out of place in a cyclocross race: rocks, curves, mud. The trail gets a little bit nicer as you get closer to Joilet. Upon reaching Joilet, the trail disappears, asking you to navigate your way to the other side of the city where it picks up again. When I was out, a kind soul had spray painted turns onto the street to help guide your way. I have no idea if they will still be there, but I have provided a reasonable route through in the route map linked above. Where the trail picks up south of Joilet, things take a turn for the worst.
The final stretch of the ICM featured such events as a recently pumped out and almost overflowing underpass near I-55 and the even more wonderful 6′ over pass a few miles later. The trail is partially shaded and quite muggy at times. As you approach Channahon the trail becomes wooded. What really got me down about this trail was all of the mud. The trail runs about 5′ away from water for its whole length and the typography of the land also tended to make water pool in the middle of the trail. Last year was a particularly wet year so it may not always be terrible, but nothing has ever been quite as demoralizing of 15 straight miles of 1-2″ mud every 20 feet. #ultraugh
I would not camp here again unless I really had to. While much of the ride is pleasant, the southern stretches of the ICM may be unwise if there has been any amount of rain recently. If you want to check out a site southwest of the city, I’d go the extra 10ish miles and camp in Morris. From what others have told me, it’s a much better experience.
Overall Score: 2/5
Ride Quality: 2/5
Proximity to grocery: 3/5