Without ever leaving the Chicago area, it’s possible to visit, photograph and learn more about four historic lighthouses. Your first order of business, before starting your road trip along the Lake Michigan shoreline, is to find comfortable RV camping. Staying in one of the many suburbs of Chicago is a great option; you’re outside the busy city but close enough to see all the attractions. Here are a few suggestions for RV camping within about an hour of the Chicago shoreline:
- Empress Casino/Hotel/RV Resort: Joliet, IL
- Jellystone Park/Resort Chicago: Millbrook, IL
- Chicago Northwest KOA – Union, IL
Chicagoland Lake Michigan Lighthouses
Now, to the Chicago area lighthouse itinerary – start by driving to Navy Pier in Chicago and getting a good look at the Chicago Harbor Light. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see it easily from the pier; you might also consider a cruise with one of the charter services that operates in the area.
Look south from the same pier and you’ll be able to see a good example of a “structural light,” the Chicago Harbor Southeast Guidewall Light. The still-functional light sits atop a metal structure on one of the breakwaters in Chicago Harbor. It is also visible either from the pier or by boat tour.
To experience picturesque Grosse Point Lighthouse, travel north from Chicago to the city of Evanston, IL. Near the campus of Northwestern University stands this tower built in 1873, as well as the keepers’ dwelling, in a beautifully-landscaped park operated by the city. Arrive for one of the summer-only tours and you’ll be challenged to climb the 141 steps to the top of the light!
One more Lake Michigan lighthouse on the western shore near Chicago can be found at the end of Government Pier in Waukegan, IL. According to Terry Pepper’s comprehensive Seeing the Light – Lighthouses of the Western Great Lakes, the original lighthouse installation included a keepers’ dwelling, but a fire in the 1960s destroyed much of the structure. What remains is a white iron tower topped with an acrylic lens, which can be reached by walking out onto the pier.
That covers the four lights found in Chicago Harbor and north to the Illinois/Wisconsin border. Immediately south across the Indiana border, you can easily visit a half dozen lights, from Calumet Lighthouse to the nicely-restored Old Michigan City Lighthouse, by adding just a couple more days to your Chicago-area RV trip. If you’re interested in ranging farther north, there are more than a dozen lighthouses along Lake Michigan’s western shore within Wisconsin’s borders.
You may soon start to see RV camping in Chicago in a whole new light, thanks to the abundance of lighthouses illuminating Lake Michigan. Use these tips to start planning your next RV camping vacation to Chicago; it just might be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with Lake Michigan’s historic lights.