Backpacking Forest Glen Preserve – River Ridge Backpack Trail

Three hours from St. Louis, two and a half from Chicago, one and a half from Indianapolis, and less than an hour from U of I in Urbana-Champaign, Forest Glen Preserve is close enough to be a great day hike and/or picnic destination, but challenging and remote enough to be an excellent one or two-night backpacking destination. Mix and match trails to make your hike as easy or difficult as you’d like, but following the River Ridge Backpack Trail as mapped may be physically challenging for unconditioned folks to accomplish on a one night trip. A .pdf of the trail map is available here or can be found at the trailhead.

Climbing a hill, Forest Glen Preserve, River Ridge Backpack Trail, Backpacking Illinois

Choosing a backpacking destination between Chicago and Indianapolis is pretty easy – there are two. And one of the two doesn’t permit camping between October 31st and April 1st*, so choosing a backpacking destination between Chicago and Indianapolis in December is even easier. Continue reading Backpacking Forest Glen Preserve – River Ridge Backpack Trail

How to Get in Shape for Backpacking

The most common doubt that beginners have expressed to me before their first backpacking experience relates to their physical ability. My typical response to these doubts is “if you can walk unassisted and without pain, you can go backpacking.” (And please do try backpacking if that response describes you!)

While that statement is generally true, it is admittedly a bit of an oversimplification. While being able to walk is certainly a base requirement for backpacking, it alone won’t get you to the most beautiful views or remote places. It won’t make you comfortable hiking more than a few miles per day. In order to do those things, you do need to become fitter.

The fitter you become:

  • The more exotic and remote your destination options become
  • The more ground you can cover in the limited time that you have to explore
  • The less time you’ll spend with stiff muscles and achy joints after a hike
  • The less prone you’ll be to injuries on the trail (and in your life away from the trail)
  • The better you can keep pace with any of your hiking buddies
  • The more you can enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells around you without being distracted by soreness and fatigue
  • (Perhaps most importantly) The hotter you’ll look in your hiking gear*


Now, How to Get Fit Continue reading How to Get in Shape for Backpacking

Backpacking Bell Mountain Wilderness

Bell Mountain Wilderness provides a challenging (or beginner) Midwestern backpacking experience and beautiful views in an ancient mountain range. It’s well worth the six-hour drive from Chicago (don’t tell the fuzz that I made it in less than 5.5), five from Indianapolis, and an even shorter drive from Kansas City. The lucky residents of St. Louis have a big beautiful backyard in the Mark Twain National Forest. Camping at Bell Mountain Wilderness is free and undesignated. Parking is free, but designated.

Eastern view from the top of Bell Mountain, Bell Mountain Wilderness, Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri

Local destinations always seem most reasonable for a one night trip. It feels ridiculous to spend more time driving to and from my hiking destination than I actually spend hiking when I arrive. But staring down the barrel of another long Chicago winter made me desperate for something exotic, and I made the trip down to Ozark Country for what might be my last fair weather trip of the season. Continue reading Backpacking Bell Mountain Wilderness

Backpacking Rock Island Wisconsin

Between ferry rides and the camping reservation fee, Rock Island State Park may very well be one of the most expensive backpacking destinations in the Midwest (if not the most). But it offers history and beauty, with views like no other backpacking destination within six hours of Chicago. It’s four hours from Milwaukee, and 2.5 hours from Green Bay.  It’s also great for day hikes, family camping, paddling, beginner backpacking trips, or any nature lover spending time in the Door County area!

Boat House, Rock Island State Park Door County Wisconsin

Continue reading Backpacking Rock Island Wisconsin

Fruit Leather – Autumn Recipe

Remember those Fruit Roll-ups that you used to get in your packed lunches when you were a kid? Think those but with the rich taste of real fruit, with a slightly more substantial consistency, and with an ingredient list that you can trust. That’s fruit leather.

If you’re interested in attempting DIY trail food, fruit leather is an easy one to begin with. Below I describe the process and ingredients for my most recent batch. Continue reading Fruit Leather – Autumn Recipe