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Beyond Chicagoland

Out Our Front Door Promotes Car-Free Travel, Environmental Preservation in the Region

Out Our Front Door’s North Loop route from downtown Chicago to Chain O’ Lake State Park and back. Image: Out Our Front Door

In a recent article I discussed how easy it can be for Chicagoans to go camping without a car thanks to our extensive, bike-friendly regional rail system. But the fact is, there is a learning curve to figuring out how to pack and carry gear for a bike-and-train excursion, as well as choosing destinations and safe, pleasant bike routes.

If you’re a newbie to car-free camping, or have experience but want to meet new people and learn about local culture, geography and natural history on the trip, the volunteer-run organization Out Our Front Door offers group bike excursions throughout the lower Lake Michigan basin area. Their website also offers a wealth of information on how to prepare for your own car-free adventure, including info on local campgrounds and state parks, suggested itineraries, how to set up your bike to carry gear, tips on what to bring, and other advice to help ensure your first bike camping trip is safe and enjoyable. OOFD also does bike advocacy, organizes trail maintenance and native habitat restoration days, and seeks to connect various other groups, advocates, and artists to promote environmental and historic preservation.

Andrew St. Paul (third from left) on an OOFD excursion. Photo: Andrew St. Paul

The organization is the brainchild of Andrew St. Paul, 32, a former building engineer who grew up on the Southwest Side, recently spent a year and a half traveling South America, and returned home with a desire to “give back to Chicago” via a new group promoting the region’s natural assets. Having already organized a number of excursions and events, he plans to register OOFD as a nonprofit this summer. Currently there are about ten other core members helping him run the organization.

“Most Chicagoans feel that for outdoor adventure they need to hop on a plane and go somewhere else,” St. Paul said. “But while we might not have multi-day backpacking trails, we do have a very extensive network of bicycle lanes and trails.” Currently he’s got a project to map out bike-friendly routes to all of the region’s major camping destinations, including the Indiana Dunes, Starved Rock State Park, Chain O’Lakes State Park, Illinois Beach State Park, and more.

While OOFD’s website gives you all of the tools you need to plan your own trip, St. Paul also has several organized rides coming up. “We keep our groups small, with about 12 participants, so people can make deeper connections,” he said. “Lasting friendships are made, and participants walk away with a deeper sense of knowledge about the area.”

Kids on an Out Our Front Door / Chicago Family Biking trip to Illinois Beach. Photo: OOFD
Kids on an Out Our Front Door / Chicago Family Biking trip to Illinois Beach. Photo: OOFD
Kids on an Out Our Front Door / Chicago Family Biking trip to Illinois Beach. Photo: OOFD

While most trips are totally car-free, some family-friendly excursions, co-organized with the group Chicago Family Biking, offer a vehicle assist. For example, for a trip to Illinois Beach, you can drop off your family’s cargo bike with OOFD volunteers who will drive it in a van up to the kid-friendly ride starting point in Highland Park. (Officially Metra doesn’t accommodate non-standard bikes.)

St. Paul says he’s stoked to expand the organization and help more people discover the joys of bike camping. “I look forward to giving back to Chicago by helping people get out and explore more, to gain a deeper sense of appreciation for what’s there right outside out front door."

Here are some of OOFD’s upcoming trips:

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