February 2, 2016

Backpacking into Camp Reinberg, Deer Grove Forest Preserve (Jan. 2016)

Cabin at Reinberg

Friday, Jan. 29 - Sunday, Jan. 31
Camp Reinberg, part of Deer Grove Forest Preserve
Forest Preserves of Cook County (www.fpdcc.com)
Appx 30-40°F, low of around 25-35 at night. Nice during the day
42°08'31.7"N, 88°03'40.0"W

We decided to try some urban backpacking (if that's such a thing). Having been tired of being cooped up in the condo for the winter, it was time to get some fresh air. Camp Reinberg has some heated winter cabins close by at a discounted rate during the winter. If you're looking for a quick and cheap escape during the winter, Reinberg's your place. If you're looking for some good tent camping space, Reinberg's also your place.

But first, winter has to pass before the tent camping can begin. That's why we have heated cabins that are backpack friendly. Foregoing a car this trip shifted our focus on self-sustained packing for the winter, leaving us to load up probably more than we needed. Sure, it was a heated cabin, but we needed to make sure that we had everything we needed to eat, sleep, and entertain ourselves for a couple days. For those who are finding challenges with what they packed, there's a Jewel, Target, and Walgreens about 3 miles away if you end up needing anything. A quick hike can get you that extra pair of socks that you forgot or some popcorn for an evening snack.

This was not our first time at Reinberg (we had a cabin in November), but was our first time trying to backpack from the Metra.

Conveniently off of the Palatine Metra (yellow line - Burlington Northern Northwest Route), it's just a 2.5 mile hike to the camp. You will walk mostly along Quentin Road, which has a sidewalk on one side of the street. When you reach Dundee Road, you'll have to walk a couple blocks along the shoulder until you get to the camp. Although it is road hiking, Reinberg backpackers will still get the fun of putting on a pack and getting away with only the pack on your back and your friendly Metra conductors asking you if you're going camping (yes I am... and yes I know it's January).

Getting to Reinberg on Metra rail
Just the regular Metra commute guys...who doesn't take their coffeepot to work?

If you're looking to get into backpacking and live in Chicago, Reinberg is the place to try. There's a 24-hour staff and essentials store to pick up anything you may need. The store also sells firewood.

Upon checking in, the camp was offering a chance to spin a prize wheel! Although I won a granola bar, and Jessica won a couple twizzlers (both of which we never ended up claiming), Daniel won unlimited firewood for our stay. This was the ultimate....the lottery was won. It's hovering around 30 to 40 degrees out there and we can have a sustained campfire? Yes. Bring it in piles, please.

Free wood wagon
Unlimited firewood you say??? Did I mention we were Boy Scouts when we were kids?

Protip: Winter city backpacking typically means icy sidewalks, even though people should be salting that pavement. They don't, so take your time on the ice. A 2.5 mile hike into camp ended up taking us over an hour due to the need to navigate patches of phantom home-alone ice (you know the kind....especially troublesome when wearing large backpacks).

Upon arriving, most of the camp was covered in snow. Large portions of the snow near the cabins had melted and refrozen many times, leaving large sheets of ice. After checking in and winning our firewood supply, we slowly navigated the ice sheets. I've always wondered about the practicality of buying crampons for the city. Now I'm convinced I need some. We got there when it was dark, but I was able to snap some photos the next morning while making coffee.

Reinberg ice and snow fields

Reinberg ice and snow fields

Our cabin

Winter tree

All of my meals were prepared on my new Whisperlite by MSR, along with the MSR frypan and stowaway pot I recently got my hands on (Alpine series stainless steel). For its inaugural light, the stove was a champ! I do love my old trusty green Coleman two-burner, but I'm wanting to get more into backpacking. Now, the hoarding of backpacking gear and obsession with ounces has begun. Plus, there's nothing better for a car-less urban outdoorsman than to escape to his nearby forest preserve on a whim to do some tent camping with his bag of gear. Let's do this.

Evening meal by lantern

Coffee time

Making egg mash...mmm

Time for pancakes

Dinner is served

As is tradition, I like to bring my favorite star wars bedsheet with me, as I have done since I was a kid.

Don't forget your Star Wars bedsheet!

Free firewood made the evening nice and toasty. Daniel worked on making some kindling and tending his fire while I cooked dinner.

Getting the fire started

Getting the fire started

Reinberg is pleasant in the winter

Winter coals

After dinner, the fire with some tunes on the radio made life great. I even brought some corns for popping! Jiffy Pop made an appearance on the camp grill, along with the coffee pop, only repurposed for cocoa in the evening.

Starting the Jiffy Pop

Jiffy pop is done

Cocoa is hot

A day hike on the prairie side of the preserve greeted us with pretty white fields, frozen ponds, and vibrant bird life in the thickets along the paths. Cardinals, sparrows, and woodpeckers were the varieties that we saw, but our ears told us that there were others out there in the woods.

Deer Grove Forest

Deer Grove Trails

Deer Grove Trails

Deer Tracks in the Snow

Deer shifted their gaze to us as we walked by. Most were unphased by our brief occupancy of the trail. However, one group's meal was interrupted as we scuffed our feet on the icy trail, whose 4-point leader decided he didn't trust us. They gracefully leaped across the path in perfect ellipses in a manner typically reserved for The Discovery Channel. I love nature.

She's looking this way

Running across the snow field

Deer in the campground

Buck in the distance

After all was said and done, sure, it is not the backcountry. However, it is a wonderful escape that I will be visiting many times this year. Definitely made my weekend feel long and fulfilling...

My sketch of snow-covered Camp Reinberg from our cabin.

Sketch of Camp Reinberg

Suggested walking route from Palatine Metra to Camp Reinberg

Photo album
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Link to album >>

Backpacking to Camp Reinberg (Jan 2016)


  1. Great story. Another commuter line backpacking trip to look at is Metra to DesPlaines. Go back on Miner to Campground Rd. Then pickup the DesPlaines River Trail North to Camp Dan Beard.

    1. Dan Beard is next on my list! Thanks for the recommend - the Des Plaines River trail has become one of my favorite places to go in the last year or so. I'll be posting more about it this spring/summer I'm sure.

  2. Thanks for a very interesting story Jeremy. I think one could walk north on Smith street from the Metra station to north of US 14. There used to be a bike path at the utility easement crossing Smith St. that would take you up to Dundee Road near Quentin Road. At least there was 25 years ago. :-) It still shows on Google Maps. That would likely be a more pleasant walk.

    Camp Reinberg and Deer Grove are great parts of the Cook County Forest Preserve system and we should be grateful to those who had the foresight to set these lands aside.

    1. We actually wanted to walk north on Smith, but it was dark and there was a lot of ice on the ground. Although Quentin isn't as nice of a walk with all the traffic, it was a bit easier to navigate. I'll head up the Smith Rd. way next time though. It's just a quick shot over on Dundee, or could just go through the preserve trails.

      Thanks for the note! I agree about the treasure we have in the forest preserves. I grew up in Oregon around forests and green spaces, so I am glad that we have them available to us.

      See you on the trail!

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