Chicago was on our “Bucket List” of places to visit in the United States, so it only seemed logical to stop by in between work camping gigs, traveling from the Sugar Beet Harvest in Minnesota to Amazon Peak Season in Campbellsville, Kentucky. Traveling and finding a place to stay in the Windy City was not as easy as we thought, initially. It was after consulting Allstays that we found the answer, and it was a piece of Chicago pie!
Allstays is an online program that provides a plethora of information for RVers on the road including campground locations, overnight stays at truck stops and big-box stores, RV dump stations, bridge heights, road grades, and places to get propane, just to name a few. (Levi details these many features provided by Allstays in his tutorial video, here.)
Where We Stayed
There are a number of RV parks within an hour or so drive from the metropolis, but only one just minutes from downtown. Although we considered staying outside city limits, we weren’t too keen on having to drive in each day, fight the traffic, and pay the astronomical parking fees. Enter McCormick Place Truck Marshalling Yark/Parking Lot B. This is one of three main parking facilities of McCormick Place, the largest convention Center in North America; however, Marshalling Yard caters solely to buses and RVs, aside from commercial and private trucks. One can guarantee to find a packed parking lot on days that events are held at McCormick Place. Lucky for us, we arrived during a lull.
We ended up staying three nights in Parking Lot B, mid-week, late-October 2016. A couple of days before arriving, we consulted AllStays.com for reservation information at the Marshalling Yard which eventually led us to their booking page, here. I was in the process of reserving a three night stay, but opted to call their number (email and contact number listed on the bottom of booking webpage)before completing the reservation to make sure there was still ample space available. There, indeed, was more than enough parking, so much so, we were given the option of simply showing up the day of and purchasing a spot at the entrance. Just to be assured, I phoned once more the day of our arrival. We had the green light.
Besides flying into O’Hare International Airport, Levi and I had never ventured into Chicago, let alone drive an RV into the heart of one of the largest and busiest cities in the U.S. Levi took the helm, and I navigated. We were taken aback at the many toll booths into the city. I think we counted about eight. I still had some of my laundry cash stashed away so we used that passing through each station. In total, we spent about $20 in toll fees for our motorhome plus tow vehicle, entering Chicago. First obstacle down; next was fighting the rush hour traffic to get to McCormick Place. Did I mention that we were driving at night?
The tricky thing about driving in Chicago, especially in an RV, is the high probability of encountering a low bridge clearance. Allstays.com, again, came to our rescue, offering a safe route to the Marshalling Yard, avoiding the over 900 low bridges. We eventually pulled into the entrance of Parking Lot B, paid our three nights stay ($35 per night) via credit card, and found a parking site under a street lamp. The parking lot was not empty, but rigs were not packed in like sardines, either. There was more than enough room to extend our slides.
There is nothing glamorous about this parking lot. It’s a parking lot, not an RV Park and not intended for pets. We took our pooch to relieve herself along the perimeter of the pavement. The semi grassy area was littered with food, empty containers of sorts, and other unidentifiable things. We kept her on a leash, stayed around clear ground, and disposed of her waste (along with other random trash). Trash cans and port-a-potties were available and within a minute’s walk from our front steps (one trash can was right outside our RV). There is a trucker’s lounge, but we never had time to check it out.
We were hardly present at the RV during our short stay, but the mornings and evenings were filled with the sounds of truck engines humming, L-trains sweeping past, and maybe a siren or two. It was not unbearable or startling. These sounds don’t bother us, especially since we typically stay at truck stops overnight on extended road trips. We’d run our generator to microwave or charge up the battery, but made sure to do so after 8 AM and before 10 PM.
As far as safety and security issues, there were none. We placed any items strapped down to our RV carrier inside our tow vehicle and chained our bikes to the tow dolly. There were no signs of tampering. We were instructed to post our parking lot pay stub somewhere inside the windshield, facing out, so the ever circulating security squad could keep account of all parking occupants. The parking lot has some high chain link fencing, but Jersey barriers (K-rails) encompassed most of the parking lot’s perimeter.
What We Did
The fun really started the following day. It was close to freezing temperatures the first day,so we bundled up. With the help of our trusty Google Maps (bike route option), we were able to navigate the few miles leading to Lakeshore Bike Trail from the parking lot and headed northbound “ohhing” and “awwing” at the Chicago skyline to our left and Lake Michigan to our right.
To save money, we rode our own bikes, but the city has a bike share program, known as Divvy, that allows daily use for under $10. There were plenty of racks around town to secure our bikes while we visited shops, attractions, and restaurants.
After biking alongside the Riverwalk, we hopped off our bikes and walked with them up Magnificent Mile. We glimpsed the Chicago Tribune, sampled some delectable chocolate at the Hershey Store, and swung by Gino’s East to sink our teeth into some deep dish pizza! This was the first time we tried the corn-based crusted, cheesy goodness!
We worked off the meal by heading back towards Lake Michigan to walk around the famous Navy Pier. The boardwalk was pretty quiet. Summer had passed and so had the crowds, but we enjoyed the ambiance, especially the vast Great Lake before us!
A detour led us back in downtown area and we stopped by Millennium Park for the big Cloud Gate reveal! The sight of it took me back to my childhood years watching the 1986 flick, Flight of the Navigator.
Total round trip on our bikes was around 15 miles. It would have been shorter, but unbeknownst to us, FAO Schwarz no longer exists in Chicago (and hasn’t for quite sometime) and our efforts to find it led us off our route and into dirty bathrooms at Macy’s. On our way back to the RV, we found a street band playing some sweet tunes and forgot about the whole toy store scavenger hunt.
Day two brought with it even more blistery conditions, rain and wind, but that didn’t stop us. We opted for use of public transportation this day since we planned to visit several corners of Chicago including Chinatown, Little Italy, and Greek Town. We utilized Ventra (a website and app) to locate and purchase transit passes/cards.
If we had done our research a little earlier, we could have ordered and received our prepaid cards in advance, but that would have made the Chicago stay boring. Instead, we walked about five miles to a Walgreens south of our parking site (because driving would have been too easy) and obtained them at the counter, soaking wet. We did purchase some nifty bright red ponchos in the process, so that’s a plus.
Google Maps (bus/public transit option) was our guide locating the correct buses and L-trains to board. The rides were welcoming after a full day of biking. Towards evening, the crowds grew and space was tight, so there was only standing room. It didn’t matter and didn’t hinder our day of taste testing. We went on a binge fest, sampling Chinese cuisine, Italian desserts, and Greek trademarks. We were stuffed!
Chicago is a city bursting at the seams with innovation, vibrancy, and diversity! We only scratched the surface and will be back for more!
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