Andy Jermien has slept under the stars quite a bit.
Growing up in a family with five children, his parents often took the children camping for vacation.
"It was kind of all my parents could afford for a holiday or summer vacation feel," said the Norwalk, Iowa resident.
Although Andy and his wife, Pam, have children and grandchildren, their camping trip to Starved Rock State Park during Labor Day last year was without kids. "It's been awhile for us since we've been kid-free," said Andy.
The Jermiens were initially getting certified for scuba diving when they came across some literature about Starved Rock on their way home.
"We thought we'd come over and try a little camping," Andy said.
He and his wife both grew up camping and particularly like using a tent to enjoy the "rusticness of it; it's kind of the whole man-versus-nature type of thing."
Starved Rock State Park Campground is one of numerous campsites in Starved Rock Country. This particular campsite offers both wooded and open space camping and loads of activities including hiking, fishing and boating.
The campground has 133 Class A premium campsites complete with electricity, showers and flush toilets, a separate youth group camping area and a children’s playground. Seven campsites are accessible for people with disabilities. The campground also is located about one mile from the Visitor Center and Lodge.
There's not many places in the Midwest where you can walk out your tent and make your way on foot to spectacular waterfalls and canyons, as well as majestic views of the Illinois River and wildlife such as bald eagles.
"It's been peaceful here. We haven't had any problems, no difficulties; anything we need help with, they come right away and take care of it," said Starved Rock camper Glenda Pitchford.
Pitchford is part of a group of 75 campers who make their way from Chicago to Starved Rock around Labor Day every year.
An annual trip that started 11 years ago with 16 people, the group calls themselves the Chicago Camping Club.
While the point of their trip is to relax and enjoy nature at its finest, it takes some organization to make the excursion an enjoyable success.
"We have committees set up," said Glenda's husband, Calvin. "We have infrastructure committees to make sure everybody's got firewood and garbage picked up." They also have committees for conflict resolution, children's activities, first-aid and kitchen duties.
"What I like about it is the camaraderie. Just the getting together and not worrying ... just camping," Calvin said.
And last Labor Day, some of the younger campers in the club were being primed to lead future outings.
"We're having a rite of passage this weekend," Calvin said during their 2015 camping trip. "It's for them to take over some of the duties from the older people, like helping put up the tents ... They're 15, 16, 17 years old so it's time for them to start taking over and they can continue and probably do this another 100 years."
And when the grunt work is done for the day and the group is relaxing at night, that's when Glenda says she most enjoys camping.
"(The stars) are right on top of you. It's like you can almost reach out and touch them ... it's beautiful; it's awesome," Glenda said.
When venturing out to nearby Utica, Glenda said the group has had nothing but friendly encounters.
"It's a beautiful town coming through here. I was telling my daughter if I had the ideal place to live ... it'd be a town like this where everybody has to love everybody. It's a requirement — you can't live here if you're not happy."
The group also respects the campground staffers.
"We feed the ranger," she said. "He comes by, checks on us. Makes sure everything's OK. So that's a plus plus."
About 15 miles east of Starved Rock is Illini State Park in Marseilles, which also boasts a campground.
"You've got a beautiful shelter, you've got a nice area to camp and the (Illinois & Michigan) Canal is kind of interesting," said Assistant Scoutmaster Tim Pearson, of the Lombard Boy Scout Troop 51, which camped at Illini last summer.
Aside from some skills lessons, the Scouts took time for a hike at Matthiessen State Park near Starved Rock in Utica where they learned some plant identification.
The annual trip helps the Scouts learn an appreciation for nature.
"We teach them to respect nature, not to just be in it," said Scoutmaster Dan Pope.
Tenderfoot Boy Scout Ben Barry, 12, of Lombard, likes being in the wilderness, and brought along a book that he used to help identify trees on their Matthiessen hike by looking at the leaves they found. "I think the biggest memory is hiking around. That was really fun. This is my first time here. So I just like exploring. It was totally new."
The park features picnic areas and shelters with tables, outdoor grills, drinking water, toilets and playgrounds. Several of the shelters also have working fireplaces.
While the troop in previous years camped at Starved Rock, last year's trip to Illini was impressive for the Scout leaders.
"I think this is going to be our new favorite," Pope said. "We love this gazebo right here. If the weather goes south and maybe it cancels our hike, we could just do training and have fun right in there. It's got the fireplace inside, the fireplace outside, and a bunch of tables in there.
"It's a great site. There's a big area here for tents and you're not crowded with other groups here."
Whether you're looking for relaxation or adventure, Starved Rock Country offers many campsites for nature lovers.
From couples, to families to large groups, camping is an activity made for all ages.
Yes, even teenagers.
"What I like about camping is the experience of being outside in a tent and not in a house with all the electricity and WiFi," said 16-year-old Alyssa Singleton, a member of the Chicago group. "...The family being together — laughing, watching things, talking with each other and having fun."
Hickory Hollow Campground
757 North 3029th Road, Utica
Troll Hollow Campground
2265 North 2453rd Road, Marseilles
La Salle-Peru KOA
756 North 3150th Road, Utica
Hi-Tide Beach and Campground
4611 East 22nd Road, Somonauk
801 Kayak Morris Road, Morris
Mendota Hills Campground
642 U.S. Highway 52, Amboy
Gebhard Woods State Park
401 Ottawa St., Morris
Mallard Bend Campgrounds
2838 North 4351st Road, Sheridan
Starved Rock State Park Campgrounds
Route 71, Utica
Illini State Park
2660 East 2350th Road, Marseilles
Cozy Corner Campgrounds
805 North 25th Road, Oglesby
Katchewan Lakes RV Park
2200 S. Barr St., Streator