Our hostess was not on site when we arrived – she was out of town, for a vocal performance – but we were warmly greeted by locals from the neighborhood, their dogs, the resident chickens and a pair of hungry goats!
The Vaudeville! Urban Farm is rustic, laid-back, friendly, a bit disorderly (in a colorful, hippy, freestyle sort of way), and a perfectly good place to pitch a tent and call that your “command center” for a spontaneous, surprise weekend trip to Chicago, to visit with family over a long weekend.
This is especially true during COVID-19, with its necessary safety precautions, and my hesitation about whether I’m ready to stay at a hotel. We brought plenty of antibacterial wipes with us, and since we used our portable camp stove for morning coffee, our tent, our sleeping bags, our pillows, our air mattress . . . we felt safe from harm’s way. (I didn’t say we completely “rough it” when we’re traveling to our campsite by car, and not by bike!!!)
We found the backyard farm on a site called Hipcamp, created to connect travelers with nature, by helping them find outdoor spaces to rest their heads, on both public and private lands. Nicky V., a Hipcamper since 2017, is a “Star Host,” which is the top tier of Hipcamp Hosts. She consistently provides amazing experiences to patrons of Hipcamp, a convenient way to find and reserve a campsite. (See links below.)
“Bring your tent to The Vaudeville! (RV campers please see the ** at the bottom). Our urban farm is smack in the middle of Chicago only a 10 minute bike or train ride from Downtown, Lake Michigan, The Mag Mile and all Chicago has to offer! Bike the Lake Shore Trail, walk the 606, kayak the Chicago River, catch a blues show or Hawks game or just relax with the goats and chickens in the 9,000 square foot farm that we absolutely love to share with fellow campers!” (Hipcamp Website)
This small urban farm, just a 5 mile bike ride from downtown, won 6th Place for the “Best of 2019 – Illinois” on the Hipcamp website. Or you can hop on the train and head straight into the buzzing metro area, on Chicago’s impressive public transportation system, serving the city and some nearby suburbs. The tracks run just behind Nicky’s backyard, so if you’re a light sleeper this might not be right for you, but we acclimated quickly to the churning, chugging, metal-on-metal screeching sounds of the night. It’s part of city life!
Situated just southeast of Garfield Park Conservatory, this is truly an urban setting, with the grit and character that you’d expect from that classification. There’s no attempt to disguise this feature of the downtown camping spot. Overnight our bikes were secured to the fence around the enclosure the goats and chickens shared, by the combination lock we’d brought along. This certainly was not their first night spent outside, though they do “live” on a rack in the dining room back home (. . . and in the living room, and in the basement.).
We felt comfortable riding into downtown from our site. We were also out on our bikes to explore the neighborhood but would not recommend riding through the park after dark. At dusk there was already suspicious activity (which I’ll leave to the reader’s imagination), so we headed back to the safety of “camp” and found some dinner. It’s a neighborhood fighting a battle against poverty, joblessness, food insecurity, and crime.
Efforts are apparent, through community resource centers, nearby food pantries, active churches, and the investment of residents like Nicky, who stick around to make something better of what was there when she arrived. This makes the farm a perfect fit for being featured on Hipcamp. The site grew out of a love of the earth combined with frustrations over not being able to find suitable spaces to camp.
Camping within Chicago city limits is unique and served us well. Traveling this way allowed us to use all the camping gear we love collecting, have easy access to the lakefront, with its towering skyline and end the night with a campfire.
The week prior there was a backyard concert – a wooden stage was erected, and word of the gathering was still circulating around the neighborhood. “It was epic, and Nicky is an amazing hostess,” Isabell’s dad told us. Isabell is a pit-mix with a sunny disposition, and tail that wagged as if it might bat you into next Tuesday, and a regular evening routine of a walk around the neighborhood. She and her dad live at the end of the row of houses, stretching east from Vaudeville! Urban Farm.
Isabell’s dad (we forgot to ask his name, being so enamored with Isabell herself) has lived there for 19 years and told us that Nicky has been there for 20+. On the Vaudeville! Hipcamper listing Nicky describes the years of creating the farm: “Stone and brick pulled from the ground till we found the beautiful earth beneath and built an incredible community around it. Or rather, it grew itself from the energy that surrounds it.”
We have one critical recommendation for the farm. The “facilities” on site are a Port-o-John, which we had researched and fully expected. It would have been extra nice if an extra cleaning had been completed, after the big backyard gathering the week before. We didn’t suffer too terribly and were glad it was there when nature called in the middle of the night, but we did frequent gas stations and McDonalds restrooms before any trip back to our campsite, knowing what the available options would be once we arrived.
Shrug – we likely would have done the same prior to our return to most State Park campgrounds. It is camping, after all, not “glamping,” or renting a cottage at the lake! The bathroom facilities are typically not the highlight of a camping trip, and you need to be willing to make some sacrifices if you want to experience getting back to nature. I also should have remembered to bring my Go Girl funnel (it’s a female urination device – link below).
Go Girl, in the time of COVID: “It’s time to get outside and enjoy the summer! Remember that public bathrooms may be closed due to COVID-19, we recommend bringing a GoGirl with you just in case. Stay hydrated and stay active!”
If you’re not much of a tent camper, and have access to an RV, this may or may not be the place for you. Nicky keeps her cool when it comes to hosting RVs, and is willing to work with visitors, as long as they don’t let the challenges of maneuvering a 30 ft. RV get their goat:
“** We have stopped hosting RV campers because we are finding it difficult to get them in the entrance gate but if you feel amazingly capable with your backing in skills in your rig and you’re super patient, laid back and extra cool, let us know and we may be able to make it work!! 🙂 The Vaudeville! Urban Farm Fun” (Hipcamp Website)
Making it work – that’s the spirit of things at Vaudeville! Urban Farm! Life is communal, with a shared garden, being invited to help ourselves to eggs from the chicken coop (if the girls are laying), and shifting lawn furniture around so tents can be moved under a protective tarp, in response to the threat of rain.
The tarp wasn’t quite big enough for two tents, and our fellow campers beat us to it, so we checked the radar. Rain wasn’t expected until around 7 am, so we set an early alarm. There’s something relaxing and calming about laying in your tent, in the early morning, listening to the rain. . . unless you know you’ll be breaking camp and packing up in the rain.
The alarm went off at 5 am, but was set to Eastern time, so it was 6 am local time. I listened closely, and the faintest sound of raindrops was heard on the roof of the tent. I’m no morning person, but I was wide awake at the thought of being drenched just before climbing into the car for the road trip home.
We made quick work of it and were on the road just as the sun was breaking the horizon. Shortly after that we had coffee and breakfast in hand, and were ready for the day’s next adventure, visiting the site of some amazing childhood memories, in Bass Lake, IN.
Note: See below, or the Hipcamp website, for a complete list of Vaudeville! Urban Farm Fun “Amenities,” “Essentials” and “Campsite Area Details.”
Join me on my next adventure,
The Vaudeville! Urban Farm Fun (Hipcamp Website): https://www.hipcamp.com/illinois/the-vaudeville-urban-farm-fun/the-vaudeville-urban-farm-fun
Hipcamp – Ohio: https://www.hipcamp.com/discover/ohio
“How Hipcamp Became the Airbnb of the Outdoors”:
Go Girl: https://go-girl.com/
Potable water available
Picnic table available
Bring your own tents, vans and truck campers
Up to 4 guests per site
Park at listing
No ADA access