I know. This sounds nuts but trust me here. Chicago is a great city to visit. We love the restaurants and museums. Both are world-class. If you are a shopper, the possibilities are endless.
The problem for RVers trying to visit Chicago is there are no RV parks within 1.5–2 hours from downtown. Even the “local” Cabela’s was 40 miles out in the suburbs. Military people can stay at Great Lakes Naval Training Center but that is nearly an hour drive to the Loop (downtown area) in heavy traffic. It’s always been a problem for RVers trying to visit the downtown area and we know this from several year’s experience.
On several annual visits up through 2008, we always stayed (boondocked) at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana. They had a decent lot for parking large vehicles and always gave us permission to park there. We would plan to drive downtown to the Loop from the casino on a Saturday and/or Sunday to encounter the least traffic. Then, we would become a tourist most of the day, ending with dinner, and then make the 45-minute drive back out to our coach. That casino’s permission stopped in 2009 as they lost the use of this particular parking lot.
Another RVer told me he received an e-mail communication from the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau that stated RVs are welcome to stay at the…
McCormick Place Marshalling Yard
31st St and Lakeshore Dr.
He told me to call for details and to ensure they have space to accommodate us during the dates we wanted to stay there. I called and the person I talked to said “Yes, RVs can stay in this lot” and confirmed the dates I wanted to park there.
[Author Note: The purpose of this, and other, Marshalling Yards nationwide, is to park the semi-trucks used to haul in the displays for large trade shows. Respective vendors set up these displays in their vendor booths. The trucks are parked in a Marshalling Yard and just hang around until the trade show is over—some trade shows may last 10 days or more. Then, when the trade show closes, the displays are torn down, repacked, and put back into the trucks.]
This Yard is gated and patrolled 24/7 . My cost in 2015 was $27.00/night. My most recent cost (in 2019) was $35.00/night) If you are going to get nervous over the price, try staying at the closest campground and driving about 1.5 hours EACH WAY in and out of the city!!! There are No hookups and No dump station. It is pure boondocking and you can usually stay as many days as you want except when one of the giant trade shows is going on. Then it gets crowded!
A NEW PROCESS
BUT! ALL THAT CHANGED WITH THE PANDEMIC!!! Now, the process is different. You can still boondock there overnight but do this… Go to https://www.mccormickplace.com and across the top of the page, click on “ATTENDEES.” Follow the drop-down list and click on “PARKING AND RATES.” On the left half of the page, go down and click on “BUS AND RV PARKING.” Then click on “CLICK AND PARK.” This take you to a form where you apply for parking.
It must be noted that you prepay for parking BUT this also reserves a spot for you. I called, you can simply show up with NO reservation but may NOT get in if they are full. I prepaid, printed out my forms and hoped for the best.
The printed “form” must be in your vehicle when you try to enter the parking area. It is shown here (the “red” areas are just personal info blocked out)…
The good news… This boondocking site is within 5 minutes of Soldier Field (major sports venue), 6–7 minutes from the Museum of Science and Industry (one of the finest in the world), 10 minutes from the Field Museum of Natural History and Shedd Aquarium (both wonderful), and 12–13 minutes from downtown Chicago—on the Loop. This is an exciting place to be and as close as you can get!
More good news… They cleaned up the lot! Seriously, they REALLY cleaned it up. My guess is they moved at least 200 truck-trailers out of the lot so it is much more open than before. Also, they fixed the lot itself. Before, there were giant holes in the driving lanes (you could almost lose a vehicle in a hole) and now those are all gone. All that good work made an enormous difference.
Here’s How to Get There
Pay attention here because some of this information is non-negotiable due to SEVERAL LOW BRIDGES in the area. This is the recommended route to drive to the Marshalling Yard—it’s what the trucks use.
DON’T FOLLOW YOUR GPS!!! Your GPS may attempt to route you to what appears to be a shortcut to 31st Street. Don’t do it!!!!
[Author’s Note… No matter how you approach Chicago and regardless of where you are coming from, you need to get to the intersection of I-94 and I-55 (just a bit south of downtown Chicago). From this intersection, use the instructions below.]
- Get on “I-55 North”
- Take I-55 North to the end. (On your map, I-55 actually runs east/west near its end—but it is called “North”)
- Exit south onto Lake Shore Drive (US 41)—stay in the extreme right-hand lane.
- Take the Exit 31st St. (the very FIRST exit OFF Lake Shore Drive)
- Just before you get to 31st Street (literally about 100 feet before), you will see a lane exit to the right that sort of forces you to make a U-turn onto South Moe Drive. Watch for the stop sign.
- You will be heading north on South Moe Drive. (Remember, do not cross or stop at 31st St. even though you used the 31st St. exit off Lake Shore Dr.)
- Go a short distance up S. Moe St. to the stop sign, look for a white guard shack on the left, look for a sign: “Truck Marshalling.” Turn in this drive.
- Pay the person in the guard shack in cash and they MAY direct you where to park. We were told to park anyplace.
I recommend you call several days/weeks ahead of time to make sure they will have room for you. McCormick Place is a huge and busy convention center. The McCormick Place Marshalling Yard is used for semi-truck parking for conventions and special programs. They will generally have room but you should call first and get their okay ahead of time.
During my first experience with this process, I called a second time just to verify everything. The person I spoke with told me they typically have RVs parked on the property every night. Right after we pulled in, three (fine looking) Prevost custom RVs pulled in and parked.
We tried to find a street address for the Marshalling Yard but were unsuccessful. It just so happens that the Yard is the only thing on S. Moe Street. There is no street address that we could find but you don’t really need one. This is another reason to not use your GPS to locate this place.
Maybe this map will help you visualize the unusual route. I-55 comes in at the top, left on the map. When you reach the next arrow (A) you are on Lake Shore Drive. Exit at Exit 31st St. (the very first exit OFF Lake Shore Drive) and you will see the U-turn (arrow at bottom right). When you make this U-turn, you will be on S. Moe St. Go up S. Moe until you see the guard shack (B).
[Author Note: Something unusual… The map above is accurate and was used it to find the Marshaling Yard. However, Moe Street and the U-Turn may NOT show up on the Google MAP view—only the Satellite view! In the Map View, the Yard shows up as a green area indicating a park (greenbelt?) of some type. Use my map.]
Noise and Security
This lot backs up to several train tracks but these are the commuter trains into downtown. There are no whistles or horns so they are relatively quiet.
A security car constantly drove around the parking lot 24/7. There was no trouble, no noise, and no problem. The gate is manned 24/7 and they have to let you in and out. We felt perfectly safe in here.
On our first trip, we only stayed here two nights as we had to get to an appointment for some work on our coach that we had scheduled elsewhere. So, we had to leave. I drove in to Chicago and the Yard on a Friday early afternoon and out on Sunday (late morning). For this trip, we headed north out of the city. The Friday drive had more traffic but it was not bad.
On our second trip in to stay at the Yard, we arrived on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend so there was very little traffic. We left during the week (after the holiday) and had to face the normal traffic. This time, we headed directly south out of the city. Again, we left early afternoon and the traffic was not bad. While I would not want to try to drive this route in heavy work traffic and my two efforts were just fine. I would assume mid-morning would also be fine.
We have now stayed here on five occasions. Each stay was perfect, the cost for very close access to downtown Chicago was wonderful, we felt absolutely safe, and I absolutely plan to use this facility again whenever I want to visit Chicago. You should, too.