Note: This post was written by Guest Contributor, Rachael Lock.
When my heart longs for adventure, you can often find me many miles away from where I call home. These journeys are filled with new experiences, guilty pleasures, and amazing food. During my days of constant typing on my laptop, I look forward to saving up for these trips. However, more recently, I have been trying to find gratitude in my daily life. With that, came a newfound appreciation for one of the parks that basically sits on my doorstep.
Starved Rock State Park is roughly 1.5 hours from Chicago and yet, barely anyone I talk to has ever heard of it. The surrounding towns are all labeled as gateways to Starved Rock, trying to make their sleepy Midwest charm more appealing. This unique park was introduced to me by my grandparents, who would drive me and my cousins there quite frequently. I remember, as a child, thinking that I had to have been states away. That’s how unique it is!
Immerse yourself in towering canyons and amazing waterfalls, which are most splendid after a heavy rain. These canyons were formed over thousands of years ago due to the melting of glaciers. Bright wildflowers or vibrant greenery may line parts of your path and you may just happen to see a chipmunk scamper by. Situated up against the Illinois River, your likelihood of seeing a bald eagle is quite high. You might be thinking the only time to witness the beauty of this park is in the spring and summer. However, the park is open all year round and for good reason. Often during the winter, the waterfalls will freeze and provide tourists and locals alike the perfect opportunity to view these frozen sculptures and potentially ice climb.
If you are planning a day trip or even a weekend getaway to Starved Rock State Park, here are some tips to help make your visit more enjoyable.
● Plan to get to the park around 9 a.m. on weekends. On weekends, the park gets very busy and the overflow parking often gets too full. This means that conservation will turn people away. If this happens to you, jump over to Matthiessen State Park a few miles away. It usually isn’t as busy, but is just as beautiful.
● None of the hikes are super strenuous, but always pack plenty of water.
● There is only ONE place to throw away garbage on the trail system, besides parking lots. Carry out what you bring in.
● Do not go off the trail. The bluffs are made of sandstone, which is extremely slippery. Every year, almost daily, hikers are injured due to falling, sometimes fatally.
I’ve included an itinerary idea below that may help you plan your trip.
You can actually see a lot of the park in just one day, granted you get to the park pretty early. If you wait, especially on a weekend, you run the risk of running into traffic and delaying your day.
● Visitor’s Center. The visitor’s center has a lot of information regarding the hikes and animals that live in the park. There is a small museum and a theatre that has a short movie. You can also find a fudge shop and a small gift shop. There are public restrooms located here, as well as a huge old tree stump (try touching it!).
● Starved Rock. Your first trail on your left hand side past the visitor’s center will be Starved Rock. You will be able to walk to the top and along the edge.
● French Canyon. When I was younger, French Canyon was my favorite to go to for “cooling off”, since it is relatively close to the visitor’s center. Follow the paved path that goes past the visitor’s center and continue straight. From there, follow the signs. French Canyon allows visitors to climb up the rockface to get to the waterfall.
● Wildcat Canyon. Wildcat Canyon is past French Canyon and is home to one of my favorite waterfalls. You will be able to walk all around the waterfall from up above, soaking it in from different angles. Venture down the stairs to get a view from inside the canyon.
● Lover’s Leap // Eagle Cliff. From Wildcat Canyon, you will begin the walk back. Walk down along the river, until you see a trail leading up to take you to Lover’s Leap and Eagle Cliff. These bluffs will allow you to see panoramic views of the Illinois River.
● Illinois Canyon. Jump in your car and head east on Illinois River Road (IL 71) for a few miles until you see the sign for Illinois Canyon. On this trail, you hike with canyon walls on either side of you. If it has recently rained, you will be able to see [and hear] waterfalls trickling down the canyon walls. Be prepared to get wet because this trail has several creek crossings. It is a mile out and back trail with a small waterfall at the end.
Starved Rock State Park is free to get into and hosts a variety of different activities to do. Contact the Visitor’s Center and see what is happening in the park or if you are interested in a guided hike. The Lodge often has music or events on the weekends during the summer months, which sits atop a bluff. Have fun and hike safe!