Just shy of two hours southwest of Chicago, you’ll find a beautiful Illinois state park that has some of the most gorgeous rock formations in the Midwest. Starved Rock State Park is located one mile south of a quaint little town called Utica, with a population of 1,352. The park is a true oasis after miles and miles of ubiquitous corn and tobacco fields.
Before I share all the must-dos in the park, here’s a little history. Starved Rock takes its name from a siege by the Ottawa–Pottawatomi alliance against the Illini, who had taken refuge atop a sandstone butte called Le Rocher by the French. The sandstone butte, now called Starved Rock, stands about 125 feet above the Illinois River.
Starved Rock is a great place to go hiking for the day or for a long weekend filled with camping, hiking, mountain climbing and even fishing. It’s also very family and dog friendly, so bring your kids and Fido because everyone will have fun at this park.
Whether you are going for the day or the weekend, here are a few canyons and hikes you can’t miss.
When visiting the park, you of course must visit the rock that started it all. Starved Rock itself is a short 15-minute walk (depending on how fast you walk) from the visitor center. From the top, you’ll overlook the Illinois River and Leopold Island. During the winter months, you can see bald eagles land on the island and make it their home for a few months.
After you’re done exploring Starved Rock, head down the trail to visit what is the most-photographed and popular canyon in the park: French Canyon. A walk-behind waterfall graces this canyon during spring and early summer months. And in the fall, you can see the millions of colors that the minerals in the waters leave behind on the rock formations.
Approximately a 20-minute walk from French Canyon, Wildcat also has a walk-behind waterfall during the spring and early summer. However, to make it to the base of this canyon you have to walk through the water at the edge of the river. As you get near the mouth of the canyon, you’ll see the beautiful waterfall all the way down at the canyon’s belly. After you enjoy that glorious moment of discovery, get ready to climb some steep stairs back to the top of the hiking path so you can continue your journey to LaSalle Canyon.
From Wildcat Canyon, it will take you approximately 30 minutes to walk to the highest canyon that the park has to offer. LaSalle is also the farthest from the visitor center, but one hundred percent worth every second of your walk. This is the only canyon that has an “almost” year-round waterfall and during the winters a beautiful icefall.
As you hike on these trails, be sure to bring your camera since there is so much to photograph, from beautiful flowers to mushrooms on broken branches to the Illinois River in full effect. And let’s not forget capturing the rocky structures of the canyons. Be sure to pack water and a snack; those two things saved my day especially during moments when the hike got a little steep.
If you’re looking to crash at the park, check out the amazing campgrounds. If you are willing to splurge a bit, you can make a reservation at the park lodge which is situated on a high bluff just southwest of the rock itself. The hotel features an indoor swimming pool, children’s pool, whirlpool, saunas and an outdoor sunning patio.
If you visit the park during the winter months, you’ll be able to enjoy cross-country skiing as well as ice climbing. Or, if you prefer, simply admire the ice climbers as they work their way up the frozen cascades that can reach three feet in width and 15–20 feet in height
So the next time you are in the Midwest, or if you live in the Midwest, and you’re seeking a hiking trip, add Starved Rock as a great destination to explore.