The sun is shining through the trees, the trail is quiet, towering around you are canyon walls 3 stories high. You begin to hear the sound of falling water as you hike deeper into the canyon and the walls begin to close in. Just around the you are rewarded with a cascading waterfall at the end of the trail…Nature at it’s finest. Welcome to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.
If you love nature and you enjoy hiking (and you don’t mind stairs:), Starved Rock is the place for you. With deep canyons, miles of trails, rivers to cross and waterfalls both small and tall, this park has something for everyone.
The trails nearest the lodge are the easiest and most managed, with bridges and clearly marked trails. These trails are also generally the most crowded, especially on weekends. The trails further out are usually less crowded but a couple of them are among the most popular, so it really depends on the day you visit. On that topic, I will mention that the park deals with over- crowding on weekends in the spring and summer months, occasionally into the fall depending on the weather. It is highly recommended that you book your stay during the week. You will experience the park in a totally different light Monday- Thursday when you will likely have some peace and quiet on the trails. You will end up with much better photo ops too.
There are several trails that would be unsuitable for small children or overly adventurous young ones. There aren’t rails and safety features everywhere so as to keep the natural beauty. I would check before you head out and keep all your children near you as you hike, there is real danger lurking for those that don’t pay attention.
The park is free believe it or not, and it is open year- round. It is most popular in the spring when the waterfalls are most likely to be flowing. There is never a guarantee that there will be a waterfall at the end of each canyon. They are most likely to be flowing in the spring or after a heavy rain, which is why spring is such a popular time. Even without the falls the hikes are spectacular and the canyons themselves are very impressive. In the winter, if the falls have had enough water running, you will be able to see magnificent ice falls; quite a unique experience!
When you plan your stay, I would highly recommend booking in at the Starved Rock Lodge, right in the park. There are several options available to you. There are the more updated hotel rooms and the older lodge rooms that are all in one building along with the pool, sauna and hot tub; the main dining room, the lounge, the gift shop, the cafe and the common use area where you can lounge in front of the giant, double- sided fireplace. There are also cabins available right near the lodge in different styles. Some are even pet- friendly. The convenience alone is a major factor in booking here.
As I mentioned, you can access all of the trails from the lodge if you desire and after a full day of hiking, you can head back to the lodge for the evening and not have to leave again for anything. You come back, ready yourself for dinner, head to the lounge or main dining room and get yourself some dinner then head back and change for the hot tub and take some time soothing those well- worked leg muscles, or hit the sauna to relax. In the morning you can grab breakfast in the cafe before heading out again to do some hiking. You can also grab some treats at the cafe if you come back in the afternoon. They have ice- cream and fudge among other things. The facilities are clean and comfortable and the food is good. Heads up to military personnel, they offer a military discount as well.
While you are in the area, head down the road a few miles to Matthiessen State Park. There are spectacular falls to see and some great trails right through the river.
This an inexpensive family getaway if you are within a days drive. If you find yourself traveling around the Midwest, I recommend making it one of your stops. This is an experience you won’t forget and the opportunity for some great memories. You won’t regret it.
Happy travels! Your adventure awaits!